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Academy Awards shine brighter Spotlight on sexual abuse

Award-winning: The film Spotlight. won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Photo: Mark Bowling

Award-winning: An ad for film Spotlight. which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, in a busy Brisbane train station. Photo: Mark Bowling

SOON after Spotlight was announced the winner of best picture at the Academy Awards, the Vatican newspaper praised the film for its portrayal of The Boston Globe’s investigation into clerical sex abuse in the United States.

Accepting the major award film producer Michael Sugar said Spotlight amplified the voice of the survivors.

“Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith,” he said in his acceptance speech in Los Angeles that was broadcast around the world.

Mr Sugar also expressed hopes that the voice of survivors would “become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.”

It apparently did.

Just hours after picking up the major Oscar, Lucetta Scaraffia, a columnist for the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, wrote that Spotlight had a compelling plot and should not be considered “anti-Catholic.”

Scaraffia is a professor of contemporary history and a frequent contributor to the Vatican newspaper.

“It is not an anti-Catholic movie, as has been written, because the film succeeds in giving voice to the alarm and deep pain experienced by the Catholic faithful when a team of investigative newspaper reporters in Boston revealed the scandal of clerical abuse,” Ms Scaraffia said.

The paper said it was also a “positive sign” when Mr Sugar used his acceptance speech to appeal to the Vatican.

Such an appeal, the newspaper said, was a positive sign because it shows “there is still trust in the institution (of the church), there is trust in a pope who is continuing the cleanup begun by his predecessor”.

“There is still trust in a faith that has at its heart the defense of victims, the protection of the innocent,” Ms Scaraffia wrote. 

Spotlight won two Oscars – one for best picture and one for best original screenplay. 

The film documents the Boston Globe’s investigation into the scandal and cover-up of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Ms Scaraffia said the movie did not go into detail on what she called the “long and tenacious battle” against clergy abuse by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – but she noted “one film cannot tell all”.

“The difficulties that Ratzinger met with do not but confirm the film’s theme, which is that too often ecclesiastical institutions have not known how to react with the necessary determination in the face of these crimes,” Ms Scaraffia wrote according to CNS.

While children are vulnerable to abuse in many other places, like in the family, school or sports teams, she wrote, “it is now clear that too many in the church were more worried about the image of the institution than the seriousness of the act”.

“All of this cannot justify the very grave crime of one, who as a representative of God, uses this prestige and authority to take advantage of the innocent,” her column said.

The film, in fact, shows the kind of devastation wrought on victims when “they don’t even have a God to plead with anymore, to ask for help”.

While some viewers will find Spotlight highly emotional and confronting, director Tom McCarthy has expertly avoided sensationalising its subject matter and doesn’t set out to destroy the Church.

Spotlight is about courageous and unflinching journalism. 

Significantly each member of the investigative team was a lapsed Catholic (each for their own personal reasons), but they were not driven by malice against the Church. 

They were genuinely shocked by what they uncovered.

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told Vatican Radio many bishops had urged others to see the film and “take seriously its central message, which is that the Catholic Church can and must be transparent, just and committed to fighting abuse, and it must ensure it never happens again”.

Catholic leaders cannot think clerical sexual abuse will go away if they don’t talk about it, Fr Zollner said. 

“I think this is one of the central messages of the film.”

Written by: Mark Bowling
Catholic Church Insurance

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