Sex-abuse survivor steps from the shadows: Nearly four decades after a priest raped him, former R.I. man depicted in 'Spotlight' tells his story
By Karen Lee Ziner
November 28, 2015
|Jim Scanlan at the Resilient Kids office on Manton Avenue, in Providence. Scanlon is on the board of Resilient Kids.|
Photo by Mary Murphy
|The former Rev. James Talbot, a former coach at Boston College High School, is escorted into Suffolk Superior Court in Massachusetts on Sept. 19, 2002, for arraignment on charges of rape, assault with intent to rape and indecent assault and battery on Jim Scanlan and another student at the school in the mid-1970s. |
Photo by Michael Dwyer
|Dr. Anthony Paolucci, a Providence dentist and part-time actor, plays "Kevin from Providence" in the film "Spotlight," a character whose true identity is Jim Scanlan. |
Photo by Sandor Bodo
PROVIDENCE — You won't hear Jim Scanlan's name in the film "Spotlight." But you will see him portrayed as "Kevin from Providence," who suffered sexual abuse by a Boston College High School priest in the late 1970s.
The film is a fact-based drama about the Boston Globe Spotlight Team's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2002 investigation of the Catholic Church's cover-up of clergy sexual abuse.
The former Rhode Island resident wants to help other survivors. For the first time, he agreed to identify himself and speak publicly about the events that changed the course of his life nearly four decades ago.
"The reason I'm using my name is to make sure people understand it’s nothing to be ashamed of — that the bad guys are the ones, they’re the criminals ... they should be shamed by it all."
Recognizing that sexual abuse destroys many of its victims, Scanlan wants to "give some hope to people who have been through it, that you can come out of it and be OK. You can have a really, really good life, a good family. I happen to be on that fortunate side."
He also hopes telling his story will give other abuse victims the courage to step forward.
The scene involving "Kevin From Providence" is based on Scanlan and the abuse inflicted by former Jesuit priest James F. Talbot. Scanlan was instrumental in sending Talbot to prison for seven years. Talbot eventually admitted that his victims numbered as many as 89, Scanlan says.
The film's references to Talbot are based on Scanlan's experiences as told to then-Spotlight Team editor Walter V. "Robby" Robinson. The reporters uncovered the church's shifting of pedophile priests from parish to parish for years, and secret church settlements with victims of dozens of priests. The investigation revealed that a succession of cardinals and bishops, including then-Cardinal Bernard F. Law, archbishop of Boston, repeatedly failed to remove abusive priests from the ministry.
Raised in Quincy, Scanlan moved to Rhode Island in 1998. "My kids were raised here, my roots are here, certainly they [his children] would say they're Rhode Islanders," says Scanlan, 54, a financial planner. Though he recently moved to Boston, he works here one day a week and maintains Rhode Island ties.
Scanlan and his family were parishioners of St. Bernard Church in North Kingstown. But after the Spotlight Team published its first story on the cover-up, on Jan. 6, 2002, "Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years," about former priest John J. Geoghan, Scanlan turned away from the Catholic Church.
"I couldn't be a hypocrite and defend what the institution did," he says. "I walked away." He voices disdain for Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston in the midst of the scandal in December 2002. Law moved to Rome; in 2004, Pope John Paul II appointed him head of a Papal Major Basilica. He is now retired, in Rome.
"Law should be in jail," Scanlan says.
Scanlan and two other clergy-abuse survivors portrayed in "Spotlight" attended a private screening in October, before the film opened. (A fourth victim portrayed in the film killed himself in 2004.) "Kevin from Providence" appears in one scene, portrayed by Anthony Paolucci, a Providence dentist and actor.
The clergy sexual-abuse scandal in the Diocese of Providence is also noted at the end of the film.
After the movie opened in Rhode Island last week, Scanlan discussed his encounters with Talbot at Boston College High School. Scanlan was 16.
"He was a hockey and a soccer coach, a teacher and a priest." He encouraged boys to "toughen up" at after-school and weekend wrestling sessions he conducted. Talbot often instructed the athletes to strip down to their jockstraps and wrestled one-on-one with them, Scanlan says.
