A new must-see movie on the Vatican’s coverup of child abuse

September 20, 2015 • 10:15 am

I haven’t yet seen the movie “Spotlight,” but reader Tom C. sent me an email headed “Sockless in Toronto”, which said this:

I’m in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival sans socks because they have been blown off by a movie I felt I should give you a heads-up about as it doesn’t open in the states until Nov. 6.  “Spotlight” is the story of six Boston Globe reporters who uncovered the cover-up of child molestation by the Archdiocese of Boston.  To say the movie is powerful is to damn it with faint praise.  Beautifully understated with great acting, particularly by Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams, I emerged furious at the mendacity of the church and heartbroken for the victims.  I look forward to seeing Bill Donohue’s (Catholic League head goon) head explode when this film opens nationally.  I’ve linked (I hope) a review from the Toronto Star. [JAC: I lost the link, but here’s one review from the Star.]

Here’s the official trailer:

With a 97% critics’ rating from Rotten Tomatoes, this is surely a must-see movie. I haven’t found reviews in the New York Times or The New Yorker. If you’ve seen the film, weigh in below.


89 thoughts on “A new must-see movie on the Vatican’s coverup of child abuse

  1. TIFF had some great movies this year & this is the year I don’t have free passes (the company I worked for used to give them out because they were sponsors).

    I will have to look for this when it has its broader release!

  2. No surprise here!! In Canada we are still dealing with the residential school fiasco and the lack of admittance of guilt in the way indigenous children were taken from their parents for “their benefit” only to be brutally abused. As for bill Donohue maybe he and the pope can have a date and go and watch the movie when his excellency makes his dubious entrance to the us of a!! I am sure they are more than willing to forgive the children for their indiscretions!

    1. Not to defend the Catholic Church in any way but just to be clear, the evils suffered by First Nations children in residential schools were perpetrated representatives of several faiths including the Anglican and United Church of Canada.

      1. Agreed, but this is a “whataboutary” response. The point is simply about the abuses perpetuated by the Catholic Church and uncovered by the Boston Globe. Is your point that the movie neglected all the other abuse perpetuated by religions over time, or even in our time? That’s not what the movie is about, nor do any of us, I think, believe that every other faith is exculpated.

        1. To be fair John Chardine was responding to the comment about the Canadian residential ‘schools’ (they were child prisons) for Native people. The residential schools have absolutely fucking nothing to do with the Catholic Church pedophile priest scandal. And the abuse there was of every sort imaginable, not just sexual abuse. And the motive was ethnic hatred against Native people. Christianity for all its evils did not initiate the residential school policy. Dan Bertini is the one doing ‘whataboutery’ or at least going weirdly off-topic. Including because one of the most salient and horrifying features of the pedophile priest scandal is The Catholic church hierarchy conspired with criminals to rape children. The residential schools horror was just a terrible government policy. The government policy to “kill the Indian in the child” was never secret. And the government didn’t aid and abet criminals as the Catholic Church did.

          1. I think both Daniel Bertini and John Chardine have been unfairly criticized here.

            As Conn states, John chimed in on the Canadian residential school scandal in order to clarify a point Daniel had made in the first comment of this thread. I think Jerry missed that part. But Conn, I think you’re unfair to Daniel; it seems perfectly natural to me that the Catholic/pedophile crisis would remind one of the Canadian situation. I.e., I don’t find it “going weirdly off-topic” at all.

            In fact, by adding so much about the situation, one might find you guilty of the most “whataboutary” here. 🙂

        2. I googled whataboutary because it’s a new concept to me.

          Found this on Wikipedia: “The fallacy of relative privation, or appeal to bigger problems, is an informal fallacy in which an opponent’s arguments about issues are minimized, deemed unimportant, or dismissed on the grounds that more important topics and issues exist, regardless of whether these problems are relevant to the question at hand or not.

          A well-known example of this fallacy is the response “but there are children starving in Africa,” with the implication that any issue less serious is not worthy of discussion.”

          If Wikipedia’s fallacy of privation is what whataboutary is, then I understand Jerry’s take John’s response. And I learned something new!

  3. I gotta ask…how many priests have to rape how many children before the only remaining conclusion is that they really are doing it with Jesus’s blessing?

    Can we finally admit that Jesus is the patron saint of child rape? That Jesus’s “blessing” of “love” for his children is priestly rape?


      1. I got a late comment about half a day ago on my piece about Ben’s piece, wanting to know where my evidence was that thousands of children suffered every year because of the failure of prayer in abuse situations. I never know whether these people really are this stupid, this deluded, this brainwashed, or maybe even this evil.

        1. That evil. Start presenting actual evidence, and the Christian will start painting the children as eager hypersexual succubi whom the priest couldn’t possibly have resisted.


