We are publishing the following excerpts from an article written by Joanne McCarthy, an award winning journalist. It was written amidst the backdrop of the Catholic community in Australia. It has profound implications because it could have just as easily come from an examination of the rampant abuse and coverups of the Chabad-Lubavitch community in Australia and worldwide.
“It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to abuse one.”
And the timing … Spotlight up for gongs in Hollywood while the spotlight’s on an Australian cardinal in Rome giving evidence about what he knew about child sexual abuse allegations. Unfortunate.
Included in the group at the Quirinale while Pell gives evidence will be Victorian couple Anthony and Chrissie Foster, who travelled to NSW in 2012 to campaign with the Herald. Two of their daughters, Emma and Katie, were raped by notorious priest Kevin O’Donnell. The repeated abuse started when they were five.
Emma died of a drug overdose in 2007. Katie has severe disabilities after she was hit by a car after drinking to escape the nightmares of her abuse.
The Fosters stepped into the glare – the spotlight – of the public realm in 2008 when they asked to meet Pope Benedict during his Australian visit for World Youth Day celebrations. Their request was denied.
The Pope instead met with hand-chosen victims who included the relative of a prominent Labor politician.
Chrissie Foster always dreamt the royal commission would end up in the Vatican, even back in 2012 when the public made clear it believed one was necessary, but too many politicians ducked and weaved when asked if they supported one.
I always believed it would because of the systemic nature of what I saw of abuse within the Catholic Church, and the church’s response to allegations, starting from the first phone call from an abuse survivor in June, 2006.
Watching Spotlight was like watching my life for the past 10 years.
The similarities were striking.
The Boston Globe editor Marty Baron, who initiated the investigation into the church’s handling of one paedophile priest, John Geoghan, was an outsider – a Miami Jew in a Catholic baseball-mad city.
I was, and remain, an outsider – a woman writing from home on the NSW Central Coast, 90 kilometres from Newcastle about the blokey Hunter Region. The outsider view was essential in both cases; to see with fresh eyes a culture linked with the church by tradition, where so many people in prominent positions grew up within the church.
I’ve met so many people like the victim and victim’s advocate Phil Saviano who spoke to the Boston Globe journalists. Saviano had documents to prove what he was saying, but he was labelled crazy because of his desperate passion for someone to see the church through the eyes of a survivor – not what the church said, but what it actually did behind closed doors.
In Spotlight a lawyer representing nearly 90 child-sex offender priests for the Catholic Church turns on his journalist mate who challenges him over it, and declares: “I was just doing my job.”
I would be living in Tuscany today being fed peeled grapes if I had $1 for every time I’ve heard or read someone saying “I was just doing my job”, or words to that effect, over the past decade.
It’s used by people to explain why they didn’t respond to a survivor, or listen, or read a document, or question a church response, or investigate, or step slightly beyond their perceived professional boundaries – to try to walk in the shoes of a survivor, up against a church that used to rule the world. It’s a church that continues, at times, to act like it still does.
There’s a scene in Spotlight where the reporters realise the church’s public records about priests contain vital evidence, and a key to understanding how sexual abuse within the church remained silent for so long. In my case it was Broken Rites in Victoria, the survivors’ group that has meticulously documented abuse allegations and provided a safe haven for survivors, that held church records with damning evidence of paedophile priests’ movements, and the even more damning disappearances.
I can relate to the outrage displayed by actor Mark Ruffalo’s character Michael Rezendes at various points, when the church’s callous treatment of vulnerable people is almost overwhelming. I felt it keenly in 2008 during World Youth Day when the church fought tooth and nail against a papal apology, and I rang the Vatican to let the Catholic Church know I meant business.
The Pope apologised. Credit goes to the then Maitland-Newcastle bishop Michael Malone for being the first Australian bishop to support an apology, which was the crack in the church’s armour – or the response of a decent human being – that eventually secured one.
The most profound statement in Spotlight is delivered by Stanley Tucci’s character, the victims’ lawyer Mitchell Garabedian: “It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a village to abuse one.”
It was one of two points in the film that had me in tears.
The Catholic Church, and so many other institutions as we’ve seen from the royal commission, was able to hide its child-sex offenders in plain view for so long because people looked the other way, denied, minimised, vilified those who raised allegations, marginalised, put their own ambitions or the status of the church above the need to protect children from harm, and recognise crimes.
In other words, and to put it at its simplest – but also its most profoundly troubling – people made excuses, and so the village was complicit in abuse.
Spotlight is a movie about real events in Boston. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is not theatre for our entertainment or a show trial, but a constant reminder that each and every one of us has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in society.
If we don’t, there will be abuse.
* Joanne McCarthy won Australian journalism’s most prestigious award, the Gold Walkley, in 2013 for her reporting on child-sex abuse in the Catholic Church, which led to a state inquiry and royal commission.