Round Table: Spotlight, the Film

spotlightWe are pleased to introduce our Healing Voices Round Table in this Special Edition.  We hope to make this forum a regular feature: individuals writing a first-person perspective on a common topic. As Founders of this newsletter, our mission is to raise our collective voice to share stories and experiences, providing healing support and making our society and our Church a better place for all of God’s children. We also want to share our rich diversity of faith, wisdom, insight and perspective. We welcome feedback from you!



Spotlight, The Hunting Ground, Lady Gaga’s emotional performance of Til It Happens To You: I wondered why I stayed up to watch a show I usually don’t watch. The truth is I haven’t seen either movie (feel I need to watch them alone); however, I understood the context, abuse, was a common thread among all three. The night was overshadowed with awards for sound editing, costume design, special effects, but finally the big winners were not about entertainment. They were about educating people about what is an enormous issue, a silenced issue, in our society. They were about trauma and abuse hushed up from the powers that be.

At first, I applauded each individually:  Gaga’s authentic personal message for herself and for others; Spotlight‘s best picture; and the acceptance speeches from those involved. For how many years have we who have been abused have tried to speak? Personally for me since 2003, and I am still trying to be heard by those who choose not to listen. Then, the Academy Awards show was over. As I sat with what I just witnessed, I started to make connections, so many connections. The reporters, while they were trying to report the news, “the truth,” were experiencing the same response that as we the victims were: “I don’t want to hear about this, those are dangerous allegations, go away. If I ignore you long enough, you will disappear and eventually fade away, you become invisible and mute.”

After those connections surfaced, I felt the parallels creep in, such as the college students who suffer from abuse at powerful universities. There they stood on stage with Lady Gaga, words written on arms because their voices had been silenced. Silenced by what? The powers that be, those in charge, those concerned about their reputation and their money!

As Lady Gaga speaks, sings “til it happens to you, you don’t know,” Spotlight has effectively made known to those abused by anyone that it is imperative for all to speak up, keep speaking until you are heard. You will cause change. Our society, all environments, all over the world, need to change in our attitudes, our actions and our fundamental beliefs about the dignity and sacredness of every human being.


My wife asked if I would see the movie with her. I said “no.” I felt it would be too much for me. Once the movie could be rented, she invited a dear friend of ours (who knows my story) over to watch the movie at our house on a Sunday afternoon. I stayed away. I ran errands, and I went to my office to do some work. When it was over, Kathy sent me a text, and I returned home. I walked into the kitchen and could see my wife and our friend had been crying. They looked at me and I began to cry. The three of us stood, crying in our kitchen, unable to speak. After a few moments, our friend said that she was so sorry those bad things happened to me, and she left. My wife and I dried our tears, and we talked about the movie. I am happy the movie won the Oscar, but I am glad I didn’t see it.


When I heard the movie Spotlight came out in theaters, my heart filled with anxiety. Knowing I didn’t want to see it, I let my curiosity take over and I went alone. I think I was hoping to find some answers I needed about my own abuse, but instead I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, fear, and shame, and seeing it felt like a mistake. As the tears flowed throughout the movie, many memories resurfaced. I knew it was time to be courageous and speak of my pain. Yes, it did open up old wounds for me and for many others who have suffered alone living with painful scars. I’m hoping through my pain that healing and reconciliation will be my reward. I am happy that Spotlight won the Oscar.  I also hope that it helps others to reveal their secret that has long been buried.


I was alone when I watched Spotlight and this is exactly how I wanted it. I was alone in the beginning of going through the struggles of the abuse that had happened to me, so why not watch the movie this way? I still remember hearing about the Boston abuse scandal after I had been abused, which is what really pushed me to come forward shortly after. The movie itself reminded me of how the priest who abused me was ushered from one place to the other. Why protect someone who can hurt more individuals? I never understood that, and the movie just makes it very clear why they did this. The emotions were strong but the courage of everyone who helped expose this scandal made me feel I wasn’t alone. This is why I love the Healing Voices: I am not alone.


Spotlight was a tough, honest and long overdue look at the institution of my faith and the abuse that I too experienced as a child. I remember once when a priest had me pray the “Jesus” prayer with him, where he would say “Jesus son of the living God” and I would follow with “have mercy on me a sinner.” I repeated this a few times and then asked if we could switch our roles. Why am I designated as “a sinner?” Was he exempt because of the collar he wore? To me this movie showed how we as laity have been carrying the burden of this abuse. I cried during the movie. I prayed for my pastor who is a good man. Honestly, I prayed that he would leave what is in many respects a corrupt institution. I didn’t know how I could call myself a Catholic. And, then, I went to Mass and received the Eucharist, and felt that painful pull between a tradition that I love and the corruption that I abhor.


“I think I definitely need to see that movie.” Such was my initial, enthusiastic thought. This was, after all, a blockbuster movie telling a story to a national audience that detailed both the sinful behavior of my Church as well as the determination and courage of a group of journalists dedicated to “following the story” that was stalled in the shadows of corruption, falsehoods and victim shame. I decided that I would see it alone, under the cover of a dark theatre and that I would cope with my own feelings and emotions with a diet Coke and a pocket of tissues. After years of counseling and truth-telling, though, this seemed perhaps not the best-case scenario for a movie packed with emotional triggers.  “I think I definitely need to see that movie—with someone.” I was so proud of myself for demonstrating insight, self-care and attention to my emotional well-being. I am blessed with a supportive network of friends, family and loved ones who know my story, and it would be easy to schedule time with one of them to see Spotlight. Several had already asked me if I was going to see it. It was the first and last question on the topic, however.  It just wasn’t discussed any further. Perhaps some of them were themselves not comfortable seeing it. Maybe they worried that it would be overwhelming and exhausting.  “I think I definitely need to see that movie–when I am ready.” With the accolades and headlines fading, there is plenty of time to see it on DVD. Over the years, I’ve learned that sometimes I think when I should feel.  For many years, feeling was not my strong suit: shame, humiliation, manipulation would overwhelm me.  Avoiding feelings was preferable. Thinking, rationalizing, and intellectualizing didn’t exhaust me or leave me confused and scared. “I feel that I don’t need to see Spotlight. I lived through years of abuse. Their story is my story.” That’s what I really think.


I didn’t watch Spotlight. That was my conscious choice. Don’t misunderstand: I am a fan. I am grateful to the writers, producers, and especially tenacious news people who originally dogged after our buried existence, as victims. I’m profoundly grateful the movie seems to have avoided the caricature of the hopeless victim and, instead, to have showcased the power of those who seek justice. While considering buying a ticket on principle, I don’t intend to watch Spotlight for two reasons. First, I have lived it. Why reread a story when it’s already branded on your psyche and inescapably so? Second, my particular approach to recovery, which has evolved over decades, places top priority on regaining the power of choice in my life. Along with many survivors, my well-being required wrestling power back even as an adult from the shadowy memory of abusers who destroyed my freedom during a trusting and innocent time. So, now, I choose not to be emotionally rattled. I choose to care for my tender self and my resilience by not striking at the wound with which I am involuntarily far, far too familiar. Instead, I seek what fuels the light within me. This is how being a survivor has driven me ever closer to the Light. Seeking light, standing in Light, I am glad Spotlight provides another opportunity to say, in my own way, “enough” to the wounds of abusers and their enablers.

 [1] Reference: McCarthy, T. (Director). (2015). Spotlight. United States:  Look First Media. Our online newsletter also features a link and tribute to the performance of Lady Gaga of Til It Happens to You at the 2016 Oscars.


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