“I feel that some people have a hard time with the truths around us, not only the sexual abuse by priests, but all bad things. I call it chosen ignorance. This modified form of ignorance is found in people who, if confronted with certain truths realize that they have to accept them and thereby acknowledge evil, and that scares them. Opening up and letting the truth in might knock them off their perceived center. It is too hard, period.” ― Charles L. Bailey Jr., In the Shadow of the Cross link
Yesterday, the Deebs went to see Spotlight.
Spotlight is a 2015 American drama film directed by Thomas McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer. It is about The Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative unit in the United States. The film depicts the team methodically uncovering a pattern of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests in Massachusetts and an ongoing cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese. It is based on a series of stories by the real Spotlight Team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.[
This movie had personal meaning to me because I knew the second priest outed by the Spotlight team. Deb encouraged me to write about my personal interest. Today I write about my personal connection. We will discuss more of the issues highlighted by the movie next week.
Father Birmingham of St James Church, Salem, Ma.
Kathy, JJ, Patrick, Steven, Marsha..these are some of the names of the kids who lived on my street in Salem, Massachusetts. We were all friends and loved to race go karts. Except for my brother and me, these kids went to the Catholic school and attended the Catholic church, St James, down the street. We loved St James church because one of the priests, Father Birmingham, would lets us race our go karts in the huge church parking lot when church and school was not in session. We laughed as he would take one of our karts for a spin. He would even invite us into the rectory where he would give us treats! We thought he was cool.
He was so nice to us that I decided that I would become a Catholic (I was about 10 years old.) My friends taught me what to do in confession and made sure that Father Birmingham would be hearing confessions the day I decided to try it. He knew who I was and he went along with my confession, assigning me the punishment of a few "Hail Marys" and about 10 "Our Fathers". My parents were not particularly supportive of my desire to "become Catholic" and my interest faded over time. However, we still raced our go karts and Father Birmingham was still friendly.
Most pedophiles are clever, charismatic and know how to relate to the kids. They are fun to be around and even kind. To this day, I have to remind myself that Father Birmingham wasn't the fun loving priest that was so nice to this non-Catholic girl. Father Birmingham was a pedophile and was molesting one of the boys who I grew up with. Birmingham would become one of the first priests that would be outed by The Boston Globe. He allegedly abused over 100 boys, as well as my friend.
Here is a link to the original Spotlight article about him. Spotlight is the name of the investigative team at the Globe.
But in the case of Birmingham, who was ordained in 1960 and died in 1989, the public evidence that the church stood by and did nothing to stop him early in his career appears to be even stronger: Separate groups of parents from Birmingham's first two parish assignments said they went to the Archdiocese of Boston with accounts of his serial abuse – to no avail.
…In response to Globe inquiries, McCormack, who was assigned to the same Salem parish as Birmingham in the 1960s, denied that he ever saw Birmingham bringing boys into his rectory bedroom. But he acknowledged that in 1970 or thereabouts he was warned that Birmingham was molesting children at St. James in Salem.
Yet there is evidence that church officials also knew of Birmingham's abusive behavior in the early 1960s, and that Birmingham began preying on young boys soon after he left the seminary. But the archdiocese apparently did nothing to restrict his access to children.
…The number of Birmingham victims is so large – as many as 25 alone from his third assignment in Lowell in the 1970s – that his profile is similar to former priest John J. Geoghan, who was rotated through six parishes of his own, where he allegedly accumulated close to 200 victims even though high church officials knew he was molesting children.
…Howard McCabe, a Sudbury parent who met with archdiocese officials in the early 1960s after Birmingham allegedly molested his son, said he was stunned to learn that the priest's only penalty was to be sent to a parish in Salem.
Last month, the Globe reported that Mary McGee and several other mothers from St. James in Salem – unaware that Sudbury parents had preceded them – also took their complaints to the chancery in 1970, just after Birmingham had been shifted to his third parish, in Lowell.
This is another original Spotlight story which discusses the testimony of some of the men who were molested as boys at St James Church.
t was the late 1960s. The man behind the wheel was their parish priest, the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham. The boys were only 10, 11, or 12, but already they knew the routine: "Father B." would get them into his car, take them for ice cream, to the beach, or to a ballgame. But the outings would inevitably evolve into something more. The last one to be dropped off — "the last one out," the boys called it — would be the unlucky one.
