MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Thomas McCarthy. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams.
On January 6, 2002, The Boston Globe headline read “Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years”. The article told the tale about Father John Geoghan’s systematic sexual abuse of children in the Boston diocese over a period of thirty years of pastoral ministry. The article was well researched and documented, but the actual crimes were committed years ago and his victims were now adults. Why did it take so long for the truth to come out? How would the Catholic Church hierarchy, including Cardinal Bernard Law, respond?
The article was written by the Globe’s “Spotlight” team, a group of journalists who specialized in the kind of investigative reporting that would take months to accomplish. Spotlight is a brave, honest, and evenhanded film that also reports some interesting facts behind the headline.
Since the Boston area is so predominantly Roman Catholic, the early rumors of child abuse were disavowed as heresy. The arrival of Marty Baron (Live Schreiber), a new editor from outside Boston, changes things. He sees these allegations of possible diocesan cover-up as an essential local story. Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), the owner of the newspaper, is not initially convinced, but allows Baron to begin the investigation. As the Spotlight team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Brian d’Arcy James, and Rachel McAdams) gets busy on the story, they eventually persuade Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci), a high profile attorney who has been rebuffed by the church, to lend his support.
It takes a long time to get to deeper truths, and there will always be defensiveness and attacks from those who might suffer if the truth is known. Spotlight tells a true story that is motivated by nothing less than moral courage and professional standards of investigative reporting.
We are living now in a social media/sound bite age in which people demand immediate answers to deep moral questions. Often, when we ask for answers, if the information does not match up with our worldview, we disregard the factual evidence. Spotlight reminds us that good reporting, as well as life, requires taking the time to bolster our opinions with factual evidence and to speak the truth when we are convinced that our actions can bring forth help and healing to a world that is often lost in sin. As the familiar hymn says: “And though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”
This film also reminded me that most denominations (including The United Methodist Church) have a judicial system that relegates clergy misconduct to our own in-house arbitration rather than a public civil trial. Ministers sometimes leave pastoral ministry in disgrace, with the discretion granted them from the general church. We must continue to look after one another, practice safe sanctuary policies, and seek to be a church with the transparency and humility to care for the world that Christ came to save.
Four halos: A great newspaper movie about investigative reporting and righteous indignation.
Four pitchforks: Everyday swearing; graphic verbal descriptions of sex acts; hypocrisy; deceit.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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