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Spotlight

September 14, 2018

The film follows The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States, and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. It is based on a series of stories by the “Spotlight” team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

In 1976, at a Boston Police station, two policemen discuss the arrest of Catholic priest Fr. John Geoghan for child molestation and a high ranking cleric talks to the mother of the children. The Assistant District Attorney then enters the precinct and tells the policemen not to let the press get wind of what has happened. The arrest is hushed up, and the priest is released.

In 2001, The Boston Globe hires a new editor, Marty Baron. Baron meets Walter “Robby” Robinson, the editor of the newspaper’s “Spotlight” team, a small group of journalists writing investigative articles that take months to research and publish. After Baron reads a Globe column about a lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, who says that Cardinal Bernard Law (the Archbishop of Boston) knew that John Geoghan was sexually abusing children and did nothing to stop him, he urges the Spotlight team to investigate. Journalist Michael Rezendes contacts Garabedian, who initially declines to be interviewed. Though he is told not to, Rezendes reveals that he is on the Spotlight team, persuading Garabedian to talk.

Initially believing that they are following the story of one priest who was moved around several times, the Spotlight team begin to uncover a pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in Massachusetts, and an ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese. Through Phil Saviano, who heads the victims’ rights group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), they widen their search to 13 priests. They learn through Richard Sipe, a former priest who worked at trying to rehabilitate paedophile priests, that according to his experience over decades, fifty per cent of priests are not celibate, though most are in relationships with other adults. He also surprises the journalists that his findings would suggest their estimate of the numbers of paedophile priests is low, and that there should be approximately 90 abusive priests in Boston (six percent of priests). Through their research, they develop a list of 87 names, and begin to find their victims to back up their suspicions.

When the September 11 attacks occur, the team is forced to de-prioritize the story. They regain momentum when Rezendes learns from Garabedian that there are publicly available documents that confirm Cardinal Law was made aware of the problem and ignored it. Although Rezendes argues vociferously to run the story immediately before more victims suffer and rival newspapers publish, Robinson remains steadfast to research further so that the systemic problem can be more fully exposed. After the Boston Globe wins a case to have even more legal documents unsealed that provide the evidence of that larger picture, the Spotlight team finally begins to write the story, and plan to publish their findings in early 2002.

As they are about to go to print, Robinson confesses to the team that he was sent a list of 20 pedophile priests by lawyer Eric MacLeish in 1993, which he never followed up on. But Baron still commends him and his team’s efforts to expose the crimes now. The story goes to print with a web link to the documents that expose Cardinal Law’s inaction and a phone number for victims of pedophile priests. The following morning, the Spotlight team finds itself inundated with phone calls from victims coming forward to tell their stories.

A textual epilogue notes that Cardinal Law resigned in December 2002 and was eventually promoted to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome before presenting a list of places in the United States and around the world where major scandals involving abuse by priests took place.

It’s very slow and boring.

All of the journalists use blue pens, their bosses use black pens, and the Editor uses a red pen

The credits and title cards are set in Miller, the typeface the Boston Globe uses for most headlines and body copy.

A victim asks a reporter, “Have you read Jason Berry’s book?” Berry is a reporter who began covering sex abuse cover-ups in Louisiana Catholic churches for the National Catholic Reporter and the Times of Acadiana. By the time the Boston Globe broke the story of the abuse scandal in Boston, the NCR had been reporting on abuse within the church for 17 years (while other, much bigger news outlets had refused to look at it).

In real life, Patrick McSorely, who relates the details of his sexual abuse to Mike Rezendes, later went on to work with his attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, to testify against Cardinal Law and the church. He also helped support other victims, including several of his childhood friends. As depicted in the film, McSorely turned to drugs and alcohol to cope. He died of a drug overdose in 2004, at the age of 29.

