Much of the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” is true, although it dramatized elements of The Boston Globe Spotlight team’s investigation into clerical abuse in the Catholic Church for effect. Since its release in 2015, many people inside and outside of the church have seen and responded to the movie. Most of the responses have been positive, praising the movie as accurate and well-done. However, some people, including some portrayed in the film, thought it was inaccurate or misrepresented aspects of the situation.
Overview of the Movie
“Spotlight” is based on the true story surrounding the series of news articles published in 2002 by the Globe that exposed just how extensive the abuse in the Catholic Church had become and the cover-up to keep it hidden. The movie follows the team at the Globe called Spotlight that conducted the investigation and wrote the articles.
The movie opens with a scene in 1976 after a priest is arrested for child molestation. A high-ranked member of the church’s leadership manages to have the priest freed and the case hushed up. This scene serves as an example of how the Catholic Church was able to conceal the abuse for so long. The rest of the movie takes place in 2001 as the piece is being written.
The Spotlight team at the Globe focuses on long-term, heavy research assignments. They begin investigating in 2001 when a new editor gets a lead that the priest from 1976 had abused children for decades and the Archdiocese of Boston continued to cover it up. Throughout the investigation, the team finds ways to locate the victims and convince them to tell their stories so that the team can expose all the church’s problems.
Eventually, team members convince enough victims to talk about their experiences that they can persuade lawyers and people in the Archdiocese to provide evidence of what was happening. The series of articles was finally published in early 2002 and is credited with starting the movement to hold the Catholic Church accountable for decades of clergy abuse.
Similarities to the Movie
When examining how much of “Spotlight”
is true, remember that it is a movie, not a documentary. Some aspects of the story will be changed— especially the dialogue—to make it more engaging for viewers. However, most reviewers agree with the website Information Is Beautiful and believe that the movie is mostly accurate. There are several notable exceptions for creative license and storytelling aspects, but the consensus is that the moviemakers handled the source material and presented the information as best as could be done.
Differences in the Movie
While much of “Spotlight” is true, many of its deviations from the actual course of events were to include events that happened later than the movie’s time frame. For example, Ronald H. Paquin (a former priest and noted abuser) confesses to abusing children in the movie. The movie makes it appear as if this happened during the initial investigation. Instead, his confession occurred months after the events depicted in the film ended as the team continued to investigate and publish follow-up articles.
Other notable examples are revelations that team members had during the film that did not happen until afterward. The Spotlight team editor had underplayed a story in 1993 while he led another department at the Globe about 20 priests who were molesting children. In the movie, the editor reveals this list before the first piece was published, but in real life, he only revealed the article’s existence while being interviewed for the movie.
Understanding the Legal Process
The Globe’s series on clergy abuse shone a spotlight on the scandal and paved the way for countless victims to deal with the subject. When dealing with clergy abuse, the legal process is the same as dealing with abusers from any other segment of society:
- Notify law enforcement authorities.
- Agencies begin an investigation.
- If the charge is substantiated, arrest the abuser.
What most people do not realize is that this process can take longer than expected. The police must do a thorough investigation before acting. Many victims feel as if the police are holding back or doing nothing. However, it is more likely that law enforcement officials are doing their due diligence to make sure a case will stick before they arrest anyone.
Changes in Clergy Abuse Management
Clergy abuse is not a new problem that suddenly needs a response. Reports of clergy abuse go all the way back to the 1950s, with many observers speculating that it goes back for centuries.
The Catholic Church leveraged its influence to cover it up. Its stance has changed substantially over the past two decades. A 2015 report in Psychology Today discussed how the church instituted policies following the Spotlight report to protect children around the world. These policies include mandatory reporting of all accusations of clergy sexual misconduct and immediately removing the accused clergy member from active duty. All these changes make it far less likely for the church to get away with a cover-up now.
Call to Schedule a Free Consultation
If you or a loved one is a victim of clergy abuse, you might want to consult a lawyer to learn more about your legal options. Contact Pintas & Mullins Law Firm today at (800) 219-9622 to discuss your case with our legal team.