Elsewhere: Spotlight (the movie)


There is a special kind of political correctness applied to the sexual abuse scandal. The unwritten rules require speakers and writers to:

  • Start by acknowledging how horrible it is. This is valid, it is horrible for the victims and the scandal has impacted the Great Commission given to his Church by Christ.
  • Never mention the homosexual under­pinnings of the problem.
  • Do not mention how effective reforms have been (if always imperfect).
  • Do not dare mention how the problem is hugely worse in other religious and non-religious (especially public school) organizations.
  • …and NEVER, EVER suggest innocent priests are forced to falsely confess or are in prison.

The point of the PC policy is to undermine and marginalize the Church and her teaching of the truth, especially on marriage, sexuality and life. It certainly has nothing to do with truth or justice. Prosecutors can build careers going after “pedophile priests” and the biased, unquestioning media will closely and widely follow every development. In many (probably most) cases those charged are guilty and should be punished. Unfortunately as I have noted before (see falsely accused and throw away the key), a significant number of good priests charged with horrible crimes are not guilty, are greatly harmed and often imprisoned (sometimes for decades) by this injustice.

Many faithful Catholics found the movie “Spotlight” to be fair, considering our very low expectations. Yet the movie is quite far from an accurate historical documentary. They took many “liberties” to slant history. A serious problem was exposed (good), but the Boston Globe ran with it to develop, then fan, a lynch mob mentality in the public. There is no justice in a lynch mob.

The last place I expected to find any fair commentary on this is in a solidly left-wing publication. I am therefore immensely encouraged by an article written by JoAnn Wypijewski and published by CounterPunch. Justice should be a non-partisan issue and justice has not been served. Wypijewski and CounterPunch are to be commended for their courage.

I don’t believe the claims of all who say they are victims – or who prefer the more tough-minded label ‘survivor’ – because ready belief is not part of a journalist’s mental kit, but also because what happened in 2002 makes it difficult to distinguish real claims from fraudulent or opportunistic ones without independent research. What editor Marty Baron and the Globe sparked with their 600 stories and their confidential tip line for grievances was not laudatory journalism but a moral panic, and unfortunately for those who are telling the truth, truth was its casualty.

By their nature, moral panics are hysterical. They jettison reason for emotion, transform accusation into proof, spur more accusation and create a climate that demands not deliberation or evidence or resistance to prejudice but mindless faith.

They are the enemy of skepticism, which those on the left and near-left, liberals, progressives, regard as the sword and shield of journalism when it’s convenient or ideologically appealing. The Globe did not so much practice journalism as it constructed a courtroom of panic, one that reversed the presumption of innocence and spilled over into real courtrooms where real defendants didn’t stand a chance.

In 2002 I investigated only one case, but it was a doozy: that of Father Paul Shanley, who figures in Spotlight and who was declared a “depraved priest” by the Globe‘s editorial page of April 9, 2002, the day after a PowerPoint show put on for the press by personal injury lawyer Eric MacLeish. Shanley is now imprisoned for crimes that are heinous in description and absolutely unsupported by evidence.

Since then I have followed the case of another priest: Father Gordon MacRae of New Hampshire, who does not figure in the film. He was accused, tried and convicted in 1994, a time when Spotlight would have you believe that every sexual accusation against a priest either fell on deaf ears or was handled in a hush-hush settlement, and every playground, church and rectory was a hunting ground for the great Whore of Babylon. MacRae remains imprisoned for crimes that are only slightly less heinous in description and absolutely unsupported by evidence.

Both men were called monsters. Both men were offered plea deals by their respective prosecutors that, had they actually committed the crimes, would be an affront to justice and proportion. Shanley was offered time served – the seven months he’d been jailed while awaiting trial – plus two and a half years” house arrest if only he’d say he was guilty of raping a child on Sunday mornings between Masses. MacRae was offered three years in prison, later reduced to two, if only he’d say he was guilty of cruelly molesting a teenager. Both men refused and went to their fates abandoned by church hierarchy.

“Can you imagine,” Shanley said to me after his conviction in 2005, “here I am, the worst monster, a danger to children everywhere, and they offer me time served? …   But for refusing to lie, I got twelve to fifteen years.”

The piece is big (this quote a small part of it), is good and does not mince words. Read the whole thing: Oscar Hangover Special: Why “Spotlight” Is a Terrible Film.

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