Earlier this week, we began a discussion about the movie “Spotlight,” which has earned numerous accolades and is nominated for several Oscars. It tells the story of a small group of reporters from the Boston Globe who publicly exposed one of the Catholic Church’s biggest and darkest secrets. Institutional complicity was a major theme of the movie.
In today’s post, we’ll discuss two more of the movie’s prominent themes. The first is the power of victim advocacy – including the self-advocacy of victims. The second is the role of willful public ignorance in keeping this scandal a secret for so long.
An important character in Spotlight is a real person named Phil Saviano. As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, he established the first New England chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). In the movie, Saviano is initially viewed by other characters as a well-meaning but less-than-credible victim advocate. His claims seem too outrageous at first.
But as the movie progresses, Saviano connects reporters to other victims. He also pushes to ensure that the story is ultimately published, as past attempts to get media attention had been largely unsuccessful. Nearly all victims involved with the story wanted one simple thing: To be heard and believed. Once the story broke, countless other victims came forward with their own accounts.
One of the most powerful lines in “Spotlight” is spoken by an attorney representing many sex abuse victims. He says: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” These crimes could not have continued for so long without the help of other clergy members at all levels of the church. These men and women were more concerned about protecting pedophiles than protecting children.
But the public as a whole may also share some blame. Catholicism has a stronger cultural presence in Boston than almost anywhere else in the country. Many faithful Catholics chose not to understand the evidence they saw or acknowledge their suspicions. Newspapers (including the Globe) were very hesitant to print anything that would be critical of the Catholic Church.
These patterns were not unique to Boston. They could be seen here in Philadelphia, across Pennsylvania and throughout the country.
If you have not yet seen Spotlight, please don’t miss your chance to experience this powerful story. And if you or a loved one has been a victim of clergy sexual abuse, please share your own powerful story with a compassionate victim advocacy attorney.