Spotlight added the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture on Sunday night to its impressive collection of hardware from the Screen Actors Guild, the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and a number of other critics’ circles.
Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. It pays special attention not just to the instances of abuse, but to the systematic cover-up of that abuse by senior officials who dealt with it by shuttling pedophile priests from one parish to another.
The PR mavens of the Catholic Church have gone to great lengths to try to minimize the damage from the film. They knew it wouldn’t work to deny the truth—they already tried that—so instead they sought to smother it with a “that was then, this is now” spin. Luca Pellegrini gave the Vatican response that thanks to the revelations, the church is now on a path of reform, “designed for the extirpation of evil always and everywhere.” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who replaced the disgraced Bernard Law portrayed in the film, declared: “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.” After the award was announced, the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, played the ace of trumps: “There is trust in a pope who is continuing the cleaning begun by his predecessor.”
A moving tale. Except it isn’t true. Consider:
- Cardinal O’Malley trumpeted the new era of “transparency” by publishing a list of all the accused molesters in his archdiocese. Unfortunately, those nasty double-checkers at the Globe found that he’d quietly omitted some seventy names. His lame excuse, once he got caught, was that these individuals belonged to separate religious orders (including O’Malley’s own Capuchin friars) not under his direct supervision.
- Perhaps as a reward for this sleight of hand, Cardinal O’Malley was appointed to chair a papal commission on sex abuse. That commission included a victim, Peter Saunders. It turned out, though, that Saunders wasn’t a good sport and irritated other members by insisting that they actually do For his efforts, Saunders was suspended from the commission last month. “It was decided,” the commission noted with typical disdain for the truth, “that Mr. Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence from his membership to consider how he might best support the commission’s work.” Saunders, though, immediately responded that he wasn’t “taking a leave of absence” from anything. So I guess they’ll need bouncers to keep him out.
- The practice of shuffling accused pedophiles from place to place rolls merrily along. Just a few days ago, the Louis Post-Dispatch ran a long investigative story about Rev. Peter Balili, originally from the Philippines, who was brought in to replace another priest who’d been arrested for theft. Suddenly, without explanation, Balili was removed as well. Only after the issue was pressed did the diocese admit that he was being dismissed for “inappropriate conduct regarding certain of his parishioners.” Not only that, they also admitted they knew of such similar conduct at his previous assignments, involving “inappropriate” images of his students.
- In India, the church happily announced the reinstatement of a priest who’d fled the United States to avoid prosecution after being charged with raping two fourteen-year-old girls. While he was captured and dragged back by Interpol, apparently the church has forgiven him. The girls haven’t; “They’re both quite upset,” their spokesman said. “[They’re] disturbed and feel deeply betrayed that they would have the audacity to consider even putting him back in ministry.”
- In Australia, the Diocese of Ballarat formally requested that the Vatican dismiss Fr. Paul Ryan from the priesthood. That was nine years ago, while Fr. Ryan was serving time in jail for child sex abuse. What has the Vatican done, throughout the period of Francis’s papacy? Nothing. Ryan is still a priest.
- In Florida, we see an unusual case of the police writing a letter of high praise for an Irish priest, Fr. John Gallagher, for volunteering “timely evidence” leading to the conviction of a fellow priest. “I truly believe that if it wasn’t for the cooperation I received from [Fr. Gallagher], other children would have been victimized,” the detective wrote. The response from the church? Fr. Gallagher has been ostracized and demoted.
A pope worth his salt would fire Cardinal O’Malley and install Fr. Gallagher in his place.
The story in Chile is a little more complicated but even more grotesque. In 2011, under Pope Benedict, the Vatican determined that one of the most influential priests in Santiago, Rev. Fernando Karadima, was guilty of serial pedophilia and abuse. Four close members of Karadima’s circle, including the military chaplain Juan de la Cruz Barros Madrid, sprang to his defense by trying to discredit his child victims. They were so out of line that the Chilean Bishops Conference forced them to apologize. Then Benedict retired and was replaced by Pope Francis, the great liberal darling who can do no wrong.
Francis’s take is a little different: He decides to promote Barros by making him a full bishop. Outrage ensues in Chile, with thousands of Catholics petitioning to block the Barros appointment. Francis responds—on television—that the accusations against Barros were cooked up by “lefties.” That’s how he chooses to describe people who get themselves all worked up over child abuse. The Supreme Court of Chile then demands that the Vatican turn over all records in its possession backing up the pope’s claim, since there are still active cases going on.
That was November. This is March. There is no indication in the press that the Vatican has turned over anything or even acknowledged the Supreme Court’s demand. As Francis might put it, “Who are they to judge?”
The most telling evidence of the Vatican’s stonewall attitude was revealed last month, in three separate events a few days apart. Tune in next week for that story.