BOSTON (AP) — Victims of clergy sexual abuse are reveling in the Oscar won by “Spotlight” — the story of The Boston Globe’s investigation into the scandal — but say they don’t hold out much hope that the elevated status from the film’s Best Picture award will prompt changes at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic church.
“Spotlight,” starring Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Mark Ruffalo, covers the Globe’s work to uncover how dozens of priests in the Archdiocese of Boston had molested and raped children for decades while church higher-ups covered it up and shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish.
The film was released in November to accolades from victims who said it gave them a sense of validation after years of struggling in silence. Even Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley — appointed to replace Cardinal Bernard Law after he resigned in disgrace — called “Spotlight” a “very powerful and important film.”
But victims say they have little hope that the film’s new status as an Oscar winner will lead to some of the things they’ve called for over the years, including complete transparency by the church and the criminal prosecution of church leaders who knew about the abuse but didn’t report the perpetrators to police.
“I don’t think the Vatican or the archdiocese will necessarily do more,” said Robert Costello, 54, who was sexually abused by a Boston priest from the late 1960s through 1976.
“I think what (the film) is going to do is educate the general public as to what their response or lack of response has been,” said Costello, who agreed to a civil settlement with the archdiocese.
The Globe series was followed by revelations of sex abuse in dioceses around the world. The series won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2003.
Alexa MacPherson, who was abused in a Boston parish for more than six years starting when she was 3, said she thinks it’s “wonderful” that “Spotlight” won the best picture award, but adds: “The Vatican has been talking the talk, but they haven’t been walking the walk.”
“We want to be able to prosecute people criminally for the crimes they committed and not have them hide behind the sanctity of the Vatican walls,” said MacPherson, who also received a civil settlement.
Walter Robinson, who led the Globe Spotlight Team that broke open the scandal in 2002, said he believes the film had already had a huge impact — on victims and the church itself — well before it received Oscar awards Sunday for best picture and best screenplay.
“We’re at a moment now where bishops around the world are praising the film … signals that perhaps the church will become more serious about dealing with a problem that still continues,” said Robinson, played by Michael Keaton in the movie.
The renewed attention “Spotlight” is receiving comes as one of the highest ranking officials in the church, Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell, testifies this week in a public hearing of Australia’s Royal Commission investigating the church’s response to the abuse scandal there.
The Vatican newspaper on Monday praised the movie for giving voice to the “profound pain” of the faithful.
L’Osservatore quoted producer Michael Sugar’s acceptance speech — “Pope Francis, it’s time to protect children and restore the faith” — saying even his appeal was positive.
Vatican Radio also praised “Spotlight” as a “rigorous and authentic” reconstruction.
The reaction represents a dramatic shift by the Vatican from a decade ago, when the Vatican paper of record was a vehicle for ringing defenses of how the Holy See had responded.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented more than 2,000 clergy sex abuse victims, said that since the movie’s release, he’s received calls from approximately 50 others.
“The range of victims coming forward now is anywhere from 25 to 80 years old,” Garabedian said. “The movie has given survivors a sense of self-esteem and self-respect that has been stolen from them and is now being returned.”
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press