A study of Swiss priests published on May 12, 2003, revealed that 50% of that clergy had mistresses, similar to the report by the Spotlight team The Boston Globe published in 2002. Father Victor Kotze, a South African sociologist, surveyed Catholic priests in his country in 1991, and found that 45% had been sexually active. Over all these studies, 53% of sexually active priests surveyed were having sex with adult women, 21% with adult men, 14% with minor boys, and 12% with minor girls. These statistics caused a monumental debate in which no one challenged the reality of his numbers. Pepe Rodriguez concluded that 95% of practicing priests masturbate, 7% are sexually involved with minors, 26% have “attachments to minors,” 60% have heterosexual relations, and 20% have homosexual relations and on average across the globe. Only 50% of Catholic clergy are legitimately “celibate”.

A study published by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in February 2004 found that 68% of priests accused of sexual abuse were ordained between 1950 and 1979. Priests ordained before 1950 accounted for 21.3% of allegations, and priests ordained after 1979 accounted for 10.7% of allegations.

Cardinal Bernard Law died in Rome on December 20, 2017. He was 86.

Defrocked Roman Catholic priest John J. Geoghan was murdered by his cellmate at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Institution (now Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Shirley) in Shirley, Massachusetts on August 23, 2003. Because his conviction (for fondling a boy in a public swimming pool) was on appeal, and he died before the appeal had been decided, his conviction was automatically overturned. The three justices who issued the decision noted that they were following the direction of the Supreme Judicial Court, and that vacating the conviction is “customary practice of the courts in this Commonwealth under such circumstances.”

Ben Bradlee jokingly claims to be the Archbishop of Canterbury when Mike is spooked and asks who is at his door. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the head of the Church of England and would likely have little interest in protecting the reputation of the Catholic Church.

Controversy:

The heavily hyped Hollywood production – starring A-list actors Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo – professes to dramatize the paper’s pursuit of the troubling crimes committed by abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Boston.

However, after thoroughly studying the film, TheMediaReport.com’s Dave Pierre reports:

Spotlight claims to be ‘based on actual events,’ but it does not bode well when the very first scene of the film is a complete fabrication.

“It also does not bode well for the film’s authenticity that a possible lawsuit looms as at least four individuals have now stepped forward to say they have been falsely portrayed in the film.

“And the film grossly misrepresents the way that Church officials responded to cases of abusive priests years ago and essentially ignores the role that secular psychologists played in the crisis.

“The film also conveniently ignores the Globe’s long history of hypocrisy when it comes to reporting the issue of child sex abuse. While Spotlight kindly refers to Church officials as ‘scumbags’ and ‘good Germans,’ the Globe never applied any of those pleasant labels to others who committed child sex crimes and whom the Globe often celebrated in its pages.”

By their nature, moral panics are hysterical. They jettison reason for emotion, transform accusation into proof, spur more accusation and create a climate that demands not deliberation or evidence or resistance to prejudice but mindless faith.

Father Paul Shanley, who figures in Spotlight and who was declared a “depraved priest” by the Globe’s editorial page of April 9, 2002, the day after a PowerPoint show put on for the press by personal injury lawyer Eric MacLeish. Shanley is now imprisoned for crimes that are heinous in description and absolutely unsupported by evidence.

“Can you imagine”, Shanley said to me after his conviction in 2005, “here I am, the worst monster, a danger to children everywhere, and they offer me time served? … But for refusing to lie, I got twelve to fifteen years.”

Shanley did lie about his sexuality. As a young man he’d had sex with teenagers and grown men. He had a boyfriend. He himself was probably not the best boyfriend. He was politically radical. During the AIDS crisis, with a fellow priest he had run a motel in California for a mostly gay clientele. In the 1960s he opposed the war on Vietnam. With a nun he had started a mobile health unit to serve street people in Boston. He was on the action phone tree of Gay Community News. He spoke a lot, for mercy and love and against the church’s condemnations of homosexuality, divorce, contraception, sex. He spoke of social sin: racism, exploitation, police stings, violence. He made enemies. He made mistakes. He was a good man, a bad man, a sinner. He had a sign on his desk that read, “How Dare You Assume I’m Heterosexual” when he ran a counseling service that advertised, “Gay, Bi, Confused – Want to talk about it?” He didn’t always only talk, and some men who saw him were liberated and some were more confused, and some were not able to navigate the difference easily and later found in him a simple explanation for everything that went wrong. He was not brave enough, honest enough, in an institution that could be neither; in a straight world that required bravery to be honest. The “Spotlight” team got almost everything wrong. The movie doesn’t even try to be right.

