With 'Spotlight' movie an award contender, Catholic reform movement assesses scandal

by Donna B. Doucette

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The critically acclaimed movie “Spotlight” could receive a Best Picture Oscar this Sunday. The film about how The Boston Globe investigated and brought to light clergy sexual abuse of children and its cover up in the Boston archdiocese has brought renewed awareness to the scandal worldwide.

But many Catholics have had a heightened sense of the crisis all along. Some of those Catholics — determined to remain faithful while addressing the scandal — formed Voice of the Faithful only a couple of months after the Globe’s sensational January 2002 story appeared.

VOTF continues its work nearly a decade and half later because the scandal remains — “a mass psychological dysfunction hidden in plain sight, which has stretched back decades or even centuries and will, unchecked, do precisely the same in the future,” according to Peter Bradshaw’s “Spotlight” review in The Guardian.

Amid the passionate indignation the scandal created, VOTF grew rapidly to comprise an international membership. Key to members is to remain faithful Catholics and to help redress and prevent scandal by changing the way the Church operates.

“Some people left the Church; others tried to change it from within, like the group Voice of the Faithful; others loved their parish, they loved their pastor, and they sort of said, ‘Oh, that’s terrible,’ and they kept going to Mass,” Globe Spotlight investigative team member Sasha Pfeiffer told Sarah Larson for her movie review in The New Yorker:

Despite the ennui in the pews, VOTF has accomplished a good deal. Sociologist Tricia Colleen Bruce has researched VOTF and published her results in the 2011 Faithful Revolution: How Voice of the Faithful Is Changing the Church. (Now available in paperback.) Paraphrasing from her book, VOTF generally has:

  • refused to let the issue of abuse and the secrecy surrounding it go unspoken.
  • introduced discussions about sexual abuse, power, authority, and the rights and offerings of the laity into the conversation within the Catholic church.
  • helped tell the history of the scandal and influenced the church’s responses after 2002.
  • broadened the Catholic “we” to include not just the ordained and the silent majority obedient to existing structures, but also those wishing to expand the meaning of Catholic identity to contain both faithfulness and challenge.

VOTF continues, 14 years after the events in “Spotlight,” to address the problems of clerically hardened institutional structures that contribute to clergy sexual abuse and to the secrecy and cover up that perpetuate it —clericalism at the root of the crisis and Pope Francis has called clericalism “one of the evils of the Church.”

Winning an Academy Award will testify to “Spotlight’s” creators’ and actors’ talents in raising awareness through the medium of film, but what the church really needs is for VOTF and like-minded Catholics to continue working to overcome this dark period in Catholic life that “Spotlight” is helping to illumine.

[Donna B. Doucette is executive director of Voice of the Faithful.]


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