The Dailies

Word of the Day

Shroud (n./v., SHROWD)

A cloth that wraps someone, especially for burial, or something that completely envelops another. Also can be the act of doing both of those things. Basically, to conceal.

Gif of the Day

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Link of the Day


I was a day late to the news in the Catholic church. News is an understatement. Late Saturday night, a Catholic Archbishop released a lengthy statement about a prominent Cardinal’s lengthy sexual abuse. The archbishop alleges that the governing body of the Catholic church (including the current and previous Pope) have known about the Cardinal’s abuse, covered it up, moved him around, refused to/failed to remove him from ministry, promoted him, gave him a prominent place in the current Pope’s inner circle, and sent him on missions. All this was done with full knowledge of both popes, claims the archbishop. It is, as Rod Dreher put it, an atomic bomb and, as Ross Douthat put it, open war on Pope Francis.

This report might somehow be worse than the Pennsylvania grand jury report about the sexual abuse and coverup that was released twelve days ago. Seventy years. Five thousand priests. More than one thousand children abused. Priests moved around, hidden. Details documented, sealed. I had seen the headline but hadn’t read anything about the story until last night. Even in a year marked by stories of sexual abuse, the ones in the stories I read were unconscionable.

So I watched Spotlight last night. What else was there to do? I was aware of the film since its release and wanted to see it, but I hadn’t had an interest in seeing it. Who wants to wade through a real-life septic tank when you can be enjoying flights of fantasy and humor? "It’s really good," one of my friends had said repeatedly. "You should watch it." Should watch films are never enjoyable, rarely as imperative as they are presented to be, and almost always lack fine crafting. I avoid them until they are unavoidable. Last night, Spotlight was unavoidable.

Spotlight is the retelling of how The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team investigated and broke the story about the Catholic church abuse scandals throughout Boston in the early 2000s. It’s well-acted (Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton particularly make strong impressions) and steadily directed. The accolades and awards it received are deserved and understandable. It is also not quite the movie people want it to be.

Spotlight is less about the triumph of the press than the idea that institutions perpetuate and cover up evil deeds while everyone in the community ignores them. The movie largely starts with a new editor coming into the Globe. Unlike the newspaper’s local staff, he is from Florida. He is Jewish and single. His demeanor is quiet, measured, and humorless, a stark contrast to the blunt, brisk bonhomie of Bostonians. In an exchange with the Boston Cardinal, he explains his point of view clearly: Boston is a small town at heart, and the press needs to stand apart from it in order to hold it accountable. This isn’t about freedom of the press. It’s about something else entirely, as Jake Meador points out:

The difference between [Cardinal] Law’s world and [Editor] Baron’s is actually not chiefly ideological. The ideological difference is downstream. The difference is whether they believe in the idea of a village. Law does. But Baron doesn’t. His entire project presupposes that the village is basically a myth and the newspaper has to stand alone because it has to be capable of speaking clearly when the village leaders do wrong in order to protect their readers who might otherwise be victimized.

From Baron’s perspective, it does not actually matter if Law believes anything in the Catholic Catechism or not. The point is that the idea of a village is a useful one for keeping him in power and for giving him an enormous amount of control over the other members of the village.

By movie’s end, we learn that The Boston Globe was partly complicit in the silence too. There is no satisfying payoff, not even a "justice has been done" feeling. Spotlight wants us to know that all of us are guilty. If you are part of a community, a local culture, then you are part of some kind of evil.

I’m beginning to suspect that newspaper dramas are some of the more postmodern films, perversely suited to our age. They are not somber, nor are they disillusioned. They are cynical. A newspaper drama is inevitably about a well-known scandalous story that a small team of reporters tracked down and broke against a host of opposition from an institution. The reporters are not just under siege; they are isolated. They are rarely happily married. They are religiously unaffiliated. They work long hours in buildings without sunlight. The only community they have is with their work team; rarely are they even seen having camaraderie with coworkers from the rest of the paper. When they snap, as Robert Downey Jr.’s character does in Zodiac—a newspaper movie about the unknowability of truth—they go off alone. They are atomized individuals with the most easily severed connections to other humans and no connection to institutions or larger bodies.

These are the heroes of the 21st century.

This week, I’m going to try a series about some of the films I’ve seen semi-recently that have stuck with me and endured in my brain. Spotlight is going to, not because I think it’s incredible but because it illustrates the ways that people are wrestling with connection in an increasingly atomized society. Mark Rezendes admits that he wants to believe that the church can exist for him. The death of that dream causes intense anger and pain for him. He finds his connection with his four-person work team, as people often do. If a society is inside their screens and not going to mass, where will they find connection other than work? Is it any surprise that companies have increasingly positioned themselves as caring for the needs of employees and using empathic language (despite being one of the most tenuous of ties)?

Ultimately, I think Meador is right: the village must exist. Not at the expense of truth, surely, but it must exist. People cannot go through life as isolated individuals. Community is needed—not just the loose ties of work or common interest but the ones bigger than ourselves. These cannot come without honest looks at the failures of those communities and institutions, but the individuals need to take honest looks at a society without institutions and realize the wasteland that society would be if everyone quit.

I’m a Christian, from a Protestant denomination. I feel for my Catholic friends. They’re being faced with some very real, awful decisions right now. I’ve known many who didn’t care about seriously practicing the faith they learned, and I suspect they’ll leave the faith, denouncing the Church. I’ve also known others who cared deeply about their faith, and I suspect they’re grappling with what to do. Rod Dreher, when faced with the Church’s coverup, converted to Eastern Orthodox. I suspect some Catholics may do the same. Others will try to stay and reform the Church.

In the end, it comes down to the individual’s choices. Will I be part of a culture? Will I submit some of my interests, my preferences, my needs to be part of something bigger than myself? Or will I always be cynical, claiming to know “the truth about things,” unable to experience joy because I must hold myself at a critical distance, unwilling to surrender myself to another? I don’t know what I’ll do when scandal inevitably comes to my denomination’s doorstep, but I’ve committed to this group. We share our joys, sorrows, burdens, and sins. And truthfully, that is often a wonderful thing. (There’s a reason religious people report better levels of health and happiness than non-religious people.) Sometimes it’s hard. But it is worth it. The alternative is none at all.

All of us, each of us. All for one, and one for all.

“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

TagsMoviesSpotlightCatholicismThe Boston GlobeThe Village