When you have never heard of the movie that wins the Academy Award for best picture, you know you’ve been taken out of society a little bit. After running to YouTube to watch the trailer for “Spotlight,” I was ready to get to the movie theater right away.
Earlier this week, I saw the film, based on true events, about the 2001 investigation of allegations against Boston-area Catholic priests, accused of sexually abusing children all across the city. Aside from being a masterfully written and performed piece of cinema, the movie was profoundly disturbing, as it centered around a tragic question: How could something so terrible have happened so often before anyone decided to do anything about it?
The most startling and painful image of the entire experience was at the very end of the movie. As the final scene faded to darkness, white letters appeared on the screen, saying that abuse allegations had been uncovered in the following cities. A page appeared, showing well over 40 names of cities all across the country. An audible groan was let out by the audience, mortified by the staggering number. If only we knew that the page was going to be replaced by another long list, and another. In all, 5 screens full of cities all across America and the world cried out, demonstrating the grave problem that had so deeply infected the Catholic Church and society as a whole.
Walking out of the theater, I was particularly disturbed by the role that religion played in the molestation cases. A few times throughout the movie, a character said that they didn’t fight back or tell anybody about what his or her priest had done because they made an association between the priest and God. If this is how a man of God was going to behave, who I am to argue, they reasoned? How I am going to show my face in church after what I have seen, what’s been done to me?
As someone going into a career in institutional religion, I think this movie is a must-see for anyone who hopes to serve a community. It speaks to the terrible lengths to which an individual can take the power of holiness, and the unfathomable abuses that one can get away with if we allow it.
I am disgusted that someone who pretends to speak words of faith, words of holiness, could possibly bring themselves to commit such acts. I am horrified that so many people were willing to turn their attention away, to fail to speak out against the crimes committed in the name of the Church. I am furious that, as a religious community, we allowed 5 pages worth of cities to fall victim to a trend that has now ruined religion and spirituality for thousands, if not millions of people all across the world.
If we have anything to learn from this movie, it is that we have an obligation to hold our religious leaders accountable. These people are not without their faults, even without their atrocities. When we make excuses for our leaders, in any field, we are telling them and their peers that their behavior is acceptable, and that they should have the power to so devastatingly influence the public’s view of religion and God.
And don’t be mistaken: pedophelia and sexual abuse are not the only level of immorality that are being ignored by too many. Sexual immorality with congregants, financial dishonesty, and a general failure to live up to the standard of spiritual guidance are all problems that we, as faith-based leaders need to combat and need to be held accountable for.
Spotlight was a phenomenal movie with the ability to not only expose a dark part of America’s religious history, but also to inspire us to work to ensure that we stop this kind of conduct in its tracks. It is an opportunity for Americans to accept the failures of the past and to hopefully begin to heal, and to move toward a place where religion can once again be a place of comfort and safety, rather than fear and intimidation.