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Spotlight (2015)

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Back at you, Evan:  I've mulled over your comments during this past week, and you know, I'd like to believe that Pope Francis is a great guy, and that the "Catholic hierarchy" has decisively put into practice any lessons learned from the child abuse scandal.  But then I read articles like this, and I'm convinced again that the papacy and the other Roman Catholic leaders are far more committed to maintaining their power, a better PR image, and authority, while staying comparatively indifferent to the victims of abuse.  I'm glad Francis has courageously spoken about global warming and the refugee crisis, but Jesus' statement about "those who cause children to stumble" drowns out Francis' good words.

With respect to my film review, I'm glad I wrote what I did, but I'm sad that Spotlight's topic is still so current and relevant. 

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Before I fully respond, Andrew, would you clarify what precisely you mean by "abuse-perpetuating hierarchy?" Are you referring to priests answering to bishops as their superiors, and bishops to the pope? Are you referring to the entire idea of ordination (which is the gist I get from the most recent post you linked)?

With regards to this statement:

“I know that, as a presbyterate in the midst of God’s people, you suffered greatly in the not distant past by having to bear the shame of some of your brothers who harmed and scandalized the church in the most vulnerable of her members,” Francis said. “I accompany you at this time of pain and difficulty, and I thank God for your faithful service to his people.”

It is blatantly addressed to faithful bishops and priests, as a means of thanking them for remaining steadfast in their duties, especially when they naturally (and to some extent deservedly) shared in the guilt for the crimes of the abusers and those who covered them up. To read that as a means of sweeping victimized children under the rug is a dishonest twisting of words which I have a hard time taking seriously. Francis was addressing the US bishops and what he believes they've done in responses to the abuses crisis, not offering condolence to victims. There's a time and place for both, and to do one does not belittle the other.

On a related note, it reminds me of the mentality of the conservatives who are angry that every word out of Francis' mouth is not a condemnation of abortion. There are other important topics to talk about, and Francis choosing to talk about them doesn't belittle abortion one way or the other.

As to what the US bishops have done, they began an entire training program on how to prevent abuse and recognize child molesters, which is now mandatory for all employees of the Catholic Church (http://www.virtus.org/virtus/preview_pgc.cfm), they have released detailed reports (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/The-Nature-and-Scope-of-Sexual-Abuse-of-Minors-by-Catholic-Priests-and-Deacons-in-the-United-States-1950-2002.pdf). I assume that action is what Francis was praising.

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Evan:

Based on what I've read, the 'abuse perpetuating hierarchy' seems to apply to every level of the church, from the papacy and trickling downward.  Guidelines and studies are useful and important, but they're only valuable if they're enforced.  Here are just a few examples that I quickly dug up, of continued misconduct:

- Newark's archbishop

- The Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St Paul

- The Archbishop of Sarajevo

- shuffling American pedophiles to South America

- Archbishop of New York

- The Catholic Church in Poland

Meanwhile, an honest question or two:  have any major church figures been demoted or substantially disciplined for shielding abusers?  How many molesters have archbishops turned into legal authorities, without a prior subpoena or other heavy pressure to do so?  I just wonder, because 1) I haven't come across any examples; and 2) Cardinal Law is the elephant in the room, considering John Paul II whisked him to Rome (by some accounts just before state troopers were due to arrive bearing subpoenas compelling grand jury testimony) and to this outsider's eyes seemed to actually elevate Law still higher in the RC hierarchy.  And of course, JP II's successor didn't see fit to discipline Law either, despite the fact that Law was at the epicenter of the clergy abuse scandal in the US.

(Please forgive me for any misuse of terminology - I'm a bit sleep-deprived, but I did want to keep this discussion going.)

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You didn't misuse the terminology; I just wanted to make sure I was responding to the aspect of the hierarchy you were referring to and not something else.

In response to question 1), for now, I can quickly find these:

Kansas City Bishop Arrested

Vatican Arrests Archbishop and Ambassador

Regarding Cardinal Law, I'll respond more tomorrow (evening probably) but John Paul II appointed him as an archpriest (a demotion from archbishop) in 2004, two years after Law resigned as archbishop of Boston. I don't know when he was going to be subpoenaed, but that seems like a large enough interval of time that John Paul II calling him to Rome may not have been to protect him, but rather to keep him under surveillance while still having him do some work. Still, it certainly seems like at least a naive move on John Paul II's part.

