Spotlight

The arrival of an out of town manager prompts Spotlight, the Boston Globe’s small investigative journalism team, to dig into long standing rumours of systemic child molestation by Catholic clergy in Boston.

This is a film about two institutions, the free press and the Catholic church. It is about the relationship they have with their communities, and about how the institutions consist of individual people whose lives are broader than their institutional role. It’s about the power they have to directly influence lives and to shape the understanding a community has of itself on the levels of individual, family, neighborhood, city, even to one’s standing before God.

It’s about fraternal power that, on the large scale, usurps democratic and governmental institutions to cover many sins, and on the small scale, supports outlier dissent and the fragile work of a small few willing to risk their most important relationships to expose this same corruption.

We all know the promise of the church – that it exists to be a light unto the whole world, making known the gospel of Christ and offering salvation and restoration through the administration of the sacraments it holds.

We are perhaps less clear on the promise of the press. Is it “All the news that’s fit to print?”, which touts moralistic censorship as a positive? Is it “Whatever sells?”, which reduces the medium to one more entertainment in a sea of entertainment? That might be the most honest summation of the history of the newspaper.

Spotlight suggests that the value of a free press is in its ability to expose its readers to stories which meaningfully change how they think and feel. More, it demonstrates that the free press is the vehicle that expresses the changed thoughts and feelings of the investigative team that gives themselves to the covering, and uncovering of a story. It is a superb film in every way. It makes the view feel the loss of these institutions, and the lack of what we suppose they should provide.

The press, the catholic church, and let’s include Hollywood – all are badly tarnished. Facts, religion and mythology are increasingly repackaged as strings of entertaining moments which too often fail to provide the mental and spiritual sustenance that true entertainment should. Hollowed out, they are distractions.

Where does the problem end? Spotlight suggests it ends where it begins – with us. We can’t pretend it’s easy to see what we’re cultured to not see, nor can we pretend there are easy solutions when trusted institutions engage in horrid crimes. Action is difficult and we may not know what it looks like until we find ourselves faced with a need to act. Hopefully we will be our best selves in that moment.