“Spotlight” on the Catholic Church abuse saga – the grey area of religion, ethics, and the legal system

1 in 50 priests are paedophiles

– information taken from Pope Francis who claimed that not only priests, but also bishops and cardinals belong to the 2% that carry out child abuse.

Watching Spotlight – a film on Boston Globe journalists who went to investigate a cover-up of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, I learnt more about the tedious and extensive process of investigative journalism.

When I first started following the Amos Yee Saga in April last year, and did a few posts on the disparity between what the mainstream vs non mainstream media reported, or questioned unanswered loopholes, I did not know what I was doing was something along the direction of investigative journalism, nor the existence of the term itself. It was an older friend that enlightened me to that fact.

Never once did I ever think I would get into politics or journalism. I always pulled away from politics, as I felt it was something dry, that I would never understand, show interest, nor connect with.

And also initially, Offbeat Perspectives was just a platform to share local/independent music and film, and to release my thoughts towards society and the world e.g. religion, normality and morality, but these topics were swept aside at the start as I somehow stumbled into my interest of media control and censorship. Life is unpredictable and ironic in some sense.

The direction of Offbeat Perspectives now has evolved to cover more diverse scope – sexuality, normality, morality, religion, media control and censorship, music, film, society, interviews on alternative/ social issues, or with unique passions and individuals etc.

Back to the film – it takes a long time for investigative journalists to attain important information from relevant sources, connect the dots together, collate the information, before finally getting sources to double confirm it’s validity.

The most difficult areas during the investigation initially were firstly – the legal system and their professionals. The lawyers could not share out information about the priests’ or victims’ to the journalists because of their ethical obligation to protect their client’s information, as well as the church’s control over the legal system in Boston.

The legal system though important to maintain law and order, but as usual, it is a puzzle to work round with. And, to seek out those who are willing to step out and share their story as a victim, or digging out the perpetrators themselves was another tough aspect.

Three things that stood out about the film –

Firstly, the church’s control over the legal system in Boston – which allowed them to cover up information to protect the abuse cases.

If that happens, or is happening in Singapore – regardless if it’s attributed to race, religion, or politics – the legal system can be manipulated to cover up corruption and bad seeds.

The journalists investigating the saga wanted to nip the issue in the butt by focusing on showing that the abuse was sustained by the macro level system itself e.g. higher ups fully knowing what was going on, but choosing to cover up the matter, rather than merely bringing up the messo-level elements

e.g. priests in institutions abusing children which might lack in evidential substance for the church to admit, take active responsibility, and tackle the issue head on. They did not want the church to just put it down as an one-off, or minor loophole.

Secondly, many knew what was going on – like the churchgoers, parents, priests, and even the church higher-ups themselves, but did they take action? Some either did nothing, transferred the priests to other churches, or placed them in therapy treatments, but allowed them to continue serving in another church thereafter.

A few of these very same priests that taught us how to be good, and do good during Sunday service, took advantage of the victims trust and vulnerability.

What did the higher-ups do? They merely saw it as a inevitable case of a few bad apples that should not be brought up, or affect the positive image of the church.

Many times, ideology and community pressure overrides facts, logic and ethics e.g. honour killings, terrorism, genocide.

The parents of victims, or victims themselves were pressured to stay silent, instead of pressing charges. As a parent, why would you not stand up for your child?

Parents are inevitably pressured by their social networks, would rather shield the institution’s image or their family’s pride, and lose their humane side as a result.

Like what a character said in the film:

“If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a village to abuse one.”

3) Quite a few of the journalists in the film came from a Catholic background, but had lapsed. One of the character started to investigate the case, and got emotionally frustrated by what the priests did to the children, plus the fact that it was covered up by none other than same holy institution itself.

He mentioned that even though he had lapsed from church, he always held on to the possibility that he might eventually go back to his faith one day. But because of this child abuse matter, he found it absurd to why he even held on to that possibility initially.

It’s natural and understandable he feels that way – it is like trying to continue a friendship with someone who has backstabbed you before. And the emotional toll it has on him was further added on by the very same fact that he was exposed more and more to this horrible side of the church he once used to call home.

But still, I felt it is a pity that the character’s faith was negatively impacted by the Catholic’s churches’ wrongdoings.

Your personal faith, and the wrongdoing by your religious institutions are two different things.

Many terrorist groups took root from various religious faiths e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Jews, Hindus, Sikh, and the list can go on and on. But do you give up on your faith because of these minorities in your community that do evil? Nope, you do not.

The below paragraph is for individuals with a faith:

Your belief in your faith, and the religious institution you go to (an institution) though strongly intertwined, can be dissected apart. The wrongdoings and loopholes of the latter in whatever areas are indeed horrible, but, it should never ever break apart the personal and spiritual relationship you have with your God.

Relating back to life – when a few of your teacher does not teach well, or treats you or some your friends unfairly, does it mean it mean you give up on learning, or not work to do well for your exams? No. You press on, focus, and hold on tight to your learning spirit.

Media and the legal system.

The former is like a change agent that has to experiment, and find out how to work through the complex and structured legal system so as to help the oppressed in society.

The power and impact the media has – is very important in our world.

Many loopholes, sagas, or controversy were brought up only because of media investigations, or their write-ups bringing light to the matter.

And at the end of the film when the journalists finally published their findings, the press company was bombarded with calls from many of the victims that had chosen to stay silent many many years back, as they wanted to share their accounts of being abused. 

Never ever underestimate the impact of the media, and never overestimate the power of the legal system.

Human rights and civil rights movement around the world gained momentum because of the power and impact the media brought, and all these influenced, and tackled loopholes in macro levels systems, which brought about a change to better the lives of people.

*To end off, it is good to note that biographical films and their characters should be taken with a pinch of salt as it will never be 100% accurate with the fictional dramatisation of what actually happened, and additional pepper and salts.

Jack Dunn Says He Was Unfairly Portrayed As Villain In ‘Spotlight’

A January 8, 2016 article in The New York Times cited a detractor of the film who said that Spotlight “is a misrepresentation of how the Church dealt with sexual abuse cases,” asserting that the movie’s biggest flaw was its failure to portray psychologists who had assured Church officials that abusive priests could be safely returned to ministry after undergoing therapy treatments. Open Road Films rebutted the detractor, saying he was “perpetuating a myth in order to distract from real stories of abuse.”

– Quoted from Wikipedia 

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