Right now I need sleep, so I'm going to have to stop there.

 

Edited by Evan C

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With regard to Cardinal Law, I can't find too much more to add, except that Massachusetts' Attorney General also didn't see fit to ask the Vatican to send Law back to be subpoenaed, and the AG went so far as to say Law had not done anything illegal in his handling of the abuse cases. I guess all that proves is illegal and immoral are not synonyms. I would naturally agree that the Church had a greater responsibility to discipline Law, but I do think it's possible that a lesser position where he had fewer responsibilities may have been viewed as a sort of punishment. Even if it wasn't a punishment, there's no way that appointment was promoting Law higher in hierarchy.

No one (or almost no one) would dispute that John Paul II was too naively trusting of too many people. But he did issue a letter to all bishops in 2001 (before the Boston Globe broke the widespread nature of the abuse) stating that there would be no tolerance for sexual abuse of minors, and all accusations of such were to be reported to the Vatican so the accused priest could be removed from the priesthood, if he were guilty.

I also would not deny that many bishops have been way too lax at enforcing Vatican policy regarding sexual abuse. But that policy is one of zero tolerance, and as far back as 1962 any Catholic could be excommunicated if he failed to report sexual misconduct of any clergy. So when a bishop covers up a priest who has abused children, he is disobeying Vatican policy, and thus failing in his hierarchical duties.

Pope Francis has defrocked abusive priests and bishops (see link in my previous post), and Cardinal O'Malley has long been know for successfully implementing a zero tolerance policy, instituting one as far back as 1992. As a matter of fact, if you Google "cardinal o'malley zero tolerance" the first several results are people complaining that O'Malley has fired and called the police on too many accused people without investigating the accusations himself. (I think those articles are grossly biased against O'Malley.)

Edited by Evan C

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Am I missing something?  I don't see how the Kansas City story would reflect positively on the RC hierarchy, since the bishop and diocese were criminally charged with failing to protect children.  I'm not seeing the positive church action here.

While I'm glad that the Vatican arrested an archbishop, that Pope Francis defrocked a long-jailed priest, and that a Cardinal has consistently implemented a zero tolerance policy, this trio of instances seems a drop in the bucket.  Considering that the numbers of victims are estimated to number in the six figure range and that the Sipe research cited in Spotlight estimated that 6% of priests have sexually violated minors - not to mention the instances of continued malignity that I linked to above - these baby steps towards criminal justice strike me as more symbolic than substantive.

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I guess I misread you. I thought you had asked whether a bishop had ever been arrested over hiding pedophiles. I also wanted to show there are clergy who were not reassigned or protected in any way by the Vatican.

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So far, Andrew and Kenneth have both reviewed this one (read both reviews if you already haven’t).  From the reviews, it sounds like this is a film that is actually thoughtful.  Personally, I find questions of collective complicity fascinating as I believe sometimes they are the only path towards healing, and after Brendan Gleeson’s Father James’s comments about “sins of omission” and not doing or feeling what perhaps he should have in last year’s Calvary, it sounds like this could be an important film to see and reflect upon.

Justin Chang, Variety:
“... There are no triumphant, lip-smacking confrontations here, no ghoulish rape flashbacks or sensationalistic cutaways to a sinister clerical conspiracy behind closed doors. There is only the slow and steady gathering of information, the painstaking corroboration of hunches and leads, followed by a sort of slow-dawning horror as the sheer scale of the epidemic comes into focus. When a reporter notes that he’d love to see the looks on the faces of Cardinal Bernard Law (Len Cariou) and other Boston Archdiocese officials, it’s a measure of the film’s rigor that it refuses to oblige ...

Even without the onscreen presence of Globe deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery), whose father famously steered the Washington Post through Watergate, “All the President’s Men” would be the obvious touchstone here. Like so many films consumed with the minutiae of daily journalism, “Spotlight” is a magnificently nerdy process movie — a tour de force of filing-cabinet cinema, made with absolute assurance that we’ll be held by scene after scene of people talking, taking notes, following tips, hounding sources, poring over records, filling out spreadsheets, and having one door after another slammed in their faces. When the Spotlight investigation is temporarily halted in the wake of 9/11, we’re reminded that the film is also a period piece, set during a time when print journalism had not yet entered its death throes. Like the American remake of “State of Play” (in which McAdams also played a journalist), McCarthy’s film includes a loving montage of a printing press, busily churning out the next morning’s edition — a valedictory sequence that may move old-school journalists in the audience to tears ...

