Directed by Thomas McCarthy
Released November 6, 2015
In 1761, the poet Charles Churchill penned these words: “Keep up appearances; there lies the test; / The world will give thee credit for the rest. / Outward be fair, however foul within; / Sin if thou wilt, but then in secret sin.”
The present day has no shortage of such “secret sin”—and among the worst is the shocking betrayal of trust (and criminality) that sees ministers of God prey upon innocent children. Based on a true story, Spotlight takes its name from an investigative journalism unit within The Boston Globe newspaper, which, in early 2002, revealed pervasive sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the archdiocese of Boston. The investigative reporters who start looking into allegations of such abuse can scarcely believe their ears: the truth is too appalling to credit, until it becomes impossible to dismiss. It’s bad enough that any priest sexually abused any child, but the predators who have done so have done so repeatedly—these are serial sexual predators. And there are many of them. An estimate given in the film that six per cent of Catholic priests have “acted out sexually against children” proves to be dead-on: the journalists uncover 87 predatory priests in Boston alone. And that predation consists of the sexual molestation and rape of children—the most vulnerable (and trusting) among us.
Can things get any worse? Alas, yes they can: senior church officials (up to and including the archdiocese’s cardinal, the film suggests) were actively involved in covering up the heinous crimes committed against their flock of believers. Pedophile priests are simply shifted from one parish to another, and while they’re waiting for their new parish they’re designated as being on “sick leave” or “unassigned”—code words used to disguise their status as criminally deviant offenders. But admission of wrongdoing, let alone criminal prosecution, is conspicuous by its absence. Instead, the church successfully silences complainants, quietly settling their claims for a pittance or simply discrediting them (victims often came from poor or broken families, precisely because it was easier to impugn the credibility of such victims). Other elements of society, among them some lawyers and police officers, also play a part in this systemic corruption and cover-up—usually in the cause of protecting ‘the good name’ of the church. Secret sins indeed! Misguided loyalty to an institution, self-interest and simple complacency all play their role in perpetuating an appalling, longstanding and covert epidemic of child abuse by persons in positions of trust.
As one character says, “If it takes a village to raise them, it takes a village to abuse them. That’s the truth of it.” And this is very much a story about truth—and the quest for justice for those so badly betrayed. Indeed, the title Spotlight does double duty here, for it also signifies the light of truth that finally uncovers secret sins of shocking proportions. A well-acted ensemble drama, Spotlight is the second strong movie about investigative journalism (along with Truth) of the year.
Caution: Some coarse language and sexual references
John Arkelian is an award-winning author and journalist. Copyright © 2016 by John Arkelian.