          1. Which has actually happened up to a point in some cases – 10-year-olds painted as the seducer.

          2. Yup.

            And, hell. Grant it for the sake of argument, even. These men who manifest Jesus couldn’t figure out that a ten-year-old coming on to them needed professional help, not a good rogering?


          3. Or even that a ten-year-old exhibiting such behaviour was sent by the devil to tempt him into sin? Surely all the more reason to resist, as one of God’s chosen.

          4. Yeah — this isn’t some sort of subtle, nuanced area of morality, such as whether it’s rude to put the soup spoon on the improper side. This is child rape! What else could possible be a more obvious, over-the-top example? And if Jesus can’t even do anything to help his own priests keep their pants zipped…what good is he, again, exactly…?


          5. That has happened in Australia, bishops blaming children for seducing poor defenseless priests. Mind boggling.

        2. I’d go for evil in this case. it takes an amazing amount of willful ignorance, lying and selfishness to even think of saying such a thing.

          The conspiracy would not surprise me at all. Considering the millions of dollars wasted on this hypocrite, a few bucks passed to avoid a release of a critical movie wouldn’t be strange at all.

          1. If the pope’s visit was closer to the release date, I’d bet it had happened. That gives us a new idea of course – it was delayed for long enough that it didn’t seem like the two were related.

        3. Gotta share! This same person has come back. After insisting again there’s no evidence, I got this:

          “You seem like a nice lady and definitely too intelligent to be an atheist.”

          I think it might be better to just ignore that one! 🙂

    1. Jesus was misquoted: The bible, and all my Catholic school lessons taught that, when children clamored to be near him and his apostles held them back, he said “Suffer the little children to come unto me, for there’s is the kingdom of heaven.”

      The church heard “Suffer me to come into the little children, for sex without condom is heaven!”

    1. I was wondering about the timing of the movie release and the Papal visit. It would be great if his visit was overshadowed by the movie.

  4. And a stellar cast, this is fantastic. The point needs pressing home that the hierarchy knew it was happening, and by covering up and shuffling abusive priests around they enabled, and were thus equally culpable of the continued molestation and rape of vulnerable children.
    It would be nice to think that independent cinemas would show this film wherever in the world the pope came on his recruitment drives.

    1. hus equally culpable of the continued molestation and rape of vulnerable children.

      This goes way beyond mere culpability. A fresh supply of children to rape was clearly one of the benefits of the job. The church doesn’t pay much in the way of salary, but it’s got a rather lucrative benefits package, including housing, medical, retirement…travel…and, for those who want it, all the children they can rape, supplied by the Church itself, complete with a promise of full confidentiality and protection from local authorities.

      Culpable? No.

      They’re running a private child prostitution operation for their own membership. That’s just a wee bit more than culpable.


      1. If anyone but a religious organisation had done this, that’s the conclusion that would have been reached. Even when priests are prosecuted though (and not just the Catholic Church), the employing body never has been.

        1. Exactly.

          Imagine it was Mafia enforcers who were discovered to have had an ongoing “child abuse problem.” Imagine some corporation kept shuffling its middle management from region to region to stay one step ahead of local accusations of child rape. Imagine if some NGO had a reputation for “They do some good charity, but keep your kids away from their aid workers.”

          What prosecutor would even think of stopping before the whole organization was behind bars?


      2. I got banned from Uncommon Descent by saying pretty much that, Ben. Found out when I tried to post the sources that were asked by some StephenB character for my, in his own words, “outlandish claims”. They call your claims outlandish, as for sources, then quickly ban you before you can post them. It’s a form of mild complicity, if you ask me.

  5. On the evening of March 13 2013, Bergoglio was elected pope and named Francis. The next day, March 14, pope Francis visited Bernard Law. A slap in the face of every victim of sexual abuse in the catholic church in Boston.

      1. GlobalPost has a series of articles called ‘Fugitive Fathers’ about American and European priests who fled to poorer countries and carry on working for the catholic church. http://www.globalpost.com/content/fugitive-fathers

        I hope pope Francis will be asked next week what this is all about and when he will devote attention to the sexual abuse in the church. But he’ll probably go on blabbering about the family and people call him ‘humble’ and ‘wise’ and ‘popular’.

        1. When was the last time you saw a pope hold a press conference where all subjects were on the table and the reporters weren’t vetted (beyond security of course)? Not gonna happen.

          1. I saw a documentary about the papal visit to the Netherlands in 1985, the first papal visit since pope Leo IX in 1049. A catholic woman was allowed to make a small speech and she was brave enough to improvise a critical note on papal authority.

          2. Good on her! But with women like her in the Netherlands, maybe that’s why it took almost a milenium for him to travel such a short distance from home, especially as he’s so often in nearby France!