The church settled four claims against Shanley that emerged in the early 1990s but concerned events said to have occurred twenty years earlier. Spotlight and “Spotlight” and millions of repetitive words spilled on the subject claim Shanley’s diocesan file is stuffed with allegations of sexual abuse from the 1960s and 70s which the church ignored. That is false. There was one hearsay allegation from 1967, which Shanley vehemently denied and church superiors did not pursue further. Of those claims settled in the 1990s one was brought by relatives of a dead man; another by a blackmailer who was making harassing phone calls to church workers. Once the settlement business got rolling in the 90s, and galloped at full speed post-2002, accusations and payouts multiplied. How many are valid? Having read a number of post-2002 affidavits, some of which are incredible, some of which describe willing sexual behavior, some of which seem to follow a script, I won’t hazard a guess. The point is they were not sitting in Shanley’s file for thirty years ignored.

By the time jury selection occurred in the child rape case against Shanley, every prospective juror said he or she knew something about the defendant; most commonly, what they knew was that he had been involved with the North American Man-Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA. This was not true, as I had learned from individuals who were present at the founding meeting that Shanley supposedly attended. But MacLeish had made the insinuation at the aforementioned PowerPoint presentation based upon a selective passage from a newspaper article in Shanley’s file, whereupon reporters, willingly led, printed the priest’s membership as fact, which was then repeated endlessly.

 

Marty Baron: Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.

 

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: We’ve got two stories here: a story about degenerate clergy, and a story about a bunch of lawyers turning child abuse into a cottage industry. Which story do you want us to write? Because we’re writing one of them.

 

Mike Rezendes: We got Law. This is it.

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: No, this is Law covering for one priest, there’s another ninety out there.

Mike Rezendes: Yeah, and we’ll print that story when we get it, but we got to go with this now.

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: No, I’m not going to rush this story, Mike.

Mike Rezendes: We don’t have a choice, Robby. If we don’t rush to print, somebody else is going to find these letters and butcher this story. Joe Quimby from the Herald was at the freaking courthouse!

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: Mike.

Mike Rezendes: What? Why are we hesitating? Baron told us to get Law. This is Law.

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: Baron told us to get the system. We need the full scope. That’s the only thing that will put an end to this.

Mike Rezendes: Then let’s take it up to Ben and let him decide.

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: We’ll take it to Ben when I say it’s time.

Mike Rezendes: It’s time, Robby! It’s time! They knew and they let it happen! To KIDS! Okay? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We gotta nail these scumbags! We gotta show people that nobody can get away with this; Not a priest, or a cardinal or a freaking pope!

 

Peter Canellos: They say it’s just physical abuse but it’s more than that, this was spiritual abuse. You know why I went along with everything? Because priests, are supposed to be the good guys.

 

Mike Rezendes: [from trailer] Six percent is 90.

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: 90 priests?

Ben Bradlee Jr.: If there were 90 of these bastards, people would know.

Mike Rezendes: Maybe they do.

 

Marty Baron: We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy; show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn’t have to face charges, show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top, down.

Ben Bradlee Jr.: Sounds like we’re going after Law.

Marty Baron: We’re going after the system.

 

Cardinal Law: If I can be of any help, Marty, don’t hesitate to ask. I find that the city flourishes when its great institutions work together.

Marty Baron: Thank you. Personally I’m of the opinion that for a paper to best perform its function, it really needs to stand alone.