Where the film proves extraordinarily perceptive is in its sense of how inextricably the Church has woven itself into the very fabric of Boston life, and how it concealed its corruption for so long by exerting pressure and influence on the city’s legal, political and journalistic institutions. Given the blurrier-than-usual separation of church and state, and the fact that the newspaper’s own readership includes a high percentage of Irish Catholics, it’s no surprise that it falls to an outsider like Baron — a Florida native and the first Jewish editor to take the helm at the Globe — to play hardball with the Archdiocese. If there’s anything that keeps “Spotlight” from devolving into a simplistic heroic-crusaders movie, it’s the filmmakers’ refusal to let the Globe itself off the hook, pointing out the numerous times the paper’s leaders glossed over reports of abuse that landed on their doorstep ...”

Zack Ruskin, Consequence of Sound:
“... Given the subject matter, it would be hard to begrudge Spotlight for being a morbidly depressing affair, but McCarthy and his co-writer, Josh Singer, make the salient choice to eschew focusing directly on the pain of victims and instead examine the ethics and challenges of breaking a major news story that will shatter a community. That community of course is Boston, a popular home for films as of late and, in some cases, a crutch for character development. While many movies introduce their leads as Boston stoics and ask the audience to fill in the blanks, Spotlight embraces the city as its setting without allowing it to overshadow the true story. Characters like Keaton’s Walter “Robby” Robinson and Stanley Tucci’s Mitchell Garabedian are rooted in Boston but not beholden to it ...

In contrast to Black Mass, another recent Boston-centered drama that embraced showing murders point-blank, Spotlight opts to deliver its impact through careful, methodical build-up. Midway through the film, the “Spotlight” team has discovered a correlation between old directories listing the annual parish locations of each priest and the Fathers guilty of molesting children. As Carroll scans a list of names, he abruptly stops, runs out of his house and down several streets, and stops in front of a seemingly normal-looking home. The horror and disgust on his face as he realizes a man guilty of abusing a child lives in his neighborhood is far more powerful than any recreation could ever be. While a gruesome murder or a stark scene of abuse can certainly make for evocative cinema, there is infinitely more to relate to watching Carroll race down the street. It is a moment any one could experience, and that empathy is a guiding force in Spotlight ...”

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com:
“‘It may take a village to raise a child but it takes a village to abuse one too.’ It also takes a system of good to destroy a system of evil. Just as abuse cannot be perpetrated without the complicity of people who look the other way, nothing as remarkable as the investigation into sexual abuse by the clergy done by The Boston Globe could have ever been accomplished by a lone gunman. It took a team. This approach to this true story is one of the best elements of Thomas McCarthy’s fantastic 'Spotlight,' one of the leanest, most purposeful dramas I’ve seen in a long time. It is a film devoid of melodramatic speeches or characters designed purely to tug at the heartstrings. It is deliberate, accomplished, and intense, playing like a thriller more than a piece of Oscar bait. McCarthy proves to be the perfect director for this material, as his work with characters and actors ground the piece in a way that more style-heavy directors would not have. In fact, seeing 'Truth' the next day made the strengths of 'Spotlight' even more readily apparent. They’re both good films, and both will find their audiences, but 'Spotlight' stands above not only 'Truth' but most of the major movies screened this year at TIFF. It’s a phenomenal accomplishment.

... The room for error with 'Spotlight' is amazing. Think of all the overly emotional beats that McCarthy and co-writer Josh Singer could have hit, and that could have been underlined by gauzy cinematography and an overcooked score. None of that happens. McCarthy and Singer push their true story forward with the speed of a moving train, focusing on intelligent dialogue more than anything else. These are smart people who are good at their job, and that’s a rarity in film, believe it or not. They face many setbacks, but they don’t feel like ones designed by a screenwriter, and they have the passion and intelligence to push through.

Given its ensemble nature—there’s not a single bad performance, which means McCarthy deserves a lot of directorial credit—it’s hard to pick out an actor or two in 'Spotlight' but Ruffalo feels like the stand out. He plays Rezendas as a fast-talking, driven guy who won’t take no for an answer. Watch his body language in a sequence in which he has to deal with red tape to get some key documents. Just looking at him, you get the impression that he would wait days to get what he needs. And Ruffalo does get the film's big speech, which could finally win him a long-deserved Oscar. But it's a speech that feels genuine and from his character, instead of designed to win a trophy. Keaton gets a big speech too, and he really grounds the piece as the team’s leader. Every performance works, including smaller ones played by Stanley Tucci, John Slattery and Billy Crudup. We’ll be writing a lot more about this film in the coming months, and I’ll get to Masanobu Takayanagi’s tight, fluid, non-showy cinematography then. For now, just know that of all the big premieres in the Fall Fest season that I’ve seen, this is the stand-out ...”

