I was blown away by the new movie "Spotlight," which focuses on how the Boston Globe investigative team uncovered the massive pedophile scandal within the Boston Archdiocese and how Cardinal Bernard Law led the cover-up.
The newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation, and it was deserved recognition for uncovering a scandal that rocked the church to its foundation and identified Law as one of the most corrupt clerics in history.
Eventually the Globe’s reporting discovered 247 priests and brothers accused of abuse and over 1,000 survivors of that abuse, some as young as four or five at the time they were abused.
The investigation linked Law directly to the cover-up, after which he was spirited out of Boston by the Vatican and given a prestigious job there, probably just before he was going to be arrested.
It was an horrific indictment, not just of the church and Law, but of the Boston power structure where some people, especially lawyers, struck deals to keep families quiet. They knew exactly what was going on when accused priests or brothers were shifted from parish to parish or were on extended sick leave.
The unimaginable pain of the victims and their similar family circumstances are beautifully portrayed in "Spotlight." Most were young boys from broken homes, desperate for a father figure. The mothers hardly believed them and when they did they were powerless against the might of Law and the church.
One young man explained how when a bishop called to the house to cover-up an abuse his mother served tea in her best china. So it was with many others, and a conspiracy of silence and corruption dominated the church but also all the other institutions in Boston. No one knows how long the policy of switching pedophiles from one parish to another went on.
The movie does not exonerate the Boston Globe itself, which barely covered the story until a Jewish editor arrived from Miami and, with the perspective of an outsider, asked why so many priests had been charged with sexual abuse.
It turned out then that a conscience-stricken lawyer had sent a list of 20 abusers to the Globe years earlier in the early 1980s, but the paper had essentially ignored the information.
One of the most interesting statistics told by a real life expert in the film who counsels clergy is that only 50 percent or so of priests retain their celibacy. Of the 50 percent who do not, about 44 percent have consenting sex with adults male or female, but six percent are so damaged that they abuse children.
"Spotlight’s" recounting of the sex scandal is the best argument I’ve seen in some time for an end to celibacy and permission for the church to allow marriage and women priests.
It is no coincidence that all male institutions such as the clergy and many of the all-male regimes in the Arab Middle East are examples of where absolute power absolutely corrupts.
Go see "Spotlight" if you dare. As a journalist it was a powerful reminder of how important our much maligned profession can be.
For ordinary Americans it recalls the words of that great statesman Thomas Jefferson that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
It is that eternal vigilance that we expect from the media but an expectation that often falls far short, but not on this occasion thankfully.
If "Spotlight" does not win an Oscar I will be very disappointed. The movie is an inside look at how good journalism can change the world. I highly recommend it.