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‘Spotlight’ screening for abuse victims planned in Boston

Michael Keaton as Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfieffer, John Slattery as Ben Bradlee Jr., and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll in the 2015 film “Spotlight.”
Michael Keaton as Walter ‘Robby’ Robinson, Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes, Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfieffer, John Slattery as Ben Bradlee Jr., and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll in the 2015 film “Spotlight.”Kerry Hayes / Open Road Films

The film company that released “Spotlight,” the forthcoming movie about The Boston Globe’s investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, is offering a free screening for clergy abuse victims in Boston on Thursday evening.

Open Road Films organized the screening this week after some victims complained that they would not have an opportunity to see the film in advance of its official release. A few victims portrayed by actors in the movie have been to screenings and plan to attend the film’s Boston premiere Wednesday night.

Robert Costello, who sued the church in the early 1990s and has been active in the survivors’ community ever since, said he has been lobbying the film’s representatives and the Globe since the summer to offer a larger group of victims a special preview.

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“The stories in it are our stories,” he said.

The company held a small screening in early October for the victims portrayed in the movie, plus a few of their invited guests — about a dozen people altogether.

A spokeswoman for Open Road Films said that after that screening, “we learned that many Boston survivors are eager to screen the film before its public release so we arranged a private screening in Boston and have worked with local contacts to invite the appropriate guests.”

Thursday’s event will give up to 400 victims and supporters the chance to see the movie in advance of its release, organizers said. Each invitee will be allowed one guest and must RSVP in advance.

“I feel honored that they’re sensitive enough to survivors to have this private screening just for them,” said David O’Regan, the Boston-Worcester director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a leading support and advocacy group.

He said he was expecting a strong turnout even with short notice. Before the event was organized, he had been planning to get a group together to attend the movie so those who needed support would not have to sit through it alone.

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“Knowing there’s no one else in the theater other than survivors and friends, that’s very comforting,” he said.

In interviews this week, several survivors said they felt a mix of excitement and dread as the movie’s release approached. They wondered whether seeing the film, or even the publicity surrounding it, would trigger painful emotional and physiological responses; many of those abused have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.

Christine Hickey, who was sexually abused by a priest as a child, said she has been doing well in recent years and rarely cries like she used to. But the pope’s visit in September sent her into a funk that spoiled a weekend away with her sisters, and now she is wary of how she will react to the film, even though friends who have seen it have allayed her fears the movie might contain gross distortions of events.

She is too curious, however, to sit it out.

“It’s kind of amazing that I know a lot of the people involved,” she said. “This was my life. There’s kind of a feeling of, ‘Wow, it’s just sort of incredible, how can this be possible?’ ”

Costello said 19 people responded in little over an hour to an e-mail invitation he sent out late Monday night. Boasting an A-list cast, the movie has won plaudits from critics for its portrayal of the Globe Spotlight team’s investigation into the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy, and its coverup by church officials. The first of hundreds of stories was published in January 2002.

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Costello — along with the two victims portrayed by actors in the film, Phil Saviano and Joe Crowley, who are cohosting the event — will speak briefly before the screening, and a discussion is planned afterward.

Abuse victims who have already seen the movie say they have been impressed by its authenticity. Ann Hagan Webb, who endured years of abuse by a priest as a Catholic schoolgirl, and who is now a psychologist who counsels abuse victims, said she was in tears at the end — “tears of relief that the story was being told.”

She said she hoped that, as a thriller about investigative reporting, the film would reach a broader audience — “people who avoid that article in the paper.”

Even though it will be hard for some abuse victims to watch, she said, “it’s acknowledging, it’s validating.”

Saviano, who was abused by a priest when he was 11 and came forward with his story in 1993, is one of the film’s heroes, played by actor Neal Huff.

He said he wished there had been room in the film to include a few more details, including a line explaining that his refusal to sign a confidentiality agreement with the church was the reason he was able to talk to the Globe’s reporters.

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But he said he loved the film, and was particularly grateful that his character made the point that the abuse scandal affected girls and boys — the problem was “not about gay priests” — and spoke about how perpetrators “groom” children for abuse by ingratiating themselves over time.

He said he hoped the film, by showing how many people who knew about clergy abuse had looked the other way, would spur audience members to ask themselves what in their own lives they ought to be speaking out about.

“I hope people will not let their anxiety prevent them from seeing the film,” he said. “This is historic, that Hollywood has taken on this topic in such a forceful way. For every survivor that spoke out — and that went through this and didn’t speak out – there is still something to celebrate,” he said.


Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com.