Mike Rezendes: Mitch, are you telling me that the Catholic Church removed legal documents from that courthouse?

Mitchell Garabedian: Look, I’m not crazy, I’m not paranoid. I’m experienced. Check the docket. You’ll see. They control everything.

 

 

Mitchell Garabedian: This city, these people… making the rest of us feel like we don’t belong. But they’re no better than us. Look at how they treat their children. Mark my words, Mr. Rezendes. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

 

 

Mitchell Garabedian: [on Patrick] He’s one of the lucky ones. He’s still alive.

 

Marty Baron: Did everyone read Eileen McNamara’s column this weekend?

Boston Globe Worker: That’s the Geoghan case?

Marty Baron: Yeah, what’s the follow on that?

Ben Bradlee Jr.: It-It’s a column, what kind of follow are you thinking?

Marty Baron: Uh… well apparently this priest molested kids in 6 different parishes over the last 30 years and the attorney for the victims, a Mr…

Eileen McNamara: Garabedian

Marty Baron: Thanks Eileen, Mr Garabedian says Cardinal Law found out about it 15 years ago and did nothing.

Paul Burke: Yeah, I think that attorney is a bit of a crank, and The Church dismissed the claim.

Eileen McNamara: He-said she-said.

Marty Baron: Whether Mr Garabedian is a ‘crank’ or not, he says he has documents that prove that Cardinal knew.

Ben Bradlee Jr.: As I understand that those documents are under seal.

Marty Baron: Okay, but the fact remains a Boston priest abused 80 kids, we have a lawyer who says he can prove Law knew about it and we’ve written all of… uh… 2 stories in the last 6 months. This strikes me as an essential story to a local paper, I think the very least we have to go through those documents.

Paul Burke: How would you like to do that?

Marty Baron: Oh uh, I don’t know what the laws are here, but in Florida we would go to court.

Ben Bradlee Jr.: You wanna sue the Church?

Marty Baron: Technically we wouldn’t sue the Church, we’d file a motion to lift the seal on the documents.

Ben Bradlee Jr.: The Church will read that as us suing them. So will everybody else.

Marty Baron: Good to know.

 

Phil Saviano: I was eleven. And I was preyed upon by father David Holly in Wester. And I don’t mean prayed for, I mean preyed upon.

[last lines]  Title Card: Over the course of 2002, the Spotlight team published close to 600 stories about the scandal.

Title Card: 249 priests and brothers were publicly accused of sexual abuse within the Boston Archdiocese. The number of survivors in Boston is estimated to be well over 1,000.

Title Card: In December 2002, Cardinal Law resigned from the Boston Archdiocese. He was reassigned to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the highest ranking Roman Catholic churches in the world.

