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New movie tells harrowing tales of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church

POSTED: November 16, 2015 11:29 a.m.
Kelsey Dallas/

"Spotlight," a movie on the investigative reporting that exposed clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, was released on Nov. 6.

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A new movie is bringing clergy sexual abuse into the public eye yet again, weeks after Pope Francis met with survivors of assault during his visit to the U.S.

"Spotlight," which was released nationwide Nov. 6, tells the story of the Boston Globe journalists who investigated sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and published stories in 2002 exposing clergy members' efforts to cover up the scandal.

"All over the country there were instances (of abuse) … but this story, this reporting, it connected the dots, and that is what sort of blew the roof off of this crisis," said Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote and directed the film, to NPR.

The movie has been praised by early reviewers both inside and outside of the Catholic Church, but many have noted that the film's difficult subject could make for a difficult night at the movies for some audiences.

"In Boston, where the scandal broke wide-open, some survivors are anxious about how the movie portrays their story, in part because the film is told from the perspective of the journalists rather than the survivors," Boston.com reported. "They're also worried that the film might force them to relive their trauma."

"Spotlight" could also renew people's frustrations toward the Catholic Church, which continues to struggle with the negative public image created as a result, at least in part, of the Boston Globe reporters' work, which won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize, the article noted.

One new research study released in September by the Journal of Public Economics found that mishandling of clergy sexual abuse by Catholic leaders leads people to give much less money to their local parish.

"According to its authors, while the sum of lawsuits and other abuse-related costs over the last 40 years is estimated to total about $3 billion for the church, the decline in charitable giving costs the church an average of $2.36 billion per year," noted National Catholic Reporter in its article on the research.

Although the movie's release could have consequences for the Catholic Church, people involved with the project said their focus was on being true to the stories of men and women mistreated by clergy members.

"I hope if survivors are out there who haven't come forward, they'll feel empowered by this film and want to come to grips with it," said Phil Saviano, who survived clergy sexual abuse and is portrayed in the film, to Boston.com.
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