As a Catholic, you’d want to be sure your Faith was primarily in God and not in individual Catholic clergy. Too often, in striving for perfection, we assumed that those in the clerical state had already succeeded. Did we not really believe it when, at Mass, we heard them confessing their sins along with ourselves?
These thoughts were prompted Wednesday night of last week when I watched Spotlight (RTÉ1), a challenging film that outlined in dramatic form the Boston Globe’s investigation into child sexual abuse by priests in that diocese and the subsequent cover-up by Church authorities. The film’s approach was restrained, but of course the abuse highlighted was appalling and any discomfort of Catholic viewers pales into minor significance by comparison.
On an artistic level the film was absorbing as the newspaper’s ‘Spotlight’ team forensically investigated the abuse and how it was handled by Church authorities. Civil society, including journalism, didn’t escape lightly either – there was considerable reluctance in police circles to bring abusive priests to book, lawyers facilitated confidential settlements, and even staff at the Boston Globe ignored or missed information sent to them years previously.
The film proceeded almost thriller-like with its investigation of the facts, and certainly there was no cheap voyeurism or melodrama. And yet the crusading narrative was somewhat simplistic at times – too often it felt like ‘journalists good, priests bad’. At one stage it was suggested that 6% of priests were likely to abuse, but we got to see precious little of the 94%. I thought there was little of broader context or insight into the phenomenon, e.g. in a throwaway remark it was suggested without evidence that celibacy was at the heart of the problem, and there was no sense that abuse figures for non-Catholic clergy and other professions are similar. There was one scene where an elderly priest tried to rationalise his behaviour to one of the journalists but this intriguing conversation was cut short by the priest’s sister who shut the door on the journalist.
The film should act as a salutary tale to faithful mature Catholics, a warning against moral blindness, lust, arrogance, clericalism and abuse of power. For others, especially younger viewers, I fear the effect will be to increase prejudice and alienate from this community of sinners we call the Church.
In related news, I wrote last week about how we were in danger of messing up the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) and the papal visit, not thinking I’d get another example so soon afterwards. On Wednesday of last week it was reported that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had said time was tight in relation to the Pope meeting with survivors of clerical child abuse. This was bound to raise hackles and so we got several days of negative coverage for the Church and WMOF.
On last Thursday’s Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1) abuse survivor Colm O’Gorman was understandably frustrated, and thought it would be “galling” if all we got was the usual “set piece” of the Pope meeting survivors privately and expressing sorrow for the abuse. He thought the Pope should take responsibility for cover-ups in high levels of Church authority. He has some valid points, but I found his high moral ground stance lacking in credibility considering he had recently campaigned to make it easier, legally, to inflict the worse kind of abuse on unborn children.
Shortly after, on Today With Seán O’Rourke (RTÉ Radio 1) abuse survivor Marie Collins thought the Archbishop was pushing the Vatican, and thought it would be “shocking” if Pope Francis didn’t address the issue at all.
She wanted proper accountability and an effective penal process for bishops involved in cover-ups. She felt resistance in the Roman Curia and yet found “some very good people” in the higher levels of the Church.
On that evening’s Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1), The Irish Catholic editor Michael Kelly said he wasn’t surprised there hadn’t been definitive word from the Vatican about any meeting as these were usually acknowledged after the event to avoid media spectacle.
He thought the Archbishop was red-flagging the issue, issuing a “cry for help” to push the Vatican – a strange way of doing business if true. He felt there was an inability to wrestle with institutional issues and thought there was a “piercing need” to address the pain and wider sense of betrayal among Irish Catholics.
Another red flag there!
Pick of the week
BRAVERY UNDER FIRE
EWTN Sunday, August 12, 4 pm, Thursday, August 16, 9 am
EWTN docudrama about Fr Willie Doyle SJ, an Irish Jesuit priest killed in action during World War I.
INVITED TO COURAGEOUS LOVE – THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY
EWTN Monday, August 13, 9 pm, Tuesday, August 14, 8 am
Members of Courage share their personal stories about same-sex attraction and living chastely.
FAITH BEHIND BARS
BBC 1, Tuesday, August 14, 10.45 pm
Prison chaplains in Edinburgh give spiritual guidance and religious support to offenders.