Don’t rock the boat for a few bad apples

This is my review of Spotlight [DVD] [2016].

In 2002, the Boston Globe’s long-term investigative unit, a team of four journalists named “Spotlight”, uncovered a major scandal of child abuse by Catholic priests who were protected from public humiliation and criminal charges by the power and influence of the Catholic Church. This has been made into a gripping film, apart from the fact that some of the legal procedure and newspaper practice is a little hard to follow, which is frustrating, although I was able to “get the gist” of it.

It is interesting that even the Spotlight team were able to overlook the seriousness of the abuse, because respect for the Church had become so deeply ingrained. It takes the arrival of a “new broom” editor Marty Baron, Jewish and an outsider, to see the ethical imperative, not to mention simple newsworthiness of the allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys.

The film’s focus is on the painstaking process of assembling evidence, spiced up with the questionable reliability of some witnesses, the predictable opposition from influential Catholics, the occasional impact of external events, notably the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers which delays progress for a few weeks, but most of all the succession of shocking realisations: according to an expert, 6 per cent of Boston’s priests were statistically likely to be paedophiles, giving a total or 90 to pursue; it had become standard practice for the Church to make settlements, not publicly recorded between the erring priests and the families of their victims, the lawyers taking a one third cut of the proceedings in what one “Spotlight” member calls “a cottage industry.”

Well-acted with the momentum of a strong plot to carry it a long way, some of the more “technical” scenes could have been made clearer, but overall this is highly recommended. I wonder what Catholics will make of this hard-hitting film.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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