Produced by Anonymous Content 
and Participant Media
Director by Tom McCarthy
Screenplay by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer
Distributed by Open Road Films

Produced by Groundswell Productions
Directed by Jay Roach
Screenplay by John McNamara
Distributed by Bleeker Street Media

In 2000, the Boston Globe hires Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) to be editor-in-chief.  Baron, a Jew, is to oversee a staff of Irish Catholics.  When he meets the paper’s investigative team, whose columns run in the Spotlight section, he asks them about the article they published on the pedophile priest John Geoghan.  Why, he asks Spotlight editor Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton), haven’t they followed up on the case?  Uh-oh.

Director Tom McCarthy, a Catholic, and his writer, Josh Singer, a Jew, were, it would seem, determined not to duck issues.  There is one issue, however, that they did duck, whether intentionally or not: the reliability of their research.

As the reporters act on Baron’s orders, one of them contacts Richard Sipe, a former priest who has published widely on clerical abuse.  His research has led him to conclude that six percent of priests have pedophiliac inclinations.  Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), the hot head on the team, runs with this figure.  “There are 1,500 priests in Boston’s archdiocese,” he shouts.  “That’s 90 priests!”  Assuming McCarthy read Sipe’s book, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy, he knows that Sipe qualifies this number, and the film should say so.  Of priests with pedophiliac inclinations, Sipe reports that only two percent act on their impulses, and many of these do so quite infrequently, and often ambiguously.  As for active pedophiles, the number doesn’t seem to be any larger among priests than in other professions, as Philip Jenkins has reported in these pages, and then in his study, Pedophiles and Priests.  Jenkins further indicates that there is no sound statistical evidence to support Sipe’s six-percent figure, since Sipe’s sampling of priests was altogether unscientific.  He relied on reports from priests who had come forward for counseling.

The larger truth is that pedophiles are always going to show up among those who have ready access to children: priests, ministers, rabbis, teachers, coaches, doctors, and camp counselors.  But the Globe didn’t go after pedophiliacs in these professions.  There could be several reasons for this, but one leaps out: These other professionals don’t wear what priests do on their backs—the irresistibly alluring bullseye of celibacy.  As celibates, priests automatically draw curiosity that often becomes suspicion, not just for pedophilia, but for covert sexuality of any kind: homosexual, heterosexual, onanism, you name it.  Jenkins is at pains to emphasize this.  It’s part of his criticism that the media have exploited the issue to serve a very marketable anti-Catholic prejudice.

This information should have surfaced in the film.  Instead, we get lapsed-Catholic reporters running around Boston, aghast that the Church they’ve abandoned has betrayed them.  In one scene, Rezendes tears up.  He tells his colleague that he always thought that one day he’d become a practicing Catholic again.  But now . . .

That children of any age should suffer at the hands of perverts is unspeakable, but, unfortunately, it’s neither new nor exclusive to one or another group or period.  In some ages such behavior wasn’t thought especially deviant, or even deviant at all.  Then there’s the example of no less a world shaker than Muhammad, who married a girl of nine and thus seems to have become the inspiration for Boko Haram’s recent kidnappings of girls in Nigeria.  Many a Victorian gentleman of unquestioned rectitude contracted marriages with girls who had barely entered puberty, while they themselves were well into their 30’s or 40’s.  One of them was the brother of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).  Charles himself seems to have had a similar aspiration for Alice Liddell, the girl who inspired his Alice books.  It was understood, of course, that a gentleman would wait until the girl was of suitable age before consummating the union.

But this is all by the way.  Those who engage in pedophilia in our society are justly removed from the general population.  This is not just to punish them.  Sipe points out that pedophiles almost always have themselves been sexually abused during their own childhoods.  Not to remove them from society is to perpetuate the chain of abuse.

With these reservations, I think that McCarthy has done an excellent job of dramatizing this case.  Without sensationalizing matters, he’s given us a painstaking account of the Globe’s investigation.

