Last night my wife and I went to see the new film “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation in 2002 into the priest paedophilia scandals and subsequent cover-ups within the Catholic Church. It is a film that needed to be made, has been done well and deserves all the plaudits it is currently receiving.
The film makes for some very uncomfortable viewing at times but for me the real essence of the story is about betrayal and in particular the betrayal of trust between the laity and the ordained. Trust is a social practice. Humans are social beings who swim in an ocean of trust. What happens when this ocean begins to drain away is that we become sceptical, often cynical and perhaps even a little paranoid. Some of the most disturbing parts of the film relate to the systematic attempts by US bishops to control information, prevent public disclosure and silence dissent. Some of the most heart-wrenching testimonies from abuse victims relate to their reports of having nowhere to turn when their priest was part of the problem and of their attempts to engage others within the church that were ignored or rebuffed. Similarly, the laity has no formal recourse when their pastors are insensitive or incompetent. What has been become crystal clear in recent years is that many of the mistakes and cover-ups, involving the abuse of children by priests, have been made by bishops.
The problem is that those who want to do something to help to move things on, namely the laity and some clergy, have no real vehicle for doing so. Despite the long-ingrained tendency of lay men and women to defer to the hierarchy, lay people have both the right and the responsibility to make their voices heard. Many of them are now tragically aware of the consequences that follow from the concentration and misuse of power and lay deference to hierarchical authority.
What the film highlights above all is the willingness of good people to ‘turn a blind eye’ and to fail to acknowledge that the ‘system’ was the problem and not the solution. There is a line early on in the film that states ‘it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.’ We are all under the spotlight and we all have to accept some responsibility for the sins of the fathers!