I saw the movie Spotlight this past weekend. The setting is Boston in 2001. The new editor of the Boston Globe, Marty Baron, assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against a priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Their research reveals a culture of silence, secrecy, and judgment that shakes Boston and continues to reverberate through the Catholic Church to this day…14 years later.
For years, the Globe had received tips about clergy sexual abuse. Yet, connecting the dots and exposing the depth of the pattern occurred only when a Boston outsider, who was Jewish, had the courage to follow his intuition and commit the resources of the Spotlight team, each of whom had grown up as practicing Catholics in Boston. Two things became clear to me as I watched the story unfold: 1) The degree to which our biases blind us to seeing creative possibilities for action; and 2) Leadership means engaging with integrity.
The movie ends with a series of four screens listing more than 200 dioceses in the United States and around the world where clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups have occurred. As I walked out of the theatre, I felt nauseous. The last time I was nauseous at a movie was when I saw “Twelve Years a Slave” a few years ago. I felt guilt as a white American, complicit in dehumanizing behavior to black men, women and children.
This time I felt guilt for remaining loyal to the institution…for not naming sexual and spiritual abuse a casualty of the clerical culture and the “good Catholics” that protect it…for believing bishops and cardinals when they commit they’ve addressed issues in their dioceses. Perspective taking is easier when we see the story and feel the emotions of those most affected.
Spotlight is a movie I recommend everyone see and engage in conversation about. Dialogue is one way cultural change happens. A fact-based movie like Spotlight focuses awareness on deeply ingrained patterns of behavior that threaten and demand people sit down and shut up, pledge loyalty to schools they attended decades ago, or trust friends and colleagues in perpetuity, especially when a leader’s behavior (priest, monsignor, bishop, or cardinal) is out of integrity with the core value and mission of the organization they represent.
Hope is never lost, even when buried under the debris of corruption. It’s worth seeing and worth feeling whatever you feel. Processing what you feel frees you to expand your perspective and take creative action.
“Freedom is the ability to make a new decision about who we really want to be in life.” ~Joan Chittister
Photo credit: Stuart Miles and FreeDigitalPhotos.net