Douglas Todd: Movie shines a ‘Spotlight’ on corruption

Douglas Todd’s reflections on why the Catholic Church’s pedophilia scandal and cover-up was challenged earlier and more effectively in Canada:

People have to be ready for the truth before it can be revealed.

That’s a theme of the riveting, award-winning movie, Spotlight, which recounts how the Boston Globe newspaper laid bare an ecclesiastical and political coverup of rampant pedophilia by more than 87 Roman Catholic priests and brothers.

After years of Boston Globe staff ignoring clergy abuse cases, the newspaper’s investigative team, called Spotlight, broke its explosive story in 2002. It led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and helped elevate clergy abuse into an international issue, which continues to reverberate.

The Canadian media, however, produced many stories about widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests and brothers much earlier than the Boston Globe. The spate of Canadian articles began in 1989 with Newfoundland’s Mount Cashel Orphanage scandal, first reported by The Sunday Express under publisher Michael Harris.

That was 12 years before the Boston exposé. Nevertheless, the historical timeline of 20th-century Catholic abuse that is on the Spotlight film’s website contains no mention of the mass abuse of Mount Cashel orphans (which powerfully impacted two Metro Vancouver Catholic schools) or scores of other Canadian cases.

It appears most Canadians were ready, before most Americans, to admit to the horrible truth of Catholic clergy pedophilia. By the time the Boston exposé was published, the Canadian media had run thousands of articles about molesting clergy.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, under the direction of retired Vancouver archbishop Adam Exner, had also responded to the debacle as early as the mid-1990s — by creating a complaints process that supported abuse victims in going to police.

That kind of protocol was not in place in 2002 in the U.S., and especially in Boston, where Catholics dominated culture, politics, business, philanthropy, high society, the police and even the judiciary.

Almost every city has a powerful elite that operates behind the scenes to sway regional affairs. In Boston, it was the Catholic establishment, which did everything it could to keep a lid on decades of the clergy’s destructive behaviour.

At one point in Spotlight the Boston Globe’s publisher cautions his staff against running the clergy abuse investigation by warning that 53 per cent of the newspaper’s readers are Catholic.

Such pervasive resistance to the Catholic Church exposé leads one of Spotlight’s investigative reporters (played by Mark Ruffalo) to finally burst: “They control everything! Everything!”

Even though the Canadian census says 43 per cent of Canadians have an affiliation with the Catholic Church, Canadian courts, governments and journalists have been less hesitant than most Americans to wade assertively into church sex-abuse cases.

I wrote a story in 1993 that calculated the Canadian media had by then reported on more than 100 Canadian Catholic priests and brothers who had been charged or convicted of sex crimes.

It’s hard to know why Canadians were more ready to recognize the appalling truth.

It may have grown out of the way Canadians are, in some ways, less deferential than Americans to Catholic leaders, more questioning of authority in general, more frank about homosexuality and more willing to deal with the shame associated with sexual abuse.

Source: Douglas Todd: Movie shines a ‘Spotlight’ on corruption

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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