Title Card: Major abuse scandals have been uncovered in the following places: Albany, NY, Altoona, PA, Anchorage, AK, Anchorage, KY, Baker, OR, Baltimore, MD, Billings, MT, Bridgeport, CT, Briscoe Memorial, WA, Brooklyn, NY, Burlington, VT, Camden, NJ, Cape Girardeau, MO, Charleston, SC, Chicago, IL, Cincinnati, OH, Cleveland, OH, Collegeville, MN, Conway Springs, KS, Covington, KY, Dallas, TX, Davenport, IA, Denver, CO, Detroit, MI, Dubuque, IA, East Greenwich, RI, El Paso, TX, Fairbanks, AK, Fall River, MA, Fargo, ND, Farmington, IA, Fort Worth, TX, Gallup, NM, Goshen, NY, Grand Mound, IA, Grand Rapids, MI, Greenbush, MN, Hannibal, CT, Helena, MT, Honolulu, HI, Indianapolis, IN, Jackson, MS, Joliet, IL, Kansas, City, KS, Kansas, City, MO, Lincoln, NE, Los Angeles, CA, Los Gatos, CA, Louisville, KY, Manchester, NH, Marietta, GA, Marty Indian School, SD, Memphis, TN, Mendham, NJ, Miami, FL, Milwaukee, WI, Mobile, AL, Monterey, CA, Nashville, TN, New Orleans, LA, New York, NY, Oakland, CA, Omaha, NE, Onamia, MN, Orange, CA, Palm Beach, FL, Peoria, IL, Philadelphia, PA, Phoenix, AZ, Pittsburgh, PA, Portland, OR, Providence, RI, Raleigh, NC, Richmond, VA, Rochester, NY, Rockville Centre, NY, Rosebud Reservation, SD, Sacramento, CA, San Antonio, TX, San Bernardino, CA, San Diego, CA, Santa Barbara, CA, Santa Fe, NM, Santa Rosa, CA, Savannah, GA, Scranton, PA, Seattle, WA, Spokane, WA, Springfield, MA, St. Francis, WI, St. Ignatius, MT, St. Louis, MO, St. Michael, AK, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN, Stebbins, AK, Stockton, CA, Tucson, AZ, Wellesley, MA, Wilmington, DE, Worcester, MA, Yakima, WA, Yuma, AZ, Adelaide, Australia, Akute, Nigeria, Antigonish, Canada, Arapiraca, Brazil, Auckland, New Zealand, Ayacucho, Peru, Ballarat, Australia, Bass Hill, Australia, Bathurst, Australia, Berazategui, Argentina, Berlin, Germany, Bindoon, Australia, Bo, Sierra Leone, Bontoc, Philippines, Brits, South Africa, Bruges, Belgium, Buenos Aires, Argentia, Caen, France, Canberra, Australia, Cape Town, South Africa, Cebu City, Philippines, Chatham, Canada, Chimbote, Peru, Christchurch, New Zealand, Ciudad de México, México, Comillas, Spain, Cottolengo, Chile, Cuacnopalan, Mexico, Curracloe, Ireland, Dandenong, Australia, Dublin, Ireland, Edinburgh, Scotland, Feilding, New Zealand, Flawinne, Belgium, Franca, Brazil, Gortahork, Ireland, Goulbara, Australia, Grenada, Spain, Hamilton, New Zealand, Hobart, Australia, Hollabrunn, Austria, Igloolik, Canada, Kilnacrott, Ireland, Kircubbin, Northern Ireland, Latticefield, Australia, Letterfrack, Ireland, London, England, Lota, Ireland, Maipú, Chile, Manchester, England, Manila, Philippines, Mariana, Brazil, Masterton, New Zealand, Medellín, Colombia, Melbourne, Australia, Melipilla, Chile, Mérida, Venezuela, Middlesbrough, England, Mildura, Australia, Mittagong, Australia, Monageer, Ireland, Morisset, Australia, Morón, Argentina, Mount Isa, Australia, Munich, Germany, Nairobi, Kenya, Naval, Philippines, Neerkol, Australia, Newcastle, Australia, Ngong, Kenya, Ollur, India, Ottre, Belgium, Paraná, Argentina, Perth, Australia, Pilar, Argentina, Poznan, Poland, Preston, England, Quilicura, Chile, Quilmes, Argentina, Rab, Croatia, Reading, England, Frickhofen, Germany, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Rufisque, Senegal, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, France, Salta, Argentina, San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Santiago, Chile, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Sherbrooke, Canada, Silverstream, New Zealand, Soni, Tanzania, St. John’s, Canada, Sydney, Australia, Toowoomba, Australia, Trondheim, Norway, Tubay, Philippines, Wagga Wagga, Australia, Wexford, Ireland, Wilno, Canada, Wollongong, Australia

 

Mitchell Garabedian: [from trailer] I don’t want you recording this in any way, shape or form. Nothing.

 

Mitchell Garabedian: [from trailer] I’m not crazy, they control everything.

 

Phil Saviano: How do you say “no” to God, right?

