ROME — The day after the movie “Spotlight” received the best picture Oscar, the Vatican’s newspaper and radio station are praising the film as courageous and “not anti-Catholic,” and revealed that clerics in Rome have been recommending the film to each other.
Although a Vatican spokesman declined to comment on the award, he referred journalists to favorable reports on Vatican Radio and in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper.
The Rev. Hans Zollner, a member of the pope’s special commission on sexual abuse and president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at Gregorian University in Rome, told Vatican Radio there is “great appreciation for the movie” among his fellow clerics who have recommended it to each other.
“These bishops recommended their brothers to see the movie, so it’s a strong invitation to reflect and to take seriously the central message, namely, that the Catholic Church can and must be transparent, fair, and committed to the fight against abuse and so that this never happens again,” he said.
“It is important to understand that we must change our attitude, which in Italian can be expressed in the famous word: ‘omerta.’ No talking, solving everything by sweeping it under the rug, hide it, and think that everything will pass,” he said. “We must understand that it will not: We must realize that we either think about this with a lot of courage and the ability to deal with things up front until the end, or one day, sooner or later, we will be obliged to do so. And this I think is one of the central messages of this film.”
L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, ran two articles on the Academy Awards. In its list of winners, the paper said “Spotlight” is not “anti-Catholic,” but rather, a movie that “has the courage to denounce cases which must be condemned without hesitation.”
The paper doesn’t think the movie measures up to “All the President’s Men,” but nonetheless praised “Spotlight” for having “very little Hollywood” in it.
The second article said “Spotlight” has “given voice to the shock and the profound grief of the faithful before the discovery of these horrible realities.”
After pointing out that child abuse occurs in all areas of life, the paper said, “But now it is clear that too many in the Church were more concerned about the image of the institution than the seriousness of the act.”
“All this can’t justify the grave sin of those who, seen as God’s representatives, use this authority to take advantage of the innocent,” the paper said. “This is told in the film well, giving space to the internal devastation that these acts generate in the victims, who no longer have a God to turn to, to whom ask for help.”
Survivors of clerical sexual abuse around the world also applauded the award to “Spotlight,” which detailed the investigation by The Boston Globe into clerical sexual abuse and its subsequent cover-up in the Boston archdiocese.
Irish abuse survivor Marie Collins, a member of the pope’s special commission on the Church’s response to the abuse scandals, said she was “delighted” by the award because the film “shows clearly the methods used by the Catholic Church to protect its reputation and in so doing neglect the welfare of our children.”
“Anyone who still claims not to understand or denies the deliberate actions Church leaders have used to protect abusing priests should see this film,” Collins said via e-mail, emphasizing she was speaking for herself, not the commission. “See how children are abandoned to their fate at the hands of known abusers while every effort is made to silence survivors.”
“This film is a wonderful tribute to journalists and survivors everywhere who refuse to be silenced in their fight for justice,” she said.
A victim who was part of one of the biggest clerical pedophile scandals in the world, Australian David Ridsdale, called the movie’s Oscar win “absolutely fantastic.”
Ridsdale and other abuse victims are in Rome to hear the testimony of Australian Cardinal George Pell, who is answering questions via video link from Australia’s Royal Commission investigating how the Church responded to abuse allegations.
Ridsdale, who was abused by his now-defrocked uncle, said that many of the 20 survivors and counselors who traveled from Australia to Rome watched the Academy Awards together into the early morning hours in Europe.
“There was lots of crying and hugging last night,” he said. “This award, and the movie, can help shine a light on the global, systemic cover-up.”
Speaking for the survivors who saw the ceremony with him, Ridsdale said he wanted to thank the Boston survivors for their courage in coming forward, Globe reporters for their “invaluable” work, and all those involved in the movie.
Ridsdale’s uncle, the Rev. Gerald Ridsdale, was a notorious sexual offender who Church officials moved from parish to parish in the Australian diocese of Ballarat and who now is serving time for assaulting 54 children, some as young as 4, throughout the 1960s to 1980s.
The Oscar award also resonated in Chile, where survivors James Hamilton and Juan Carlos Cruz, abused by the Rev. Fernando Karadima, turned to Twitter to express their support for the movie.
Tweeting in Spanish, Cruz named cardinals he believed helped cover up for Karadima, saying it now will be harder for them to “continue hiding and lying. @SpotlightMovie gives you away. Good!”
In English he thanked actor Mark Ruffalo, who portrayed Globe reporter Michael Rezendes, for having joined a group of survivors protesting at the doors of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles before the Academy Awards.
Hamilton tweeted that through the “Spotlight” movie, “our voice will become universal.”
In 2011, the Vatican sentenced Karadima to a life of “penitence and prayer” after finding him guilty of pedophilia and abuse of his ecclesiastical position.
But Pope Francis also promoted a bishop, Juan Barros, to head the diocese of Osorno, despite claims by victims that Barros knew about Karadima’s abuse when he was his close aide.
The Catholic Church in Chile is mentioned in the closing credits of the movie as one of the countries where bishops continue to cover up for abusive priests.