After receiving six Oscar nominations and not winning the first five, many were surprised that Spotlight took home the award for Best Picture. The film follows the team of Boston Globe reporters who were the first to uncover the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Despite many Bostonians’ anger over the portrayal of various people in the film, I believe that this story was an important one to tell, and in the long run will actually do more good than harm for the Church.
Firstly, the conclusion of the film is essentially an apology on behalf of all Bostonians—not just the Catholic hierarchy—for letting the abuse carry on for so long unnoticed. One of the more prominent undercurrents of the entire film, is the various characters having to take responsibility for the small ways in which even they had been complicit in something nobody fully understood, but also something nobody did much about. The film shows the reality of the situation: that this was not a single occurrence we can blame on one priest, or even a small group of priests. This was a city-wide and nation-wide crisis, and the repentance therefore required is a corporate one. Just as the point of confession is to simply admit out loud before a witness what it was that one did wrong, Spotlight serves as a sort of city-wide confession that says “we are sorry we let this happen; we are sorry for ignoring victims and turning a blind eye and burying clips and everything we may have done that did not put an end to this horror sooner.”
However, Spotlight is more than simply a confession to the world. It is a way of honoring the victims for what they really did endure. It is a way of acknowledging that they were right this entire time, and they deserve the dignity and space to tell their stories. After all of these years of hiding and the Church covering them up, they finally had their chance to speak out. The final scene of the film portrays the phones ringing like crazy with victims’ stories, who were inspired by the first Spotlight story to speak out. Because of what happened in this film, victims around the world were finally given a voice and that is important.
Finally, what really makes this movie important for the positive future of the Church, is that it fortunately does not stand alone. After Cardinal Law stepped down, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley took his seat as the Archbishop of Boston amidst the turmoil of the scandal. Cardinal O’Malley has done a phenomenal job addressing the issue of pedophile priests, but issuing the first ever comprehensive sexual abuse policies in the Roman Catholic Church. His “zero tolerance policy” put an end to the previous policy of simply moving priests around, taking them out of circulation instead as soon as a case of abuse came to light. He also released the names of the abusive priests to the public. Not surprisingly after his harsh action in response to the scandal, Cardinal O’Malley endorsed Spotlight soon after its 2015 release in an open letter published in The Pilot. In it, Cardinal O’Malley commended the Globe’s Spotlight team, saying “The media’s investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the Church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself — to deal with what was shameful and hidden — and to make the commitment to put the protection of children first, ahead of all other interests.”
Though Spotlight is painful for anyone who knows and loves the Archdiocese of Boston, it is necessary. It serves as a way of repenting for the past, honoring victims, and reminding everyone that we as a community of the Church will never let this happen again. It looks forward to a bright future for the Church, in which children are protected and the image of priests is slowly transformed into the trustworthy pastors of faith that they should be.