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Going to see Spotlight? Debating people who have seen it? Here's essential background reading.

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 10, 2015

Have you seen Spotlight? Although I had serious reservations about the hype surrounding the film, I found Spotlight to be an excellent movie. It is a powerful, and surprisingly accurate, retelling of the story of how the sex-abuse scandal exploded: with a Boston Globe investigation of the cover-up in the Boston archdiocese.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say that I “enjoyed” the film. Reliving those awful days, when one inexcusable action after another came to light, and the corruption of the hierarchy was exposed, put me through an emotional wringer. Yet Spotlight made me think seriously, one more time, about the important lessons that we learned in 2002—and the lessons that have not yet been learned.

I’ll be writing more about Spotlight soon. I’ll explain how the movie, which is certainly a powerful indictment of the Boston archdiocese, is also, in a more subtle way, an indictment of the Boston Globe. For that matter, there are a few scenes in which Spotlight almost indicts itself—unintentionally, I’m sure. There’s a good deal to be learned from this film, including some lessons that the filmmakers themselves missed.

But for now I’m writing with a simple (and, I admit, self-serving) purpose. Since Spotlight has reopened discussion of the scandal—with a special focus on Boston—it’s as good a time as ever to plug my own book: The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture.. Yes, it’s a book about the scandal, but it’s not just about the scandal. Nor is it just about Boston. The late Father Richard Neuhaus, in a generous review, called it “the best book-length treatment of the sex abuse crisis, its origins and larger implications, published to date.”

If you or your friends are planning to see Spotlight, or have seen it—or if you feel the need to answer criticisms of the Church, brought up by the many people who have seen the movie, please read The Faithful Departed. I won’t say that it’s a light or pleasant read; the story is heartbreaking, and I make no attempt to sugar-coat the reality. But I’d like to think that The Faithful Departed helps loyal Catholics to understand the scandals—to explain them, without trying to explain them away. I’ve received many flattering comments, but the ones that I treasure most come from readers who tell me that the book helped them to hold fast to the faith, when it was severely shaken by the scandals.



Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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