This movie hits you like a punch in the gut. But you should go see it anyway.
It's the true story of how the “Spotlight” section of the Boston Globe, a team of four investigative journalists, began uncovering the facts and putting together the pieces of the horrific clergy sexual abuse scandal. The worst part wasn't that pedophile priests were preying on young boys, particularly the young and vulnerable ones. Or even that so many priests were involved just in Boston. The really chilling aspect was the discovery of the systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church hierarchy. They knew. And yet they did nothing about it. In fact, they actually moved guilty priests to another parish, where they were able to continue abusing parishioniers. The Cardinal's office also actively asked victims and their families to keep things quiet, so as not to damage the reputation of The Church. And then the Spotlight team discovers that for years, the Archdiocese office has paid certain lawyers to quietly settle with victims who threaten to sue, in exchange for the silence of not only the victims but the lawyers, also, under the guise of “client confidentiality.”
The breadth and scope of the scandal is so horrific that the Catholic Church is still reeling, not only in Boston, but as other abuses and cover-ups were also discovered in other locales, not only in the U.S. But worldwide (a complete listing is part of the credits). There's even a victim's organization that had been crying out for justice, but nobody paid any attention to them. The Church was too big and powerful, and nobody really wanted to believe all this was going on, but by patiently digging, the Spotlight team uncovered incontrovertible proof. And so they published the story that would be heard around the world.
The cast of “Spotlight” is fantastic, even though the actors aren't really given the opportunity to show much range. They're bulldogs on the hunt, and they're always driven, focused, intense, and even occasionally snarling. But nobody is really happy here, there's no romance, there are no funny or even light-hearted moments; it's all grim and gritty and sleazy and horrific.
Walking out of the theater with an angry crowd of indignant viewers, it was a tough time to be a representative of the church. It turns out that the “Spotlight” team themselves were all raised Catholic, but each had drifted away already, except one, who got so angry in the course of the investigation that she couldn't bring herself to even go to Mass with her grandmother anymore. For those of us who occasionally wonder why it is that so many people are deserting the church in droves, a film like this will remind of us how much anger and grief there is out there---and the disillusion extends not just to the Catholics, but to all churches. The few clergy we see depcited in the film are either breathtakingly complicit or smarmy, smug, deceitful deniers. There's no empathy here for the majority of sincere, hardworking, earnest parish clergy of any denomination. And the laypeople who attempt to come to the defense of the Church have somehow themselves become complicit in the cover-up.
This movie hits you like a punch in the gut. But you should go see it anyway.

Questions for Discussion:
  1. Are you familiar with a particular instance of clergy sexual abuse?
  2. How widespread do you think it is in the Church today?
  3. What can be done to prevent it from happening?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Supply Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Mabank, Texas