Best Picture Illuminates Evil of Child Abuse: Here's Hoping "Spotlight" Helps with Healing
By Theresa Churchill
Herald & Review
March 26, 2016
“Spotlight” may have been the best picture of 2015 according to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but you wouldn't know it by the amount of buzz the film generated in Decatur.
It never played here, as far as I know, except for the special showing the Avon Theatre gave to Herald & Review employees and their families earlier this month.
Sad to say, the audience for a movie about public service journalism is dwindling, especially if you're counting the number of print journalists working these days.
I admired the tenacity of the Boston Globe's investigative reporters, as depicted in the film, as they worked long hours to uncover the systematic child sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese.
Their series of reports won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003.
More importantly, the story caused hundreds of other victims around the country to come forward about similar crimes committed against them, often while they served the church as altar boys.
Although it was too late for criminal prosecution in most cases, some Central Illinoisans sought compensation for their suffering.
One man I wrote several articles about managed to get both kinds of justice.
First Dan Koenigs of Cisco won an undisclosed settlement 11 years ago from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria for the abuse he alleges he suffered at the hands of three priests. Shortly afterward, one of the priests was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Wisconsin, where the statute of limitations clock had stopped on allegations involving two overnight trips to Milwaukee in the early 1980s.
This brave man spoke out time and time again about molestation that made him feel so “emotionally shut off” in high school, he attempted suicide at age 19.
Only the estimated one in three females and one in five males sexually abused before the age of 18 can truly understand the shame he must have felt and the courage he had to find to go public.
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I admire what Koenigs did and am glad to see he continues to help others as a substance abuse counselor in Monticello.
“Living in silence is not good,” he said. “You don't have to put your story in the newspaper or go on TV, but talking about it does help. For any type of abuse or addiction, admitting it is the first step.”
Now there's another man who got back in touch because of the movie, a Decatur native who says he was attacked in the sacristy of St. Patrick Catholic Church as a teen but did not report it to the Springfield Diocese until more than 35 years had gone by and the Boston Globe had broken its story.
“It’s not always easy for people these days to understand how strong Irish heritage engendered the profound sense of love, honor and loyalty we had back then for the Church in general and St. Patrick’s parish in particular,” Kelly McFadden said. “They functioned as an extended family, so it was impossible for a trusting, idealistic 14-year-old kid to comprehend how that kind of soul murdering betrayal could exist.”
That he has done so well in life, having worked many years at Pressley Ridge, a private nonprofit, connecting children and adolescents with mental health services in Pittsburgh, Pa., is undoubtedly because he fought back in response to the sudden and violent attack and the abuse was not repeated.
McFadden said he was withdrawn for a few years but believes strong support from family and friends also aided his recovery.
He added that his alleged attacker was eventually returned to limited ministry after the diocesan review board “could not confirm that sexual abuse had occurred.”
How devastating that must have been, but his decision to come forward still seems to have helped him.
I just hope the Oscar for “Spotlight” pushes child sexual abuse back to the front burner long enough for more of its victims to find the courage to talk to someone about the terrible secrets they've been keeping for too long.
Secrecy can give this evil more power over your life, and it's never too late for healing.