      1. In Canada, the three Churches – Catholic, Anglican and I forget the other xtian flavour – sorta took responsibility for the Indian Residential Schools

        Their defense was that the Government Failed to properly instruct them to not rape, abuse and murder and failed to ensure proper oversight.

        thus, the taxpayers paid instead of the churches who benefited.

        the catholic church/jesuit run orphanages and schools for the deaf are still trying to be compensated.

        there was a really good miniseries in the 1990s that ran in Canada and was censored in the USA called “The Boys of St. Vincents”

        1. The third one was the supposedly oh so socially progressive United Church of Canada. And some of them did pay out to victims. The United Church incidentally is wildly, illogically anti-Israel. Just saying.

          1. thank you! yes. well the child religion hates it’s parent one, and it’s offspring in islam. Those whacky Abrahamics just prove trilogies lack inherent goodness. I can’t see how they got people to switch from pantheons, all that constant attention is needy, better to not draw the god’s attention is the resisted lesson.

          2. In a discussion about justice for abused children you drag in Israel/Palestine as if supporting Palestinian human rights is an equivalent crime, and you think “just saying” makes you right?

          3. Thanks, Marjorie. And ‘just saying’ should be banned from any forum. It seems to mean “I just Godwinned the discussion but I’m not taking any responsibility for it”.


  6. There’s recently been an Australian TV mini-series about the cover up of child abuse in the Catholic Church there, which showed it went right up to parliamentary level. A female MP who tried to expose it early on was forced to resign and branded mentally ill.

    1. Heather, what’s the Aussie one called? You can get TV shows from all over the world now. If I can find that I would definitely watch it. 😊

        1. It has John noble and Toni Colette! Oh my god it looks fantastic. Thanks. My library doesn’t have it but I shall ask them to buy it. 👍🏼😊

          PS iTunes doesn’t have it either but there sure are a lot of zombie things called The Devils Playground. 😐

  7. Actually, for 15 to 20 years before the story broke in Boston, the Canadian press was reporting on this very very responsibly, and no one outside of Canada wanted to touch the story until it became too big to ignore.

    Two Canadian fictionalized feature films from the 80s and 90s focused on the problem long before the Boston story. 1984’s “The Bay Boy” starred an 18 year old Kiefer Sutherland as a victim of (attempted) sexual abuse by a priest. And 1992’s “The Boys from St Vincent” was shown nationally on Canadian television(!!!) while released to theatres in only two or cities in the USA(!!!) dealing with a real clerical sexual abuse case in Canada.
    (I am reminded of Christopher Hitchens TV documentary on Mother Theresa which was a sensation on Brit TV, but whose only theatrical showing in the US was an art museum in Baltimore!!)

    Bill Donahue is incapable of understanding the basic distinction between a good faith criticism of his church and actual prejudice.

    Even more astonishing than Billy D is Rick Santorum’s claim that the scandal was centered there due to the malign pagan influence of Harvard University (as if this was ONLY happening in Boston and not world wide. New flash- Boston is where alert reporters PICKED UP on the scandal!!! No Santorum is NOT complaining about the influence of Harvard’s secularism on the reporters. He’s complaining about it corrupting the morals of the priests!!!!!!)

    1. Blaming the collapse in morals starting in the 1960s has been an ongoing excuse here in Australia. Apparently priests were so upset and confused by pre-marital sex, divorce and the legalisation of homosexuality, that they thought it was okay to rape children. The fact that there were many complaints (covered up) necessitating the endless re-location of offenders, and that the whole thing had to be kept a deathly secret wasn’t enough to alert them to the fact that child rape wasn’t acceptable behaviour apparently.

      1. Oh boy, in the US too (evil sixties).


        Back in those evil, evil sixties, when them uppity n—s and gays and wimmins started demanding special privileges. And don’t get me started on them drugs and birth control pills.


        I strongly recommend Johan Hari’s Chasing the Scream to find out how, when, and where the bullshit “war on drugs” started (and it was waaaaaaaay before Nancy Reagan) and why it continues.

        Everything you’ve ever heard in the media and from governments about drugs and addiction is bullshit.

    1. They are unfortunate creatures with poor genetic inheritance living in a very toxic environment. It is therefor necessary for their supervisors to ensure they are not put in a position to indulge their perversion, and to assist and compensate any victims they may have before their proclivities become known. It is most certainly not acceptable to cover up their crimes and post them on to new parishes full of unsuspecting prey.

    2. Even though it’s likely that they had no real choice in their actions, it’s entirely appropriate for society, through its police and judicial arms, to pursue and incarcerate these people. For two reasons (at least):

      To prevent further victims being abused
      To provide a negative condition to others in similar positions.*

      (* Determinists are not saying that nothing affects people’s behavior. They are pointing out that, given the environmental and genetic factors to which they have been exposed, they hod no real choice in their behaviors. Providing negative feedback alters their environment and thereby may prevent this behavior in some people, in some instances.)

