Heartbreaking steps toward healing
Below the Surface
By Brianna Thomas
WITH Hollywood recently trending in ‘true story movies’, critics have named Spotlight one of the best. Director Tom McCarthy, together with an all-star cast, including Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton, created a retell more thrilling than an action, with more impact than a horror. Details were spot on, right down to the un-starched shirts, and the cinematic techniques met the tone. A pale colour wash (like an Instagram filter) even dulled the vibrancy of the picture to highlight the melancholy struggle. The story? Totally confronting.
The Boston Globe newspaper put their specialist reporter team, Spotlight, to work uncovering the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in Boston, 2001. What started as a hunch unrolled the enormous, treacherous scandal of child molesting by clergy. The culture in Boston was extremely Catholic and to oppose the Church was a social catastrophe. The team demonstrated their fierce conviction to bring truth to the light, and kept working until they found evidence against more than 70 priests in their area, with corrupt involvement from Church hierarchy and legal authorities. And, sadly, it’s a true story.
I was captivated by the smoothly unfolding moves and countermoves played between characters, and the building momentum that led to victory. The film could be considered slow and without any real climax, but I think in that way it replicates the painful and ‘bitsy’ process of how these things really unfold.
Every now and then I came out of the Hollywood scene where I’d been standing – outraged, heartbroken and distracted – and remembered it was in fact my Church in question. The evidence, stories and horror were my Church too.
A few years ago I was doing mission work in rural NSW with a friend. We found ourselves staying with a farmer, his wife and their adult son. While the wife was Catholic, the men were explicitly not.
One night over dinner, the farmer started to grill my friend about the Church. She had limited answers to his unrelenting philosophical questions. Seeming pleased, he turned to me. I’d managed to keep quiet through the whole roast and dessert, but the farmer grunted, “So what about you?”
I haven’t studied theology and don’t enjoy tricky arguments, so I only had my experience to offer.
I explained that I had every reason to hate the Church. I’ve seen pain from the topic I write about today. Effects from this type of tragedy don’t end with a settlement or counselling. They are lasting and infiltrate every aspect of person and faith. I can’t pretend to know what that feels like, but I know what the ripples look like.
Even having seen all this from the Church I called my own, I knew a God who is good, and who loves deeply. This God I wouldn’t be separated from, no matter what.
The farmer said lightly, “So you’re a Manly supporter, through and through. I respect that”. He seemed genuinely intrigued that God could be bigger than the mess and confusion he’d seen and heard of.
The wife later told me that she saw her husband change after that meal, and hoped they might go to Church together. That’s a win for honesty and vulnerability.
While Spotlight didn’t offer any method towards healing, it showed the power of airing the truth, and validating the wounded.
I would encourage every Catholic to see this movie, and to receive it openly and humbly. It is one string in the very complicated tapestry of the truth, but is necessary to move forward towards hope and healing.