By Michael Parnell
One of the backbones of Baptist doctrine is the concept of the separation of church and state. Historically Baptists have held that there needed to be a clear wall between the interests of the church and the interests of the state.
The reason for this is simple: the interests of the church and the state should not intersect. And when the interests do there are can be huge implications to the concept of justice.
Spotlight tells the story of the uncovering by the Boston Globe of the child molestation scandal involving the local Catholic archdiocese. As the investigative reporters of the Globe begin peeling back the layers of the story it becomes clear that influence of the church over the state came into play.
How the paper comes to investigate what is referred to as “the Church” is that a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), comes on board and asks about a piece the paper ran on the archdiocese’s handling of abuse cases.
The editor of the Spotlight team, Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton) thinks the paper should avoid looking deeper, to which Baron replies, “This strikes me as an essential story for a local paper.”
From there the team of three reporters (Mark Rufflo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) begins digging into the story.
They investigate a former priest, John J. Geoghan, who allegedly molested many children over many years and many parishes.
Finding one priest is not enough. Baron tells the group that they must focus on the whole of the church, not just one person. He is convinced that there is more than just one person involved in the molestation.
As the story enfolds, we see how the Church has its fingers in all aspects of the process. When it is mentioned that there needs to be study done of court records, suddenly there are roadblocks placed to get the records.
But the reporters keep digging and keep searching. They talk to victims. A common thread of the victims is that they were young and mostly poor. Having a priest pay attention to them was like God paying attention to them.
Spotlight shows the importance of the journalists that uncover things we hope does not go on, but does. We see how hard it is to ferret out a story of this magnitude.
We watch them poring over files of newspaper clippings. There are endless phone calls, trying to run down a lead.
But playing in the subtext of the movie is the issue of faith. We see characters struggle with their own faith in light of the story. Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer, begins the movie going to church with her grandmother. By the end she is cold toward the church.
One of the reporters’ sources is a psychiatrist. He is asked about how one can reconcile their faith in the church in light of abuse. He responds that his faith is in the eternal and he keeps the church and faith separate.
When I was a boy, one of the songs we sang in the choir had this as part of its stanzas: “The arm of flesh will fail you; you dare not trust your own.”
This is movie is about how a group of reporters took on the power of the Church in Boston and showed how the arm of flesh failed so many. It is one of the best movies of this year and asks some hard questions about the institution that is the church. It also celebrates and proves the need of having journalists dig through the muck and mire of daily life to find the truth — even if that truth is not nice or pretty. As my father loved to say, “The truth hurts.”
The truth of Spotlight hurts but in a way that can bring healing.
Rated R for some language including sexual references
Directed by Tom McCarthy
Written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
With: Mark Rufflo (Mike Rezendes), Michael Keaton (Robby Robinson), Rachel McAdams (Sacha Pfeiffer), Liev Schreiber (Marty Baron), Brian d’Arcy James (Matt Carroll)