scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Powerful ‘Spotlight’ film missteps in its portrayal of lawyer

Eric MacLeish.Cheryl Senter for The Boston Globe/File 2010/Globe Freelance

“Spotlight” is a riveting movie that has brought me to tears each of the three times I’ve seen it. I applaud the message it sends about investigative journalism, and, more important to me, as a survivor of priest abuse, the revelations it shares about the abuse and the cardinal who knew and looked the other way. The movie captures the essence of how we all unconsciously conspired to keep the abuse secret, in both our automatic deference to the church and our inability to believe or comprehend the atrocities happening to us and around us. I will bring my family to see it on my fourth time.

I have felt so validated by this movie, but I must speak to its depiction of Eric MacLeish, a lawyer who represented scores of priest abuse survivors in the 1990s and early 2000s (“MacLeish objects to and lauds ‘Spotlight,’ ” Names, Nov. 10). I didn’t meet him until after the period the movie depicts, but I knew him to be a champion of abuse victims. After a private showing of “Spotlight” for Boston abuse survivors last month, I heard the same question asked over and over: “Why did they make Eric MacLeish a bad guy?” I guess the answer is that he counseled clients to accept confidentiality agreements in an effort to get them the best settlements.


Blame the antiquated civil laws in Massachusetts, which protect institutions such as the church, but don’t blame MacLeish.

I had opportunities to watch him in action as I advocated for abuse survivors in mediation with church lawyers, and he was a bulldog on their behalf. My best memory of him in those tumultuous years is his invitation to a group of about 20 abuse survivors to come to his office to view previously unseen church records, the day before he broke the news to the press. We sat there, most of us in tears, as he went through a slide show of horror, of abuse and coverup in the archdiocese. He knew we needed to know first — a measure of his compassion and understanding. This is the opposite of the suggestion in the movie that he built a “cottage industry” on the backs of victims.

I never sued the church. In the early ’90s, when I could have, before my statute of limitations ran out, I simply wasn’t strong enough. I am proud to know the lawyers who have represented my brave friends and fellow survivors.


Ann Hagan Webb, Boston

The writer, a psychologist, is a spokeswoman and Rhode Island coordinator with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.