A Different Spotlight on the Matter
Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? A film called Spotlight is being released (as of this writing). It’s named after the investigative team at the Boston Globe that uncovered the story of the Boston abuse scandal that led to the resignation of Archbishop Bernard Law in 2002. I hadn’t planned to get into this horrifying morass of documentation because my purpose focused on artistic media renderings of these tragic tales, but this new film and the fact that I’d lived in Boston for two years moves it to the head of the line.
Interestingly, Jamey Sheridan and John Slattery, who voiced Terry Kohut and Arthur Budzinski, respectively, in Mea Maxima Culpa also appear in Spotlight as Jim Sullivan, an attorney for the Church, and Ben Bradlee, managing editor for the Boston Globe. And remember that Law & Order episode I thought might have been based on Tony Walsh? It was actually based on the Boston case of James Porter, a priest accused of over 200 assaults on boys and girls. Like L&O’s fictional Father Joe, Porter left the priesthood, married, and had children. After having gotten away with the alleged abuses, he was finally convicted of assaulting a teenage girl who happened to be babysitting his own children. Jesus wept.
Swirling vignettes of Boston life are interspersed with scenes like a survivor pushing his infant son in a park swing, accompanied by delicate music resembling a Chopin nocturne, melancholy, matching the overcast reality that is commonly part of Boston’s atmosphere. The hard realities can be seen in church reaction to the heinous crimes.
When asked for a response, the Globe reports Church spokesperson Donna Morrissey as saying the church had no interest in knowing what the Globe’s questions would be. Her exact words were reported as “That’s correct” when asked if the Archdiocese’s refusal to accept questions even in writing meant that they had no interest in knowing what those questions were. With what the New Yorker calls “a devastating coda,” the film ends with screens and screens naming cities in and outside the U.S. where abuse has been reported, all in white print on black backdrops, just as Mea Maxima Culpa had begun.
One thing a Daily Beast article by Jason Berry reminded me of was the “Prince of the Church” designation of cardinals. As is typical of the Church, Bernard Cardinal Law’s activities in the coverup of abuses by nearly 250 priests like Father Porter ended, as in Dolan’s case, with a promotion to cardinal and beyond that, to a $12,000 per month job at one of the most historic edifices in the Roman Church, Santa Maria Maggiore, home of the Sistine Chapel. Nice work if you can get it.
Speaking of nice work. I thought I might be done with this journey when I was glancing at a Washington Post article on my cellphone news app. The December 2019 article reported the resignation of Bishop Richard J. Malone. Over 200 complaints, same ol’ same ol’; coverup upon coverup, blah, blah, blah; 300-page dossier on abuses “hidden away in a supply closet near a vacuum cleaner”… well, that’s a new one.
By the time of Malone’s resignation, more than 12,000 parishioners had signed a petition for him to leave, and a local newspaper poll found that 86% of Catholics wanted him gone, especially after a 60 Minutes episode where his administrative assistant, well former admin asst at this point, revealed that he’d erased 58 priests from a 2018 list of 100 accused abusers. Among those was one of the most egregious, The Rev. Arthur J. Smith. (Interestingly, WaPo didn’t name Smith, only identifying him as “that priest” who had been “accused of inappropriately touching two boys.” I had to go to the Buffalo News, which had named him months before. Hmmm)
In 2013, only one year after Malone had been named Bishop of Buffalo, he approved Smith for a post as a cruise ship chaplain. What! I thought I’d misremembered which priest had had that job, but no, this was Becker 2.0. Remember the priest who admitted to the crimes but wouldn’t agree to be laicized? He had to be put out (but not excommunicated), though he still received his pension. I’m still mad about that.
Anyway, with all the outrage about Malone, new Vatican protocol under Pope Francis required an “investigation” led by the regional cardinal. That regional cardinal was — wait for it — our pal Timothy Cardinal Dolan. Yes, the Dolan who seemed angrier about Becker’s recalcitrance than his acts, the Dolan who squirreled away Wisconsin funds, resulting in reduced access to settlements for abuse targets. That was the person who was supposed to be large and in charge. I was stunned as visions of foxes and hen houses danced in my head. But maybe the church has learned a bit. Not likely.
Dolan, whose machinations on behalf of the Church appeared directly in relation to his elevation from Archbishop to Cardinal, was replaced by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio. Replacing a cardinal with a bishop seems questionable. And it was. The bishop wouldn’t do a full-fledged investigation, but rather a “fact-finding mission.” Oh, but wait. As always, there’s more.
