Renewed interest in 'Spotlight' after film captures two Oscars

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The cast of the Oscar-winning “Spotlight” (from left to right): Michael Keaton, Liev Schrieber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, and Brian d’Arcy James.


By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

After winning Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture at the 88th Academy Awards late last month, the movie “Spotlight” has been given a bounce at the box office.

Upon its November 2015 release, the critically acclaimed movie grossed $4.4 million at the box office. As of March 6, one week after winning two Oscars, attention on “Spotlight” has increased dramatically, according to an article in USA Today, grossing $72 million worldwide.

Based on true events, “Spotlight” chronicles The Boston Globe’s investigative journalism unit called Spotlight and its 2002 exposé of sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests throughout the Boston area, erupting in what has been called the “church sex scandal.” For decades, priests had been molesting children – something covered up by the Archdiocese of Boston as it reprimanded its priests internally, sent them to other parishes, and paid hush money to the victims and their families in order to avoid bad publicity and lawsuits. This was standard operating procedure.

However, this exposé revealed priests molesting children weren’t just limited to Boston. In fact, it was happening all over the world – including Detroit. As a result, more victims came forward and numerous lawsuits were filed.

“This film gave a voice to survivors and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican. Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith,” producer/Georgetown Law alumnus Michael Sugar said during his acceptance speech at the
Oscars.

Directed by Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”), “Spotlight” boasts an ensemble cast: Oscar nominee Michael Keaton (“Birdman”), John Slattery (TV’s “Mad Men”), Liev Schrieber (“Scream”), Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook”), Mark Ruffalo (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”), Oscar nominee Stanley Tucci (“The Lovely Bones”), Saginaw native Brian d’Arcy James (“Sisters”), Len Cariou, (TV’s “Blue Bloods”), and Billy Crudup (“Watchmen”). Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) has an uncredited role.

“It’s a great, great cast,” praised Crudup, who played lawyer Eric MacLeish. “(McCarthy’s) a great filmmaker.”

The movie opens in 2001 when new Globe editor Marty Baron reads a story about lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (Tucci) stating Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law (Cariou) did nothing to stop a priest from sexually abusing children – something he knew about. Baron assigns the Spotlight team – Robbie, Michael Rezendes (Ruffalo, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), and Matt Carroll (James) – to investigate this cover-up.

Through months-long research, they discover that 90 priests in Boston are pedophiles and interview their victims. Garabedian tells Rezendes that legal documents have been made public, confirming Law was aware of everything. Eventually, The Globe wins a legal case to have more legal documents made public, providing evidence of a much larger problem running rampant throughout the church.

Under the banner “Spotlight Investigation: Abuse in the Catholic Church,” a series of articles elicited attention on national and international levels. There was
a telephone number printed in the first article requesting victims abused by priests to come forward. Phones were ringing off the hook the next day.

In 2003, The Boston Globe earned the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its coverage of the scandal.

“We would not be here today without the heroic efforts of our reporters. Not only do they effect global change, but they absolutely show us the necessity for
investigative journalism,” producer/University of California School of Law alumna Blye Pagon Faust said during her acceptance speech at the Oscars.

In the wake of the scandal, numerous lawsuits were filed against the Archdiocese of Boston. Settlements were estimated to be nearly $100 million in Boston alone. By the end of 2002, Law resigned and apologized to the people of Boston in a statement, asking for forgiveness. He was replaced by Archbishop Sean O’Malley.

“It shows what can be done with good journalism – the good part of the profession,” said Sue Carter, a journalism and law professor at Michigan State University. “I think they did what journalists do well and that is expose… let the light shine, allow those who are in power and those who need to be in power to make proper decisions. With respect to the screenplay, I thought it was very well-done and took a known story and known fact-pattern and gave it a good treatment. I was absorbed by the entire film. For my purposes top to bottom, it was a very compelling narrative.”

“Spotlight” has received mostly positive reviews from Catholic priests, no matter how painful and controversial the subject matter remains. Upon the film’s release, O’Malley issued a statement.

“The (movie) depicts a very painful time in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States and particularly here in the Archdiocese of Boston…” the statement read. “The media’s investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself – to deal with what was shameful and hidden – and to make the commitment to put the protection of children first, ahead of all other interests… I have personally met with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse over the last 12 years, hearing the accounts of their sufferings and humbly seeking their pardon. I have been deeply impacted by their histories and compelled to continue working toward healing and reconciliation while upholding the commitment to do all that is possible to prevent harm to any child in the future.”

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of the Archdiocese of Detroit was unavailable for comment. However, spokesman Ned McGrath released an e-mail Vigneron wrote upon the movie’s release.

“The horrible sin of the sexual abuse of children has been part of the life of our families, communities, and institutions for decades. For far too long this scourge was our ‘terrible secret.’ Sadly, the leaders of the Catholic Church in the U.S. did not truly appreciate or acknowledge the scope and seriousness of the situation in our ranks until (The Boston Globe) published a series of articles in 2002 that then cascaded across the dioceses of our country, including the Archdiocese of Detroit. There was a near immediate response, nationally and locally… Vigilance – and the protection of children in our care – remains our first priority in all of this,” an excerpt of Vigneron’s e-mail read.

The Archdiocese of Detroit has protocols in place on its website to report, treat, and prevent sexual abuse within its community. Information is available about its abuse prevention programs and policies it has adopted to keep people safe. In fact, it was one of the first to implement its Policy on the Sexual Abuse of Minors by Clergy in 1988.

The current revised policy takes into consideration the events of the past 27 years, including those depicted in “Spotlight,” as well as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People enacted in 2002 by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. It fully complies with this charter, including the permanent removal of priests from ministry when the sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.

R.J. Fox, a media teacher at Ann Arbor Huron High School, stated “Spotlight” is the best film about journalism since 1974’s “All the President Men.” Fox plans to show “Spotlight” to his classes because it demonstrates what true investigative journalism is capable of and the role it plays in a democracy priding itself on the First Amendment.

“I thought the film did an excellent job of being respectful of the story, particularly in terms of the victims. By the same token, I did not feel like the film disparaged the Catholic Church in any way. It disparaged the abuse of power that took place,” said Fox. “Any Catholic who has a problem with taking down sex abusers needs to do some deep soul-searching. I also feel that it helped that the journalists were mostly Catholic themselves and the internal conflict they felt and the responsibility they felt as both Catholics and journalists made the story even more compelling.”

Carter, who also is an Episcopalian priest, stated abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church, nor is it limited to the clergy. There are other professions where power is abused and used to violate those who are powerless.

“What makes it all the more difficult is the church is given a higher level of responsibility and trust,” said Carter. “And the violation of that trust is all the more
magnified.”

Fox, who lives outside Ann Arbor with his family, is a practicing Catholic.

“It took tremendous courage and patience on the part of the journalists to get to the truth of this story. And it was a reminder of the power of journalism to put a ‘spotlight’ on corruption. In all walks of life. Not even the church is above the law. Particularly when children are involved,” he said. “‘Spotlight’ was truly flawless in every dimension of filmmaking. And it was equally important from a cultural/historical perspective. Much like ‘All the President’s Men,’ only rather than the realm of the presidency, we’re talking about an even greater power – the realm of God.”

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