Editorial: Best Picture win for ‘Spotlight’ is fitting humiliation for church

National Catholic Reporter

NCR Editorial Staff | Feb. 29, 2016

With “Spotlight” awarded the Oscar for best motion picture, the public humiliation for the Catholic church is now as thorough as one might expect in a culture where what is on screen is often the most persuasive element in fashioning public opinion.

In the case of priests sexually abusing children and bishops and others hiding their crimes, the biblical resonance might now finally be felt: the first have been ushered, publicly, to their place in the last seats. The last have been made first — and given a special place (even on stage with Lady Gaga). No longer need victims hide or fear to explain themselves. The mighty, indeed, have fallen from their thrones; the humble have been exalted.

As Barbara Blaine, founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said on Oscar night: “Exposing hundreds of thousands of people across the planet to a compelling, reality-based film about this crisis — people who might otherwise not pick up a book, go hear a speech or search the Internet for information about abuse — is, in itself, an incredible achievement and a real, life-changing ‘win’ for countless children.”

The movie powerfully illustrates what the church utterly failed to realize about itself: that the act of abuse, horrible as it is in any circumstance, was magnified in its unspeakable specifics because an all-male, celibate culture was so protective of its own status and privilege, so closed in on itself, that it was deaf to the searing pleas of children, parents, congregations and the few souls within its ranks who dared to speak the truth.

In the end it was, indeed, about a “system,” one presumed to be about the pursuit of holiness, that turned out to be despicably corrupt. It took outsiders — journalists, particularly — to question the institution’s rationale and turn it on its head. It took as well those who removed themselves from the worst of the clerical culture, notably Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, who understood he was dooming his clerical career when he decided not to turn away from victims, and former Benedictine priest Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist who deeply studied the priesthood and understood the dynamics of the scandal.

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