A Catholic Response to Spotlight

By: Natasha Milavec

We were curious. My friends and I had heard of the film, and in addition to having a personal connection to Spotlight (one scene was filmed at one of our favourite spots on campus in Toronto), we wanted to see the film because it has garnered so much attention. If you have not already heard, the film tells the story of Boston Globe reporters in 2002 who bring to light the stories of victims who were sexually abused by priests as children.

Naturally, I was disgusted by what I saw, knowing that the events that the film portrays actually took place. It is a horrifying, gripping reality, even from a simply human perspective. The groans of injustice from the crowd confirmed this throughout the film. But as a faithful Catholic, watching this film was even more painful. My heart ached for the Church; I was appalled that these innocent members of the Church were abused by the very servant-leaders who were supposed to be guiding them in their faith journeys.

One thing that really fascinated me about the film is the responses of the Boston Globe journalists who were covering this story. All lapsed Catholics, the journalists could not reconcile the question of how anyone could continue to be a faithful Catholic after witnessing such horrifying events. At one point, Mark Ruffalo’s character laments that although he has been away from the Church for quite some time, he always hoped that he would return. These events, it seems, have only confirmed his reason to stay away.

Seeing this struggle in Mark Ruffalo’s character, I began to wonder about my fellow movie-goers’ reactions to the film. For some, this film may be their only impression of the Catholic Church. In their mind, why would anyone be a practising Catholic? How could anyone have faith in the Church?

To answer this question, we must first answer a more basic one: what is the Church? Or more appropriately: who is the Church? Throughout the film, the Church is referred to as an institution, and the sex abuse scandal is considered to be a systemic problem. At some level, this is right: instead of being publicly convicted, guilty priests were shuffled around the system from parish to parish. As an institution, some of the Church’s members failed miserably.

What we cannot forget, however, is that institutions are made up of people – many people. The Church is more than just a number of abusive priests, regardless of how large that number may be. The Church is you and me. The Church is mothers and sisters, sons and fathers, custodians and plumbers, librarians and secretaries, doctors and lawyers, priests and brothers. The Church is women and men of every race.Hopefully, those who were turned away by the sex abuse scandal can begin to have faith in the Church again by having faith in the Church’s more saintly members.

That being said, this reason to return to the Church should not satisfy anyone for too long. The reason is that the Church is more than just a human reality. The Church has an identity that Spotlight, and the secular world at large, fail to recognize: her mystical identity as the Bride of Christ. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states: “The Church is the Bride of Christ: he loved her and handed himself over for her. He has purified her by his blood and made her the fruitful mother of all God’s children” (808). Regardless of how many times her members may fail, the Church as the Bride of Christ – the Church that Christ established – remains the “spotless bride of the spotless Lamb” (CCC 796). The Church – in her mystical reality – is always pure.

That may be a lot to take in for a lapsed Catholic, but there is one Person who communicates this reality at each and every Mass, for everyone to understand. That Person is Christ in the Eucharist. At every Mass, Christ gives himself to the Church in the Eucharist, and we as her members receive him, just as a bride receives her husband. As Catholics, we recognize and profess that ordinary bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the reason that we come to Mass, and he gives us the strength and the grace to keep on coming. Regardless of the degree to which we have been turned off by members of the Church, the Eucharist can and should keep us coming back. Because if Jesus Christ is humble enough to be in the hands of an unfaithful priest, then who are we to turn away?

Spotlight has once more brought to light the terrible suffering endured by innocent members of the Church. I am relieved that they have long begun their process of healing, and have received the recognition that they deserve. My prayer for them – and for all those who are struggling with their Catholic faith – is that they would find healing and peace in the Church, the Bride of Christ. May they join in the rejoicing of Revelation 21: 3-5 (NRSV):

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’”