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No resolutions when it comes to clergy abuse

Helen McGonigle in “Who Takes Away the Sins. . .: Witnesses to Clergy Abuse.”Riding Shotgun Productions

“Spotlight” sheds new light on a scandal that made headlines in 2002, when a team of Boston Globe reporters revealed the extent of child abuse by local priests and the Archdiocese’s attempts to cover it up. The film elicits outrage, but how many viewers do anything about it? It’s only a movie, and like most Hollywood movies, things seem resolved in the end.

But in the real world, things are not resolved. As is pointed out in “Who Takes Away the Sins . . . : Witnesses to Clergy Abuse” (2013) and “A Matter of Conscience: Confronting Clergy Abuse” (2014), documentaries by the husband and wife team of John and Susan Michalczyk, the abuse goes on and lives are still shattered. And when you watch these films, in which victims tell their stories and talk of a violation that will never heal, you can’t walk away and pretend they are only actors on a screen.


The Michalczyks, both professors at Boston College, talked about their films on the phone from their home in Wayland. They’ll be on hand for a panel discussion when “A Matter of Conscience” shows Wednesday at 4 p.m. in Devlin 101 at Boston College. For more information go to www.etoileproductionsusa.com.

Q. When did you become interested in this story and why?

Susan Michalczyk: In 2011 I was listening to NPR and I heard Bob Hoatson [a survivor and executive director of Road to Recover, who is in both films] talking of his work with recovery and survivors from the abuse scandal. I told John, we have to call this guy. So we did and he brought documents and photos and we talked about ways to make a documentary that would highlight the survivors, those who’d been victimized, and tell their story.

John Michalczyk: That was “Who Takes Away the Sins.” We heard about the “whistleblowers” — we prefer to call them “advocates” — between the two films. These are clergy who tried to alert the church hierarchy about the abuse, but were ignored or disciplined. Hoatson brought all these people from around the country to participate in the second film.


Q. What kind of distribution are the films getting?

JM: Broadcasters think audiences have a short attention span. We contacted WGBH, which had shown five or six of our previous documentaries, and PBS and all the others and no one wanted to hear about it. The response was, it’s been done. Let’s go on to something else. But maybe there will be more interest now that “Spotlight” has come out.

Q. Did the director, Tom McCarthy, contact you?

JM: He asked for “Who Takes Away the Sins” since it had [Globe reporter] Walter Robinson and [victims’ lawyer] Mitchell Garabedian in it. Robinson met with Michael Keaton, who played him, but Garabedian didn’t meet with Stanley Tucci, who portrayed him. So maybe Tucci got something from the film. At any rate, we sold them 10 copies.

Interview was edited and condensed. Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.