Di Marzio has, himself, been accused of child molestation, charges he denies (eye roll). Apparently, there are so many accused abusers, the Church can’t find a single untainted one to investigate the others inducted into that wretched fraternity.
And speaking of archbishops in the news, Salvatore J. Cordileone, current archbishop of San Francisco, has banned Nancy Pelosi from taking communion because she supports women’s rights to choose. Imagine that, a church that bans women from the highest levels of authority is banning a woman who supports women having authority over their own bodies. Who woulda thunk it?
Oh, and by the way, “cordileone” is Italian for “lionheart.” Sounds about right. The female lion goes in for the kill, doing most of the heavy lifting and the male lion lives off her work.
Anyway, any time I hear of a Catholic priest doing something hateful, I can’t help but wonder how he stands on child abuse. So, hearing this news story, I did a bit of digging. This same Cordileone, installed in SF in 2012, is the same one who promised a list of predator priests would be released some years ago. The San Francisco Examiner reports that:
While most of the state’s diocese have made public their lists of names, San Francisco and Fresno have not yet done so...
San Francisco church officials initially said they would make their list public last November. More than a year later, it remains under wraps.
That would have been November 2018. As of 2021, the Herman Law Firm reported that the Church is fighting the three lawsuits trying to force the release of the list, and also fighting the new California statute that gives accusers an additional three-year window to file suit. This is similar to the recent New York statute that allows E. Jean Carroll to sue the indicted former president.
As of this writing (May 2022), I can find no record that the list has ever been released. However, according to CBS News, the law firm of Jeff Anderson, the attorney who appeared in Chapter 11, called in by Nova Scotians discussed in more detail in Chapter 10 to deal with their abuse problem, has done the research and compiled their own list of over 260 priests in the Bay Area.
But let’s get back to a hero, the full-strength spiritual antacid I need for the ache in my soul’s gut.
Jason Berry is an unsung figure throughout my story, unsung although I hear the melody of his importance providing a connecting theme to many of the characters in this saga. He knew “Bernie” Law in early 1970s Mississippi when Law was not yet a bishop. He wrote a series of articles about Bishop Gerald Frey, the Louisiana bishop who played musical chairs with pedophile priests, including Fr. Gauthe. In that same period, Berry interviewed Thomas Boyle about his report to the Catholic Church. He wrote a book on abuses in his native Louisiana. And he knows the circular nature of abuse reporting, rather like the rhythmic patterns, or tala, of traditional Indian raga performances that end where they begin.
In Western music, a four-beat metric structure would begin on beat one and end on beat four. In contrast, Indian ragas begin on beat one and end in the same place, beat one. Each time Berry reached the end of one line of inquiry he landed on beat one of the next. He couldn’t get information on a Pennsylvania case, but the editor of National Catholic Register calls with information on cases in Portland and San Diego. A spokesperson for the U. S. Catholic Conference won’t talk about the case in Boise, but then mentions a case in Rhode Island.
Berry’s book, Lead Us Not into Temptation, (and Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis by Richard Sipe, the former Benedictine and therapist whose research supplemented the “Spotlight” crew’s work) made brief cameos in Spotlight as references when New England Chapter SNAP founder Phil Saviano recommended that Globe reporters read to educate themselves on the Catholic response to child sex abuse.
Saviano, part of another recurring theme representing the victims in Spotlight, credits AIDS with his determination to speak out. Before contracting the dreaded condition he had been a successful public relations executive. Once stricken, he chanced on a newspaper piece about further abuses by the same priest who had abused him. Believing he hadn’t long to live, Saviano sued the Church. He was offered more than $10,000 to keep his mouth shut. But since Saviano felt he had nothing to lose and didn’t want to go to the grave without having at least tried to help other children, he refused. As his T-cell count tanked to nearly nothing, his own miracle occurred. Another survivor of priest abuse donated the kidney that made possible Saviano’s own survival from yet another deadly enemy. Hallelujah!
And Saviano’s abuser, Fr. David Holley? He was convicted in New Mexico (the last of the four states in which he had abused children) nearly twenty years after his time in Massachusetts, receiving a sentence of up to 275 years. Church letters show he had continued the abuses that included Saviano in Massachusetts. He had been sent to New Mexico for treatment at the Paraclete center in Jemez Springs. As part of the collection of ritornelli that have navigated my voyage into this morass, this center was founded in 1947 by Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald — you know, the one who decided that “vipers” like Holley should be put on an island, the island the Church had started to buy, but decided to recycle the vipers instead?
