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Statement of the Jury - Venice Film Festival - Spotlight

Friday 11 September 2015, by SIGNIS

(by Thomas McCarthy. USA, 2015, 2h07)

SIGNIS Jury, Venice Film Festival, 2015. When director Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight” premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 3 it received a prolonged standing ovation. The film stars Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachael McAdams, Liev Schreiber and John Slattery as the Spotlight team and publishers of the Boston Globe newspaper that successfully investigated the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston beginning in the 1990s. This investigation resulted in a series of articles in 2002 that revealed a pattern of covering up the activities of pedophile priests and hushed payoffs to dozens of child victims over many years. Stanley Tucci plays the attorney who represents the victims.

With the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law in December 2002, some say as a result of the revelations, further investigations exposed similar crimes against children and consequent covert ways of dealing with accused priests - or not dealing with them but moving them around - in diocese after diocese in the United States, Australia, Canada, Ireland and other countries.

"Spotlight" is an engrossing film based on the actual story of journalists who tell the biggest ongoing story about the Catholic Church in this century. The two key protagonists are powerful, global institutions: the press facing off against the Catholic Church.

The investigative team of the Boston Globe received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Journalism for Public Service, in 2003 for their investigative journalism. In the film, the Spotlight team admits its own culpability when it ignored information going back several years about clergy sex abuse and the Church’s failure to take action to protect children.

"Spotlight" is a straightforward and unadorned film that avoids exploiting the story. Some critics feel it is more the quality of television than cinema. Nevertheless, the enduring importance of “Spotlight” will reinforce the work that the Boston Globe did between 1999 and 2002 in calling the Catholic Church, including the Vatican, to transparency and responsibility for how it dealt with clergy who sexually abused children and what policies the Church would put in place to prevent abuse in the future and to bring the guilty to justice.

At the end of the film, before the credits, lists of parishes and dioceses where clergy abuse occurred, scroll down the screen, followed by all the countries where the scandal has spread. So perhaps the one thing missing from the film is a footnote stating that the since the 2002 articles by the Boston Globe, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued “ The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People ” to prevent further child abuse and to deal with clergy that are accused of sex abuse, including possession of child pornography. Although slow in development, in 2014 Pope Francis established the Holy See’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

Was it necessary to make a mainstream feature film to tell the story of the committed journalists who uncovered this pattern of deep scandal in the Catholic Church? Because the problem of sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy continues in the United States and in other countries around the world and victims continue to seek justice, “Spotlight” is a film that challenges the Catholic Church to be the moral leader it claims to be. With this film, cinema and journalism are indeed prophetic gifts for the Catholic Church.

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