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Unfortunately, this is not opening in Connecticut this weekend or next weekend, so I'm going to have to wait longer to see it.

 

Meanwhile, the Vatican radio has highly praised the film, calling it "honest" and "compelling"

Luca Pellegrini, who frequently comments on art and culture for Vatican Radio, praised “Spotlight” for demonstrating “the inexhaustible and uncontainable force of the truth.

....

Pellegrini praised the sober feel of the movie, saying “the director never gives in to personal interpretation or falls into the trap of scandal,” and also hailed the “extraordinary performances” delivered by actors Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton.

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Evan, you've seen the film more recently than I, so your recollection is probably more accurate at this point.  Nonetheless, I seem to recall the film's psychological explanation for the high prevalence of priestly predatory behavior was more nuanced than mere 'celibacy.'  I thought the psychologist they interviewed over the phone talked more about stunted psychosexual development than celibacy.

Am I wrong?  I could be conflating this with the memory of the psychologist I knew who worked with pedophile priests in Connecticut, who spoke of aspiring priests' adolescent isolation and training as stunting and deforming their psychosexual maturation.

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I don't remember anything that nuanced in discussing the psychological causes behind the predatory priests. The way I remember that scene with the psychologist/ex-priest was he said something along the lines of "Celibacy is the problem," and then gave the reporters the 50% and 6% figures, and then the focus turned to the 6% and whether that could be true.

I thought I called the "celibacy is the problem" a throwaway line, but looking at my review now, I guess I must have changed it when editing it.

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As I recall, the psychologist said he would *start* with the celibacy, as a way of understanding and addressing the problem. Which, in its own way, would make it sound like the mandatory celibacy of the priesthood is itself a fundamental problem.

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Not to put SDG or Peter on the spot, but wasn't the guy they were talking to someone (I forget the name) that Dreher (or SDG?) has been blogging about as a controversial critic of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Wish I could remember his name...but I remember hearing it in the film and thinking how the film went out of its way to underline how little actual input he had in the Spotlight story. 

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According to the Catholic News Service's review (which I mostly agree with, surprisingly considering my usual track record with CNS), the psychologist's name is A.W. Richard Sipe.

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Evan's review is excellent, and a worthy take on a generally excellent film. 

One correction to Evan's review: He says a character in the film "claims that celibacy is a direct cause of pedophilia." This is not quite true. The claim is that pedophilia fosters a culture of secrecy that in turn protects pedophiles. That is a more complex and interesting claim. 

Of course the fact that the film repeatedly speaks of "pedophilia," a term that reportedly describes less than 5% of cases of clerical sexual abuse of minors, is a caveat worth noting. 

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Colbert can be a great interviewer and Ruffalo is an actor who is capable of thinking about his roles and actually has something to say.  Against this is the fact that Colbert is still bound to the eight minute television “segment”.

This conversation is cut short to a draconian length of 7:22.  After introductions, the real conversation doesn’t begin until the 2:20 minute mark.  Their conversation then shows the potential for even more increased depth at the 5:48 minute mark.  But then Colbert is immediately forced to interrupt and stop Ruffalo at the 6:56 minute mark.

68 seconds to explore what an hour could only begin to introduce.

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Saw it.  Cried.  Impressed that the movie was not a hit job against the Catholic Church, per se, but more of an indictment on the "Systems" from myriad institutions--the Church, the media, the police, etc., --that had allowed wolves to manipulate those loopholes to foster their nefarious impulses with nothing more than an occasional slap on the wrist.  Everybody was culpable. 

I didn't catch this, but in one scene Joe Paterno was in a TV shot in the background.  Clever.

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Nick Alexander wrote:
: I didn't catch this, but in one scene Joe Paterno was in a TV shot in the background.  Clever.

Oh, now there's a detail I'll be looking for next time I see the film.

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It is a good film.  It was thoughtful and considerate enough to give a fairly balanced view of faith and the RC Church by offering us a variety of people's perspectives.

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