Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley on Tuesday praised the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight” for portraying the crucial role investigative journalism played in uncovering the clergy sexual abuse scandal and spurring the Roman Catholic Church to “acknowledge the crimes and sins of its personnel.”
“The media’s role in revealing the sexual abuse crisis opened a door through which the church has walked in responding to the needs of survivors,” O’Malley said in a statement.
O’Malley’s remarks, which came two days after “Spotlight” won Oscars for best picture and original screenplay, drew a mixed reaction from clergy, survivors, and lay groups that have pressed for reform since the Boston Globe’s investigation of clergy sexual abuse and the church’s coverup, the subject of the film.
“I applaud what he has said,” said the Rev. James Bretzke, a theology professor at Boston College. “He’s stating that the investigation did the church a great service. He walks a fine line, being forthright and supportive of the victims, while indicating where the church went seriously astray.”
Donna Doucette, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, a Newton-based lay group that grew out of the crisis, said she was encouraged “by any official statement by the church that acknowledges the truth and facts that should have been acknowledged long ago.”
At the same time, the church’s comments must be backed with concrete reforms, she said.
“We’ve heard a lot of words over the years,” she added. “Now we need action.”
A survivor of clergy abuse faulted O’Malley, the head of the Archdiocese of Boston and a top adviser on sexual abuse prevention to Pope Francis, for not addressing the failure of bishops to protect children from abusive priests.
“I like that he acknowledges the ‘crime and the sins’ that were committed,” said Jim Scanlan, 54, whose story of being abused by a priest at Boston College High School was depicted in the film. “Very seldom do we see that. . . . But he didn’t talk about what should have been done to the people responsible, the bishops.”
A leader of SNAP, the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, criticized O’Malley’s remarks, saying the archdiocese is not meeting the needs of survivors.
“People come and they are traumatized,” said David O’Regan, who runs support group meetings in Boston and Worcester. “I’m so glad ‘Spotlight’ won. It will keep the spotlight on the church for years to come.”
“Spotlight” tells the story of the Globe’s investigative unit’s exposure of how the Archdiocese of Boston covered up the sexual abuse of children by hundreds of priests over several decades.
The newspaper was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 for its coverage, which forced the Vatican to address the issue of abusive priests worldwide.
O’Malley issued the statement a day after a Vatican newspaper and radio station described the film as courageous and “not anti-Catholic” and said that bishops in Rome “recommend their brothers see the movie.”
O’Malley’s statement did not mention the Globe, but said journalism is “essential to our way of life” in a democracy.
“Spotlight is an important film for all impacted by the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse,” he said. “By providing in-depth reporting on the history of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the media led the Church to acknowledge the crimes and sins of its personnel and to begin to address its failings, the harm done to victims and their families, and the needs of survivors.”
“Protecting children and providing support for survivors and their families,” he added, “must be a priority in all aspects of the life of the Church.”
O’Malley outlined steps the church had taken to protect children, including child safety education programs, mandatory background checks, and mandatory reporting of abuse allegations to civil authorities.
“We are committed to vigilant implementation of policies and procedures for preventing the recurrence of the tragedy of the abuse of children,” he said.
But Spotlight director Tom McCarthy, who shared the screenplay Academy Award with Josh Singer, said the church needs to do far more.
“It’s too easy to say, ‘They’ve opened the door,’ ” McCarthy said. “Spending time with the survivors, we keep hearing that very little has changed. As far as we can tell, the church hasn’t put anything into action.”