Spotlight Reveals Institutional Complicity

December 13th, 2015 / 2 Comments

The new movie, Spotlight, tells the ugly story of clergy sexual abuse of children. But what the movie says about institutional complicity reveals the ugly side of church leadership.

Spotlight is based on the true story of how Boston Globe newspaper’s investigative reporting team called, “Spotlight.” The team uncovered widespread child molestation and its cover-up in Boston’s Catholic Archdiocese.

As one might expect, the individual cases of abuse – more than 1,000 – are at the heart of the movie. The devastating effects of the abuse are seen in the children molested and their (1)

But what Spotlight does especially well is describe wider complicity by ecclesial authorities and the legal system. Priests preyed on mostly underprivileged boys, using their positions of power to satisfy their own illicit pleasures.

Lawyers called in by the church to meet with victims and their families encouraged those involved to sign confidentiality agreements but offered minimal financial compensation. The agreements and small payments were kept off the legal record.

When religious authorities cover up abuse, young and old lose faith in the church. Click To Tweet

Spotlight addresses the larger institutional structures of the church and why the institution became blameworthy. Not only were priest violators shuffled from parish to parish. But church leadership went to great effort to keep victims silent.

I believe that Spotlight offers as a powerful example of how failure to act for the good of the few undermines the good of the whole. Church leadership wrongly thought that protecting the reputations of their fellow leaders and the institution as a whole – while covering up the truth about how some leaders were abusive – was best.

The result is expressed well in the movie by an attorney representing the victims: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

Those who turn a blind eye to justice will not be looked to for spiritual inspiration. Click To Tweet

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One of the most insightful scenes comes near the end of Spotlight, as Globe reporters, played by Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, think about what the scandal means for their own relation to the church. Both were raised in Roman Catholic communities, but both say their adult involvement was little to nothing.

McAdams’s character admits that she can no longer bring herself to attend mass. Ruffalo’s character says he had always assumed he would return to the church. The molestation scandal and ongoing cover-up, however, now presented insurmountable obstacles. What the church had done, especially its leaders, made him unwilling to return to the church community.

One advocate for the victims says early in the movie that what happened was “not just physical abuse, it’s spiritual abuse.” In other words, those molested had lost faith or could no longer maintain healthy spiritual lives.

Institutional and leadership cover-up of sin and injustice have massive negative repercussions. Those who turn a blind eye to justice will not be looked to for spiritual inspiration. Spiritual abuse done by the powerful compels both young and old people to lose faith in the church.

A spotlight will shine on injustice done by individuals in private or leaders behind closed doors.

A spotlight will shine on the evil individuals do in private and leaders do behind closed doors. Click To Tweet
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Great review. I loved this film. I loved that scene between Ruffalo and McAdams as well. It made me think of my youth group actually. I remember how many there were of us who were emotionally charged about Jesus. I also remember watching our group dwindle as we got older into high school because “the Church” wasn’t relevant to our lives. I was a teenager when these reports came out in “Spotlight”. I remember it fueling people’s arguments about staying away from organized religion. Now many of my friends want nothing to do with the Church, Jesus or spirituality, etc. I bet most of them believed that one day they would probably come back. Once they had families of their own and what not. But this sadly hasn’t happened. It’s a different day and my generation isn’t coming back to church, which I don’t see as a bad thing honestly. Even as a pastor. Thanks for posting this. I think more conversations need to be had about leadership, accountability and protecting the weak and innocent. Cheers!

lige jeter

Tom, Leadership in the Church, must always be held accountable considering souls at stake. There no excuses that will stand-up on the day-of-judgment for willful wrong conduct, as described in “Spotlight.” I might add no excuse will be accepted for those who leave the Church abandon Jesus as Matt points out because it no longer fits their lifestyle. Using leadership, as an excuse, to stop going to Church is just that an excuse.

1 Timothy [3: 1-7] “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

Paul’s first instructions, setting the example for a bishop to others is to be blameless. He must be someone who strives to live his or her life before others that no evil ever spoken in opposition to their Christian faith. Paul lists several disciplines that characterizes or sets a bishop apart. He must be efficient in the fulfillment of his duties or how can he reprove in others that which can be accused in him.

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