Spotlight producer and reporter place hope in Pope Francis, but predecessor began work years ago
“Spotlight,” the movie about The Boston Globe’s expose of the Archdiocese of Boston’s handling of clegy sex abuse, won the Oscar for Best Picture, but in the story of cleaning up the mess in the Church, was Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI passed over for best supporting actor?
In accepting the Oscar Sunday night, “Spotlight’s” producer, Michael Sugar, said he hoped the film’s message would reach Pope Francis.
“This film gave a voice to survivors, and this Oscar amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican,” Sugar said in his acceptance speech. “Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.”
The statement leaves an impression that nothing has been done in the halls of the Vatican.
Days earlier, Globe reporter Walter Robinson did give more credit, expressing his hope that Francis would complete the work of cleaning up the mess worldwide.
“We have all been impressed by the results but Catholics were certainly the most traumatized,” Robinson, who, along with the Globe’s Spotlight team, won a Pulitzer Prize for the expose, told Italian television station TV2000. “Now with Pope Francis and the cleansing that is taking place, in this sense, we all feel more confident and relieved.”
That statement, too, leaves the impression that before Pope Francis came along, not much had been done.
And yet, the Pope himself noted less than two weeks ago that so much was done on his immediate predecessor’s watch.
“Cardinal Ratzinger deserves applause,” Francis said on his flight back to Rome from Mexico. “He had all the documentation. When he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he took everything in his hands, he conducted investigations and he pushed forward, forward, forward… but he couldn’t go any further in the execution. If you remember, 10 days before John Paul II died, Ratzinger told the whole Church, at the Via Crucis on Good Friday, that she needed to be purified of ‘filth.’ And at the Missa pro eligendo Pontifice — he is no fool, he knew he was going to be a candidate — he didn’t care to hide his position, he said exactly the same thing. What I mean to say is that he was a brave man who helped so many open this door. Thus, I want to remind you of him, because sometimes we forget all this hidden work that laid the foundation for “taking the lid off the pot.”
Veteran Vatican journalist John Allen recognized in 2014 that Francis was getting a lot of credit for reforms that actually began with Pope Benedict.
“On sex abuse, it was then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who pushed for new rules to weed out abuser priests in the Pope John Paul II years and who wrote those rules into law as pope,” Allen wrote for The National Catholic Reporter. “It was also Benedict who unleashed his top cop, then-Msgr. Charles Scicluna, on Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado despite the cleric’s powerful network of Vatican allies and sentenced Maciel to a life of “prayer and penance” in 2006. Benedict, too, was the first pope to meet with victims of sex abuse, the first pope to apologize for the crisis in his own name, and the first pope to dedicate an entire document to the abuse crisis in his 2010 letter to the Catholics of Ireland.”
Allen wrote in the wake of an article in Rolling Stone magazine, which adopted what he called a “Benedict bad, Francis good” framework.
“Ironically, just before the Rolling Stone story appeared, The Associated Press broke the news that Benedict had laicized almost 400 priests over his last two years in office for reasons related to sex abuse, which isn’t quite the profile of a pope in denial. If you think about it, that’s almost 1 in every 1,000 Catholic priests in the world flushed out of the system by Benedict in just two years,” Allen said. “No doubt Benedict’s record on these matters is open to criticism, but there’s equally no doubt that he got the ball rolling on reform. In other words, if there’s a case for ‘Benedict bad, Francis good,’ it’s not on these two fronts.”
On Monday, L’Osservatore Romano, the daily newspaper of Vatican City State, noted that the film does not touch on Ratzinger’s “long and tenacious fight” in launching action against abusers in the church.
“But a film can’t say everything, and the difficulties that Ratzinger encountered only confirm the premise of the film, that is, that too often the church institution did not know how to respond with the necessary determination before these crimes,” the article said.
The paper called it a “positive sign” when Sugar, the producer, said he hoped the film would “resonate all the way to the Vatican.”
The fact there was such an appeal shows “there is still trust in the institution (of the church), there is trust in a pope who is continuing the cleanup begun by his predecessor,” the newspaper said.