Movie Review



Critically acclaimed though not heralded by much fanfare, Spotlight is an important film for Christians to be aware of. It tells the story of the Boston Globe team of journalists who broke the story of Roman Catholic priests who had sexually abused children — over 70 clergy in Boston alone. When the Boston Globe published the series of stories in 2002, it became the catalyst for hundreds of further investigations and instigated change within the Catholic Church. For Protestants, this story is one we have started to see played out ourselves over the past 5-10 years, and we need to heed the cautionary tale found in Spotlight.

During their year-long investigation, the team at the Boston Globe go from being concerned about a few priests to discovering a systemic cover-up that includes priests, bishops, lawyers, and the silencing of hundreds of victims. As the four-person team interacts with victims and perpetrators alike, each member must deal with their own faith or lack thereof — all four were at least raised Catholic — and the deep culture of silence built within the church hierarchy. The team experience not-so-veiled threats and "friendly" cautions to steer clear of the story, but after talking to Phil Saviano (Neal Huff) and other members of a local SNAP group, they cannot ignore the evil being protected.

Spotlight is important for all Christians because it carefully, but clearly, shows how the very strengths of the church can become its downfall. It shows how trying to have grace and give second chances can put others — especially children — in danger. It shows how trying to present the best face of the church can so easily turn into merely saving face. And ultimately, Spotlight makes it clear that, as Mitchel Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) says, "It takes a village to raise them. It takes a village to abuse them. That's the truth of it."

I was also impressed at how Spotlight dealt with the issue of spiritual abuse and how it is inevitably involved when a child is abused by clergy — or indeed any church worker. The phrase "how do you say no to God?" comes up repeatedly because indeed, how do you tell your moral compass they are wrong, especially as a child? One victimized character says, "They say it's just physical abuse but it's more than that, this was spiritual abuse. You know why I went along with everything? Because priests are supposed to be the good guys." Boz Tchividjian's organization, GRACE, affirms that "there is no doubt that child abuse profoundly impacts a child’s faith, and this spiritual damage is often compounded by the inadequate response of a child’s faith community." Focusing on those who cause harm rather than simply the whole of Christianity, the film communicates the very real affect of abuse on faith.

Spotlight necessarily deals with very difficult topics, but it does so with much class and respect while never minimizing the horror of child sexual abuse. No images of abuse or sexuality are shown. Instead, the movie shows adults retelling the grooming, molestation, and rape that happened to them as children. This is done with the hesitancy expected from a victim of trauma, but also in rather direct language. The movie receives its "R" rating mainly due to this type of sexual discussion, which again is very respectful and necessary to the topic, and also for language.

If after seeing Spotlight you are interested in how the Protestant church is handling child sexual abuse in our midst, please read Boz Tchividjian's blog, "Rhymes with Religion", and the very helpful information provided by Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE).

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Published 12-14-15