This particular viper came within an inch of getting parole in 2004, after eleven years in prison, but a parole-board “blunder,” as Daily Mail reporter Martin Gould calls it, resulted in that decision being overturned. A few years before, at the age of 40, Saviano, one of his earlier alleged victims, read a small piece about Holley’s conviction in the Globe’s “Metro” section. This led him to put his own experience in a greater context. He met with a New Mexico victim and went public.
Holley died in prison at the age of 80. According to reports, he was never removed from the priesthood. In fact, according to the Worcester MA Telegram & Gazette, he was still getting health and dental coverage in the 1990s.
Oh, and just like Fr. Murphy in Wisconsin, Holley pleaded ill health when resisting the conditions that would have accompanied his parole. In a letter to the parole board dated May 26, 2004, Holley had the unmitigated gall to complain that the conditions were “oppressive.” He claimed that his age and health should be taken into consideration. Yes, like he took into consideration the ages and mental health of his 7–, 8–, 9–, and 12–year old victims living in the conditions of emotional wartime? You may ask yourself, “What are those conditions?” Holley would have had to:
1) Spend at least six months in a sex offenders program;
2) Submit to electronic monitoring;
3) Submit to a curfew;
4) Register as a sex offender;
5) Avoid all unsupervised contact with “persons” under age eighteen;
6) Wear no priestly robes in public.
So, let’s recap: Ten males in New Mexico alone have made credible accusations, which doesn’t include various males in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Texas, but he finds it “extremely difficult” to follow six rules intended to keep him from continuing his depraved behavior.
Father John Geoghan, prominently mentioned in Spotlight, was killed in state prison by a fellow inmate. Because of his fate, the attorney for Paul Shanley, another priest named in the film, asked that his client be held by the county rather than the state. The judge refused, as did the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court when Shanley filed an appeal to his fifteen-year conviction, trying to discredit the memory of his accuser, a 27-year-old firefighter, abused as a boy of six.
But even in interviews with Spotlight actors, there’s a clear desire to shield the Church. Italian American Stanley Tucci — who plays Armenian American Mitch Garabedian, the fiercely dedicated attorney for children who have been victimized — told interviewers: “I-I-I think that people can’t look at this as a condemnation of Catholicism, really more of a condemnation of those that abuse the tenets of Catholicism and of Christianity.” Now, as you may recall, my little trip down the byways of Catholic history undermines Tucci, at least as far as the tenets of the Church are concerned.
But when fellow Italian American Mark Ruffalo (Mike Rezendes, reporter, in the film) points out the commission appointed by the Vatican, he seems uncertain about whether or not it will do meaningful work. Tom Doyle is much more direct in his 2015 Radio Boston interview with Meghna Chakrabarti alongside the real Mitch Garabedian.
Chakrabarti (in an almost pleading tone): Tom Doyle, the Vatican does have its commission on clergy abuse. Cardinal Sean O’Malley is, you know, a major part of that commission. They’ve attested to a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to abuse. These are certainly meaningful changes.
Tom Doyle (almost sotto voce): Are they?
Interestingly, the film’s director Thomas McCarthy comes a bit closer to my point of view. When asked if the Church has responded to the film, he says “I don’t think they care.”
Eerily, Andrew Greeley, trained sociologist, longtime priest, and best selling author of Father Blackie Ryan mystery series, had uttered virtually the same words over two decades earlier in 1993. Interviewed on the Phil Donahue Show alongside Jason Berry and SNAP founder Barbara Blaine, Greeley responded to Donahue’s claim that the sex abuse issue would not be resolved during the papacy of John Paul II:
I don’t think the Vatican cares. I mean, they recently ordered the Bishop of Pittsburgh to reassign a priest he had removed because he was a child molester. Um, and, and so, the Vatican doesn’t get it. They think it’s a problem that’s a manifestation of American corruption and they’re more concerned, as are all priests, about the rights of priests than than they are about the horror the victims go through.
We come full circle as I listen to the Radio Boston’s interview with Phil Saviano. Replacing Mea Maxima Culpa’s visual images of men who cannot hear is the audio scene of a man who, like them, could not get people to hear. The silence as Saviano collects himself to tell his harrowing story just one more time moves us into the miasma of his suffering. He does not beg, he does not plead, he simply relates his experience in a calm matter-of-fact manner that is more credible than any Church pronouncement. If the hierarchy can listen to this and not believe, not ache, not suffer the little children to come unto them, not be shamed into reclaiming their role as shepherds of their flock, then I agree with director McCarthy and Father Greeley and so many others: I don’t think they care.