"It was, 'Let's have a few beers. Let's do this.' And then it was always with a group of people — until one Saturday, it wasn't," says Scanlan. "That's when he attacked me." There were two incidents: that rape and a separate sexual assault, Scanlan says.
"I certainly had threats from him — that nobody would believe me. He put me in a position [where] I neither wanted to nor felt I could go tell someone." To survive emotionally, Scanlan compartmentalized. He graduated in 1979.
In 1980, Talbot was transferred to Cheverus High School, in Maine, another Jesuit college-preparatory school, where he and another teacher were later accused of sexually molesting students. Talbot was removed from active ministry in 1998. In 2001, he settled a lawsuit against him by a Cheverus graduate, according to the Globe.
In 2005, Talbot agreed to plead guilty to rape, assault with intent to rape and indecent assault and battery in the case of Scanlan and another BC High student. He was released in 2011 and is registered as a sex offender in Missouri at the address of the "faith-based" Vianney Renewal Center.
Scanlan says being able to discuss the experience with his three adult children had a positive outcome. "My son asked me why I didn't quit the hockey team. The answer was, I wasn't going to let this bastard take away anything else ... I wasn't going to let him break me. So no, I didn't leave the school, and no, I didn't quit the hockey team. I stayed silent."
The timeline and some details in Scanlan's case are altered in "Spotlight."
In the film, Scanlan sits down with Robinson, the Spotlight editor, before the Globe published the first story on the scandal. Though he'd never intended to tell anyone, it was that first story — published in 2002 — that prompted Scanlan to pick up the phone.
"What made me come forward was seeing how truly systemic it was, how complicit the church hierarchy was. It simply sickened me. And at that time, it brought back a lot of feelings and emotions."
As it turned out, Robinson — played by actor Michael Keaton — had graduated from Boston College High School more than a decade before Scanlan.
"He was the first person in the world I ever told that story to," Scanlan says. "I never even told my wife," he says. The movie includes that line.
In a phone interview, Robinson, now the Globe's editor-at-large, described that first meeting with Scanlan.
In the movie, it takes place at a Providence coffee shop. (It actually took place at Scanlan's office, then on Federal Hill.)
"So Jim called and I went down to Providence to meet with him in his office, with the door closed.
"He had never told his wife what had happened to him so many years earlier. ... I think he just had an enormous amount of courage to come forward."
"Because of the subject matter and the sensitivity, given what had happened to him years and years earlier, it was a very emotional interview, I think it's fair to say, for both of us."
"He told me what had happened," and about "the psychological difficulties it had caused him all his life."
Robinson adds, "It's fair to say we both cried." He then says, "it's almost impossible for a reporter in a situation like this to be dispassionate."
"He was the grand jury witness whose testimony led to Talbot's indictment on the charge of rape. And Talbot pled guilty. And the next time I actually saw Jim was the day of Talbot's guilty plea. Jim was standing at the back of the court."
Scanlan had preferred to remain anonymous in the Globe stories; the paper does not identify sexual-assault victims unless they so choose.
After the private screening of "Spotlight," Robinson says, "I think at that point he decided it was time to go public."
"And I think, for him, this decision was made in the hope that it will give other people who are still in the shadows — and most victims are still in the shadows — it will give them the courage to come forward to seek help. So he's a gutsy guy."
Talbot was repeatedly denied parole. At one parole hearing, Scanlan heard an astonishing admission.
"As part of his treatment, Talbot had to admit how many victims" there were. "It was 88 or 89, and not just at BC High," says Scanlan. That reaffirmed for him that he did the right thing by stepping forward. "So it was a good feeling" to see Talbot sent to jail, he says.
Because of his experience, Scanlan channels his energies into "ResilientKids," a nonprofit organization on Manton Avenue in Providence that partners with schools. He is on the board.
"It's social and emotional learning," Scanlan says. "We're helping kids who are in high-risk areas ... giving them tools to handle tough situations," whether that's sexual abuse, drugs, violence in or outside the home, or other issues.
Moving beyond shame involves "a progression," Scanlan says. For him, that includes the uncomfortable telling of a painful story. He hopes it helps.