Catholic Bias ?

Virginia Gazette
March 11, 2016

The award-winning movie "Spotlight" follows The Boston Globe 'Spotlight Team" as they investigate widespread child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Catholic priests. Their work brought the issue to the fore, not just in Boston, but around the world. Their diligence as journalists was a major catalyst in bringing about accountability within the church but also on shining a light on the devastation that resulted in the lives of the victims.

The movie is based on a series of stories by the actual Spotlight team that earned the Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. As the movie unfolds we see the factual basis of the ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese. The team, through persistent, careful research, uncovered many incidents of abuse; the number of priest abusers and victims far greater than even they had originally thought. If these veteran reporters were shocked, and saddened, think of the impact on the general population and especially the millions of Catholic faithful whose faith in their church and its leaders was put into serious question.

The investigative team was well aware that congregations within the church, especially members of a strong lay ministry, would dispute their findings, hence the intense checking and double checking of facts. There were numerous legal documents filed with the court in Boston that the Archdiocese, guided by Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, intercepted to prevent them from becoming public record. Priests who were discovered to be abusive were simply moved to another parish, some many times; unwittingly the church supplied more victims. The public image of the Catholic Church took precedence over the heartache and devastation of the victims.

The Catholic Church would wish us to believe that the issue has been resolved. Certainly they have been forced to pay out millions of dollars in restitution, forced being the operative word, as they still require a signed victim-confidentiality agreement at the time of payment. Anyone who thinks that the number of lives affected by this is minimal needs to revisit the factual findings of this whole disgraceful scandal. Cases continue to be filed, but there remains within the church hierarchy an attitude of concealment and denial. Even "good priests" wishing to comment publicly find themselves relocated to a Mission area, where media exposure is less available. Cardinal Law was forced to resign but was reassigned a comfortable position in Rome, under the protective cloak of the Vatican. A general, blanket statement with regard to the abusing priests being required to undergo counseling was supposed to reassure the faithful that all was under control. No actual facts about consequences for any church individual were released and no follow up for further information was considered. The repercussions for those abused are innumerable. Victims struggle in their lives going forward, trying to recover from the defilement by a person shrouded in a sacred position of trust.

Even more shocked

Even though I was aware of the church scandals and was as shocked as my fellow Catholics, after watching the movie I had immediate and strong reactions.

My previous sense of disgust was compounded, and I continued to question how such a faith-based organization could be so power hungry and dismissive of the lives of so many of the vulnerable. It is one thing to continue to operate 'life as usual' when you are unaware of a crime, but quite another to go to such lengths in a cover up.

To say that good priests are insulted by the scandals is a gross understatement; how about outraged, angered, disgusted? I certainly found myself questioning the entire structure of the church.

The actual number of priests found to be abusing is not debatable because we know the numbers are significant. Any effort at quantifying abuse between multiple professions is also irrelevant. The Catholic Church has within its ranks of ordained priests many who have abused young, innocent, trusting members of their congregations multiple times. If anything is to change we all have to be aware and accountable. We all have a right to be outraged; the core basis of trust so necessary between an ordained priest and his flock has been shattered, and shattered in a huge way.

For me, the final, greatest reassurance comes in the recognition of the power of good journalism.

Upholding truth

The Spotlight team should be applauded; they are the heroes. It is the responsibility of the media to stand firm and uncensored and the Globe gave us this in spades. Thousands of clergy-abuse victims were able to access their own courage and come forward, inspired and validated by the truth in the Globe's report. We should all stand together in our outrage at the church's response and allow our own words and actions to continue to demand accountability. A clerical collar around one's neck does not offer immunity or guarantee forgiveness of a heinous crime.

This is a current, active issue and not something to be relegated to the past as having been "fixed." Around the world many more abusive priests are being held accountable and criminally charged as victims courageously file official reports. Redress Boards have been set up in an effort to offer a forum to victims; in many communities this level of assistance and support is considered paltry, at best.

As responsible members of society we should welcome and hold sacred the openness of good journalism as it affords a greater transparency from those placed in positions of supreme trust. The powers that be within the Catholic Church deserve our outrage, the victims deserve our empathy and we ourselves deserve to be heard. We owe it to the original work of the Spotlight Team to continue to fight for each of us and our right to be heard.








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.