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‘Spotlight’ shows how church was impelled to act, O’Malley says

Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley. Isabella Bonotto/Associated Press

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley says the forthcoming “Spotlight” film chronicling The Boston Globe’s investigation of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church illustrates how the newspaper’s reports prompted the church “to deal with what was shameful and hidden.”

In a statement to the archdiocesan newspaper The Pilot on Thursday, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston said the movie depicts “a very painful time” in church history. He said the church continues to seek the forgiveness of those harmed, and he reiterated his commitment to ridding the church of abusive priests.

“The Archdiocese of Boston is fully and completely committed to zero tolerance concerning the abuse of minors,” he said. “We follow a vigorous policy of reporting and disclosing information concerning allegations of abuse.”


O’Malley has not seen the movie yet, but plans to do so, a church spokesman said. It premiered in New York and Boston this week, and the film’s distributors held a screening for abuse survivors Thursday night in Boston. The film, which has won critical acclaim in early reviews, is scheduled to open in theaters Nov. 6.

The fast-paced thriller shows how the Globe’s investigative Spotlight team discovered the church had protected scores of pedophile priests, moving the predatory clergy from parish to parish, and secretly settling with families who complained.

Ann Hagan Webb, a clergy abuse victim and psychologist who has seen the movie, said Thursday in a statement on behalf of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests that O’Malley should order every church staff member to see the movie.

“That is the best, quickest, and cheapest way he can protect more kids,” she said. “Boston parents and parishioners can only benefit by learning more about the church’s ongoing abuse and coverup crisis. O’Malley should be promoting this movie if he truly cares about the safety of children.”


Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for O’Malley, said the archbishop would not discourage people from seeing the movie, but “we have a rather robust education, training, and protection program.”

The Globe won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its reporting, which was replicated by media in local dioceses around the world, exposing a global sexual abuse crisis in the church that has cost billions in settlements and profoundly shaken the moral authority of the world’s largest religious institution.

The church in Boston continues to deal with the fallout from the scandal. In 2014, it settled another 32 claims for $2.24 million, according to church financial statements. The archdiocese spent $3.13 million on abuse prevention and outreach last year, including ongoing psychotherapy and medication for 288 victims.

The Vatican sent O’Malley to Boston in 2003 to succeed Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who stepped down in disgrace in 2002 after it was disclosed he had shunted abusive priests from parish to parish. O’Malley, a Capuchin friar, gained a reputation for cleaning up dioceses wracked with sex abuse scandals during stints as bishop of Fall River and Palm Beach, Fla.

In Boston, he quickly settled with hundreds of victims, sold the church’s opulent chancery in Brighton to help pay claims, and repeatedly apologized to victims and their families for the church’s transgressions.

O’Malley has since become the Vatican’s top adviser on sexual abuse. In 2010, Pope Benedict XVI asked him to help conduct an evaluation of the Irish church’s handling of an abuse crisis. He is close to Pope Francis, who established the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors at his urging.


O’Malley now heads the panel, which has gotten mixed reviews for its work. It has laid out a process for punishing bishops who fail to protect children, long regarded as a critical missing piece of church policy in protecting minors.

But critics say the panel has moved too slowly, that abusive priests and lax bishops remain in circulation.

“The media’s investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself — to deal with what was shameful and hidden — and to make the commitment to put the protection of children first, ahead of all other interests,” O’Malley said in his statement.

O’Malley said that, as archbishop, he has met personally with hundreds of abuse survivors over the last 12 years, hearing their stories and “humbly seeking their pardon.”

“I have been deeply impacted by their histories and compelled to continue working toward healing and reconciliation while upholding the commitment to do all that is possible to prevent harm to any child in the future,” he said.

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