ROME — Members of a Vatican commission created by Pope Francis to lead the Church’s recovery from clerical sexual abuse scandals gathered the evening before their February meeting to watch “Spotlight,” the Oscar-nominated movie based on The Boston Globe’s coverage of abuse scandals 14 years ago.
Peter Saunders, a British member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors led by Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, told Crux that some members watched the film Thursday night at the Domus Santa Marta, the hotel on Vatican grounds where the pope lives.
Francis was not present.
On background, a Vatican official said Friday this was not a formal viewing, but rather something arranged independently by some members of the commission. The viewing was first reported by The Los Angeles Times.
“The movie is excellent,” said Saunders, himself a survivor of sexual abuse. “Every Catholic should watch it, and certainly all the clergy.”
From the age of 8 until he was 13, Saunders was sexually abused by a member of his family, a lay teacher, and two priests of the Catholic school he attended in the United Kingdom.
Saunders spoke briefly on the phone with Crux as he was heading into Friday’s meeting. This is the third general assembly for the commission, and will run until Sunday.
Although he didn’t specify who watched the movie, Saunders did say that the idea to watch it came from French psychiatrist Dr. Catherine Bonnet, another member of the commission.
Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of clerical sex abuse and also a member of the commission, said on Jan. 29 via Twitter that she had seen the film:
Just saw the film Spotlight – excellent!
— Marie Collins (@marielco) January 29, 2016
Francis’ absence was not surprising, as the Argentine pontiff has publicly said he hasn’t watched television, nor gone to the movies, since the early 1990s.
The 17-member Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors is an advisory body established by Francis in 2013. Since then, they’ve met in Rome twice a year.
Their last meeting was in October. After that meeting, the Vatican announced that the pontiff had approved the creation of a Church court to judge bishops charged with failing to apply the Church’s official “zero tolerance” policy for abuse of minors properly.
The tribunal is not intended to take the place of civil law enforcement, but to ensure that in addition to whatever criminal liability a bishop may face, he’s also held accountable inside the Church.
The Vatican has not officially commented on “Spotlight,” but Vatican Radio praised it last fall as “honest” and “compelling.”
A Vatican Radio commentator also said the Globe’s reporting, upon which the film is based, helped the Church in the United States “to accept fully the sin, to admit it publicly, and to pay all the consequences.”
Directed by Thomas McCarthy, the movie takes its title from the name of the investigative unit at the Globe that documented a widespread pattern of abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston, which eventually led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law in December 2002. He was succeeded by O’Malley.
The paper won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2003 for its reporting.
Over the past three years, Francis’ record on the fight against child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church has received mixed reviews.
On one hand, Francis has committed himself to a “zero tolerance” policy and promised that officials at all levels of the Church will be held accountable for their conduct, vowing there will be no “daddy’s boys” on his watch. Several US prelates have resigned recently for failing to adequately handle abuse allegations.
Yet the pontiff also appointed a bishop in Chile known nationally as a defender of that country’s most notorious abuser priest, and refused to rescind the appointment even in the face of strong criticism.
The situation involving that bishop, Juan Barros of the Osorno diocese, is not formally part of the agenda for the commission this weekend, but is expected to come up during its sessions.