    3. I’d look at it more broadly: Mother Church frowns on healthy sexuality, begrudgingly reserving it for marriage: a poor second to celibacy, according to St. Paul, who wrote that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, leaving other choices unspoken(?). So who IS eagerly going to run to Mother Church’s embrace if not individuals who (not necessarily through fault of their own) either consciously or unconsciously desire to remove themselves from the ranks of healthy sexual creatures (this is a non-negotiable part of the religious contract), or who are seeking asylum from the torment of deviant/”deviant” thoughts?

      I don’t claim to know what goes on in the minds of pedophiles, but there is also (as in secular adult rape) a severe imbalance in power. Individuals following the lines of a maximum power principle will seek out niches—”priest”, “youth pastor”, “teacher”, “coach”—where their authority is pretty automatic and unquestioned, yet these positions don’t take all that much to achieve. Imagine that what you tell people depends (in the eyes of child victims and other weak-minded subjects) on whether they will spend eternity in Heaven” or endless torture in a Hell far worse than that of your predatory devising!

      This is ALL a recipe for abuse. In fact, instances where it does *not* occur should be regarded as the true miracle.

      As to determinism, I think of religion as a technology which increases energy capture and throughput and increases human population growth. Like all evolutionary processes, this “works” until it doesn’t. In the long run, the Catholic religion is responsible for billions of less-than-wanted births so if, as a peripheral defect of this activity, other immoral abuse occurs that’s just part and parcel of the whole mechanism. I regard conscious overpopulation as violence and abuse, as well, but they are also unavoidable. (Determinism: we think we are in the driver’s seat, but we aren’t.)

  8. Just watched the trailer. Holy macaroni! About effing time there was a proper movie made about all that. One movie? Hell, this could be a genre!

    There was a Canadian 4hr mini series in the 90s The Boys of St. Vincent, about the actual beginning of the pedophile priest scandal. At Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland. That was exposed in the 80s.

    I’m still waiting for an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit on this.

    More Canadian pedophile priest history: the guy,the Bishop of Antigonish, involved in doing settlement deals with victims from Mount Cashel was 10+ years later arrested for possession of child pornography and as a sex tourist when he was reentering Canada from Asia. It was pervasive.

    1. “More Canadian pedophile priest history:”

      In addition to this, my childhood priest (Charles Sylvester) was charged with sex abuse of 47 girls ages 7 to 15 between 1954 and 1986. The London diocese would move him around from perish to perish when things got a little heated. He died in prison in 2007 after serving only 3 months.

  9. I wonder if anyone has the stats on the Catholic priest rape scandal. How many priests over what period of time raped how many children. I need that info to be able to tell a Catholic someone I know who insists its just a few bad apples.

    1. I think if you just look at the records from Irelend, you’ll get a good slice of it. I think they are public.

      Here’s a database for those in the US:


      Here’s the Wiki on it:


      I think if you just sat over their shoulder and walked them through the Wiki page and its sub-pages (got a whole weekend?) it would make your point. But who knows? The Catholics around me immediately form a defensive ring around their priests that they don’t back away from.

      A case in point where religion destroys the morality and empathy (for children even) in ordinary people.

      1. And the other, really big point is:

        The entire organization lied about it, covered it up, committed obstruction of justice. They lied their f–ing asses off! Again and again and again.

        Another source of information is Jeff Anderson, and Attorney in my area who has been tireless in pursuing the RCC on this issue, and publicizing it. He’s a real hero.


        1. Thanks for all that. I think that’s something I can use.
          “religion destroys the morality and empathy (for children even) in ordinary people.”
          Once again the point is made: religion poisons everything.

  10. “Prime Suspect”, the original series with Helen Mirren, had her uncovering a pedophile ring involving MPs and police brass. The case was shelved and her character was forced to move along.

    Turns out this wasn’t fiction, but a perfectly accurate portrayal of the situation in the UK at that time (and going forward). I can only imagine the BBC aired it because they figured it sounded too far-fetched to be taken seriously.

  11. “Prime Suspect”, the original series with Helen Mirren, had her investigating a pedophile ring made up of MPs and police brass. Despite the evidence, the case was shelved and her character was forced to move along.

    Turns out that was a perfectly accurate portrayal of the situation in the UK over the course of decades. I can only think the BBC allowed the episode to be aired because they assumed the plot to appear far-fetched.

  12. Let’s not forget that the Christian systematic abuse, rape and torture of young girls, among all the other victims, is historically documented AT LEAST since the Inquisition.

    It’s not as if this is recent behavior.

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