In the wild, a predator stalks a herd, identifies the weakest animal and then preys on it. It was the same tactic that Boston Catholic priests used to prey on kids. They would identify kids whose families were in a disarray or were low income. These kids did not have anyone to look up to and religion was an important part of their lives. A priest would take advantage of this, give them them attention and reward them with treats. This guardian angel would then abuse them, physically and spiritually. This abuse was not a secret. The parishioners knew it and so did the Cardinal. But no one spoke against it.
The movie, which is based on real life incidents, starts with the arrival of a new editor at the Boston Globe, who reignites the investigation. A team, called Spotlight, consisting of four reporters start digging through. They knew about a previous settlement, but the documents were sealed by the court. Due to this, they have to find innovative ways to get the information. They contact victims who had settled and lawyers who had tried before and get them to talk. During the process, many people caution against moving forward as it amounted to suing the church. Another reason was that 53% of the readership was Catholic. The Cardinal, who knew about all this, but quietly settled, tells the editor that a city flourishes when its institutions work together. Others ask them to look at the good work that the church is doing and ignore the few bad apples.
Many abuse cases were settled previously and there were lawyers knowledgeable of these incidents. Most of the times, it was the attorney for the victim negotiating with the church lawyers. Since it was a private settlement, there were no documents in court. There was no PR damage too since the victims did not want to appear on TV; Most of them wanted an acknowledgement of the wrong that was done. The court orders of a previous settlement were sealed and the team tries their best to get hold of it. A lawyer who was involved in the previous effort tries to help by guiding them to some documents which are public, but the team finds that the documents have mysteriously disappeared. Finally, when they get it unsealed and they get to know the ugly truths behind the Catholic church.
The Catholic church which had the duty to protect the innocent children protected the priests instead. These child molesters were transferred from parish to parish. Some were sent for rehabilitation and then circulated again. As the reporters continue, they meet one of the priests who admits that he fooled around with boys, but got not pleasure out of it. At the end of their discovery, they find that around 90 priests were involved. It shows that an independent media can do, if it really wants to go after the culprits. The team wrote around 600 articles and won the Pulitzer for exposing the cover ups.
The movie does not relies on dialogue and no theatrics, but remains riveting till the end. It is an important expose into a culture of pervasive child abuse that was intentionally hidden. The movie is revealed through the eyes of the journalists. Some of the sordid details that the victims say are absolutely painful. Those are just words that we hear, but none of us can imagine that the pain that was inflicted on those children. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.
What is deeply disturbing is that this was not an isolated incident. It was systemic and the institution did nothing to prevent it. Instead they spent their energy in covering it up. At the end of the movie, they show a list of places such abuses happened, and it covers few screens. Since the reach of the church is worldwide, the abuse is globalized. Take a look at the list of abuses world wide or look at this. In far away Kerala, Sister Jesme has documented the abuse that adults go through. There is the Sister Abhaya murder case, which shows the “how a city flourishes when institutions work together.”