"At first, the car trips were fun," recalls McDaid. "But then a pattern developed. The last boy out of the car would get fondled and rubbed and assaulted, and Father B. would ask, `Does that feel good? Don't you think you might like boys?' And you'd say, `No, Father. I like girls, Father.' "
McDaid tried to avoid the car. But his parents, devout Irish immigrants, thought priests were royalty; a visit from one was considered a high honor. They couldn't understand their son's reluctance to get into the car, and they would command him to do so.
So Bernie and his friends developed other strategies. "We'd all get out of the car as soon as he'd drop the first one off," says McDaid. "We'd literally jump out of the car."
Just like the Southern Baptist crowd dominated society in the Bible Belt, the Catholic Church ruled the culture in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, etc. The church leaders knew how to play the political game, and they were supportive of the Kennedy family which was revered not only by Catholics but by those who grew up in working class neighborhoods. However, rumors were beginning to surface about priests that were hurting children. Unfortunately, those stories were buried deep inside the very thick Boston Globe because the newspaper also had ties to the church. More about that in another post.
My father became the chief of staff of a hospital that specialized in alcohol and substance abuse treatment. Since that hospital no longer exists and my father has passed away, I feel comfortable in sharing this next piece of information. He told my mom (and I was listening in) that the hospital signed a contract with the Archdiocese of Boston to take care of priests who abused alcohol and other substances. My father was stunned by the number of clergy that needed to be admitted for detox and treatment.
During that time, he became aware of stories that were surfacing about priests that "liked" kids. One time, late at night, I overheard him telling my mother that he felt some of those pedophile priests turned to alcohol as a way to escape their guilt. I know it was an issue that bothered him throughout the remainder of his life.
Next week I will discuss this movie more in depth but not as a movie review. I want to look at what happened in this story and compare it to what is currently happening in the evangelical world in regards to the response to child sex abuse. There is little difference between the responses of the RCC, evangelicals, and society as a whole.
1. Celibacy does not cause someone to become a pedophile.
I am quite tired of evangelicals saying that, if priests could be married, the Catholic church would avoid pedophilia. Pedophilia is not a way to cope with celibacy. It is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult develops a sexual preference for children. Celibacy does not cause pedophilia.
2. The evangelical church has a terrible problem with pedophilia and our pastors can get married.
In my former church, a seminary student was simultaneously dating a young woman and molesting young teen boys in the church. Mosey on over to Stop Baptist Predators and see how many Baptist pastors seem to like kids. Boz Tchividijian had this to say:
While comparing evangelicals to Catholics on abuse response, ”I think we are worse,” he said at the Religion Newswriters Association conference, saying too many evangelicals had “sacrificed the souls” of young victims.
“Protestants can be very arrogant when pointing to Catholics,” said Tchividjian, a grandson of evangelist Billy Graham and executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), which has investigated sex abuse allegations.
3. I believe that many Catholics are Christians just like I believe that many members of The Gospel™ Coalition are Christians.
I have doctrinal differences with both groups. Please do not let this comment thread degenerate into people who are judge and jury of who is getting into heaven.
4. Independent journalists as well as bloggers have been influential in exposing serious problems with clergy child sex abuse.
As we have discovered, friends and allies always defend one another. Sometimes, they even cover up for one another. This movie highlights the need for an independent press.
The importance of caring for the least of these.
Christianity Today posted Spotlight" What happens when good men stop doing nothing? by Kenneth R. Morefield
Spotlight is all the more powerful for being so understated. Ultimately, I would argue, the toll of bringing the truth to life, and the sheer horror of that truth, while never expressly stated, is evident in each character’s numbed, pained incredulity. If it is true, as Shakespeare once wrote, that the evil men do lives after them, perhaps one of the greatest goods we can enact is to finally acknowledge that evil and speak the truth about it.
Of course, doing so will not change the past, but it can change us in the present. But if we come to care more about the “least of these” than we do about our own or God’s reputation, perhaps we will have taken the first small step towards becoming a light, rather than cursing the darkness.
Next week we will explore some of the issues on child sex abuse coverup as raised by the movie. If you are interested in learning more about Father Birmingham, here are some links.