The temptation would have been to portray the reporters and their editor as moral exemplars, but he deftly avoids this.  While the Spotlight reporters display their indignation that the Church has harbored pedophiles, at least two of them are consumed with worry that they’ll be scooped, and thus lose their personal spotlight.  Once they’ve gathered a modicum of evidence, they want to go to press immediately.  The older and wiser Robinson points out that they do not have the whole story yet.  Better to risk being scooped than to stop the investigation prematurely.  He’s after the institution, not just the individual.  He realizes there’s been a systemic cover-up that they need to reveal.  Here is the most interesting part of the film: the detective work.  Under the auspices of Boston’s Bernard Cardinal Law, Church officials made cash settlements with victims and had the local courts place them under seal.  Hush money?  Searching for the victims’ identities, the reporters appeal first to the lawyers who negotiated the settlements.  But the counselors contend that more often than not the plaintiffs themselves wanted the settlements kept secret.  Finally, Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford, who had applied the seal to some of the settlement records, reverses herself.  In light of the Globe’s reporting, she lifts the seals; had she known the scope of the problem (she claims) she wouldn’t have sealed the records in the first place.  The reporters also examine the annually published diocesan list of priest assignments, and they discover that certain priests have been moved from parish to parish with unusual frequency, while others are often reported to be on sick leave.  With this information, they ferret out the abusers and go to press.  The rest is, as they say, history.  With a total of nearly a hundred abusers, it’s an ugly history, indeed.

How did this scandal come about?  I’m inclined to think mandatory celibacy is at the heart of the matter here.  Jenkins doesn’t agree, because, as noted earlier, the incidence of pedophilia in the priesthood is no different from that in other professions.  While this may be, I’m inclined to agree with Sipe.  Celibacy generates a culture of secrecy driven by the need to hide the inevitable instances of lapses from the vow of celibacy.  This instinct for secrecy extends beyond what might be called normal sexual activity to what can only be labeled perverse.  Under the need to protect the Church’s reputation, bishops have unwittingly enabled some of their priests to indulge in both understandable and unspeakable indulgences.

Making celibacy an option rather than a requirement for priests would naturally reduce pedophilia.  First, the pool of vocational recruits would be substantially enlarged, making it easier to choose the suitable from the unsuitable candidates.  Second, the married members of the clergy with children of their own would naturally put a brake on any pedophiliac inclinations among their colleagues.  Mothers and fathers won’t tolerate molesters in their midst.  And there would be the added benefit of having a clergy more alert to the challenges their parishioners face living in the world of mortgages and schools, plumbing and shopping.  Perhaps McCarthy’s film will help advance this line of thinking.

While McCarthy has striven to make an honest film, director Jay Roach and screenwriter John McNamara seem to be committed to foisting a misleading fantasy on their audience with their biopic Trumbo.

Who, one wonders, is this film for?  How many moviegoers today know anything about Dalton Trumbo, a screenwriter active from 1936 to 1971?  Yet here is the second film in seven years devoted to his life.  Trumbo’s work wasn’t entirely negligible, but it was hardly distinguished—unless, that is, you count that ponderous communist allegory Spartacus (1960), which he adapted from Howard Fast’s shlock propaganda novel.

By the 1940’s, Trumbo had become one of Hollywood’s highest paid screenwriters.  Then in 1947 he ran afoul of the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Subpoenaed to testify about his membership in the Communist Party USA, he refused to answer directly, archly referring the committee instead to a pamphlet he’d issued on the First Amendment.  The HUAC charged him with contempt of Congress and sent him to serve 11 months in the federal correctional facility in Danbury, Connecticut.  In the eyes of the left, this automatically conferred heroic martyrdom upon him.

The film overlooks a particularly telling moment in Trumbo’s career.  He had published an antiwar novel in 1939, Johnny Got His Gun.  Its purpose was to dissuade Americans from joining England in her war with Hitler’s Germany.  The CPUSA was enchanted.  They serialized the novel in the Daily Worker.  You see, the Soviet Union had entered into a nonaggression treaty with Germany in 1939, and the commies didn’t want to disturb the bromance between Stalin and Hitler.  America, they argued, must maintain her neutrality, and Trumbo’s book might help their cause.  Two years later, history swerved, and Stalinists worldwide swerved with it.  Hitler marched into Russia.  Suddenly, communists were clamoring for America to do her duty and attack Germany.  Pete Seeger had to stop singing those piercing peace songs, and Trumbo had to remove his novel from bookstores.  Both of these solid Americans complied, Trumbo even more loyally than Seeger.  When fans wrote to Trumbo to ask where they could find his mysteriously disappearing novel, he took the logical next step: He turned their letters over to the FBI.  The authorities, after all, had to be informed of such seditious miscreants.  This is probably all we need to know of Trumbo and his continuing appeal for the Cadillac Commies who unaccountably remain in Hollywood.