Two years ago, as the release of the movie “Spotlight” approached, Monica Crowley worried about the film’s impact on her brother Joe.
Joe Crowley’s character is a featured role in the film about the Boston Globe’s investigation of the coverup of the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests.
A criminal in a Roman collar named Paul Shanley raped a 15-year-old Joe Crowley and passed Joe around to others like a cigarette.
As the movie recounting that horrific abuse was about to hit the cinemas, Joe Crowley was recuperating in a nursing home, his health ruined by the tobacco and booze he had used to numb the memories. A priest, Rev. Brian Clary, had been visiting Crowley’s mother in another nursing home for years. Monica Crowley told Father Brian that Joe had been abused by a priest, and asked him to visit Joe.
“Don’t tell him I asked you,” she told the priest, and he nodded.
Neither Monica nor Father Brian knew how Joe would react. Given what a predatory priest and enabling bishops had done to Joe Crowley, no one would have been surprised if he rejected the overture with a few choice words.
Instead, when Father Brian poked his head into Joe’s room and introduced himself, Joe invited him to come in and sit down.
“Within 10 minutes,” Father Brian said, “he told me what had happened to him.”
Father Brian’s soul sank, listening to the details, to realize how Joe had suffered, all those years, while the bishops, Father Brian’s bosses, looked away.
The visit over, Father Brian got up to leave. Joe looked at him.
“I don’t want to talk about communion, I don’t want to talk about religion,” Joe said. “But can you stop by every once in a while?”
Thus began the most unlikely of friendships. The visits were always on Mondays. Mondays with Joe.
They talked about movies, which Joe knew as well as any film scholar. He held Father Brian in thrall by reciting Bette Davis’s lines from “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.” They talked about books, because Joe was always reading something.
Eventually, they realized they shared a bond: They were both in recovery. They began going to the same 12-step meeting in Brookline. They congratulated each other on their sobriety anniversaries.
Joe was solicitous of Father Brian, worried about the cumulative effect of spending so much time visiting sick and dying people.
“You look tired,” Joe would say. “Do you need a day off?”
The release of “Spotlight,” and its critical and box office success, turned out to be a tonic for Joe Crowley. It validated the experiences of him and so many others who made that torturous journey from victim to survivor. His health improved enough that he was able to leave the rehabilitation unit where he was living for an apartment in Brookline.
On Easter Sunday, Joe died in his own bed. He was 58. Monica called Father Brian to let him know, and as he remembered his friend, Father Brian thought about Easter and redemption.
“Those who were custodians of God’s holy word and pastoral responsibility betrayed Joe, which is a sin and a crime on so many levels,” he said. “But it didn’t make him sour. There was no resentment. I represented a church and an institution that had done awful things, but he never blamed me.”
Joe Crowley spent the last years of his life helping those in recovery from abuse, from booze, from self-loathing, from spiritual deprivation.
Joe didn’t want a Mass. He was deeply spiritual but not religious. Instead, on Saturday afternoon, Father Brian will stand in the Robert J. Lawler and Crosby Funeral Home in West Roxbury. He will ask people there to remember Joe, what was done to Joe, and how Joe endured so much and was able to help so many.
And he will ask for something that is guaranteed. A perpetual light will always shine on Joe Crowley.