 

 

Mitchell Garabedian: The Church thinks in centuries, Mr. Rezendes. Do you think your paper has resources to take that on?

 

Sacha Pfeiffer: [about his molestation] Joe, did you ever try and tell anyone?

Joe Crowley: Like who, a priest?

 

Eric Macleish: Most of these folks, they just want some acknowledgement… of what happened. We got them a sit down with the Bishop and… a little dough, and that’s the best they can hope for.

Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson: Well, certainly, the best that priest could hope for.

 

 

Mitchell Garabedian: Three years ago I get a call from an ex-priest, Anthony Benzovich. He was at Blessed Sacrament back in ’62, and he saw Geoghan… [waits for two cops to pass by, then continues] … taking little boys up to the rectory bedroom. So he’s appalled, all right? And tells the bishop about it. The bishop threatens to re-assign him… to South America.

Mike Rezendes: Jesus.

Mitchell Garabedian: Yeah. So, fast forward thirty-five years. Benzovich reads that Geoghan has been charged with molesting hundreds of kids. So, he feels guilty. He calls me.

Mike Rezendes: So, you have testimony of a priest telling his superiors about Geoghan in ’62?

Mitchell Garabedian: [shakes his head] No, I do not. Because when I call Benzovich in to give a disposition, he comes in with a lawyer.

Mike Rezendes: Wilson Rogers!

Mitchell Garabedian: Right. And suddenly, Father Benzovich has a very foggy memory. Can’t remember anything. He’s useless. So, I go back to work, I forget about it, whatever. Until about a year ago, I find an article about a priest who warned church officials about Geoghan.

Mike Rezendes: Benzovich went to the press?

Mitchell Garabedian: Yeah. Local paper, Patriot-Ledger. Nobody saw it. But now I got Benzovich on record. So, I file a motion to depose Benzovich a second time. And Wilson Rogers, that smug son of a bitch, files a motion opposing my motion. And that’s when I have him.

Mike Rezendes: Have him how?

Mitchell Garabedian: Rogers opposes my motion, so I have to make an argument as to why I’m allowed to depose Father Benzovich a second time. Okay? But this time, I’m allowed to attach exhibits. You follow what I’m saying?

Mike Rezendes: The sealed documents?

Mitchell Garabedian: Yes! I can attach the sealed documents that I’ve gotten in discovery, Mr. Rezendes, the same documents your paper is currently suing for.

Mike Rezendes: You’re shitting me!

Mitchell Garabedian: What? No, no, I’m not shitting you! So, I pull out the fourteen most damning docs, and I attach them to my motion. And they prove everything. Everything! About the church, about the bishops, about Law…

Mike Rezendes: And it’s all public! Because your motion to oppose Rogers’ motion…

Mitchell Garabedian: …is public, yeah. Exactly. Now you’re paying attention.

Mike Rezendes: So, I can just walk into that courtroom right now and get those documents?

Mitchell Garabedian: No, you cannot. Because the documents are not there.

Mike Rezendes: But you just said they’re public.

Mitchell Garabedian: I know I did. But this is Boston. And the church does not want them to be found. So, they are not there.

 

Phil Saviano: You guys gotta understand. This is big. This is not just Boston. It’s the whole country. It’s the whole world. And it goes right up to the Vatican.

 

Richard Sipe: If you really want to understand the crisis, you have to start with the celicabacy requirement. That was my first major finding. Only 50% of the clergy are celibate. Now, most of them are having sex with other adults; but the fact remains that this creates a culture of secrecy that tolerates and even protects pedophiles.

After the first major scandal in Louisiana, Tom Doyle, the secretary-canonist for the papal nuncio, coauthored a report warning that pedophile priests were a billion-dollar liability. That was in 1985.

 

Ben Bradlee Jr.: [upon learning what Sipe’s estimate of the incident rate of pedophilia in catholic priests would translate to] NINETY fucking priests… in Boston!

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