Venice Film Fest: 'Spotlight' Director Calls for Vatican Action Over Child Abuse

Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

"I hope the Vatican will use this movie as a perfect opportunity to begin to right these wrongs," said Mark Ruffalo.

Tom McCarthy’s thriller Spotlight has its world premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival. The true-life story tells follows the investigative Boston Globe team, played by Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Brian d’Arcy James and Rachel McAdams, that pulled back the curtains on how the Church covered up Boston’s child molestation scandal. The consequences of the Boston Globe’s work reverberated throughout the Catholic Church around the world.

What starts as a follow-up story into child molestation expands into a year-long investigation, revealing dozens of complicit priests, cardinals, law officials and lawyers who helped cover-up hundreds of cases of abuse within Boston. While some estimates mark 6 percent of priests guilty of molestation, the film points out the dual abuse pattern of its victims, both on a physical and spiritual basis. The case helped open the door for other cities to follow suit, revealing a crime that had infested the Catholic Church on a global scale.

At the press conference in Venice, Italian media questioned the impact the film might have on the Church’s actions today. Pope Francis has recently set up a Vatican tribunal to hear cases of bishops who failed to protect children within their own dioceses.

Actor Stanley Tucci, who plays lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who won millions in settlements for his clients in Boston, was extremely supportive of the Pope. “I think this new Pope is extraordinary and he’s bringing the Catholic Church into the 21st century and I think if anybody is to help stop such abuses in the future it would be him.”

McCarthy, who ends the film with new victims rising up, was not so optimistic. “I share Stanley’s sentiment that this pope is very interesting and exciting but I remain after making this movie pessimistic toward change within the Catholic Church,” he said. “I was raised catholic. My family is very catholic. I think I understand it to some extent. But words are one things and actions are another. I have high hopes for Pope Francis but I think what actually changes remains to be seen so I guess we just have to wait.”

As to how he expects the Church to respond, McCarthy said, “I expect no reaction, sincerely. I would love the Pope to see this, and the cardinals and the bishops to see this. I don’t think this is an attack on the church. Everything documented in this movie has been well reported on. I think it’s a story that moves toward true healing. This is maybe a small step in that process.”

“I hope the Vatican will use this movie as a perfect opportunity to begin to right these wrongs, not just for the victims and their destroyed lives, but for all the people who have lost a way to order a chaotic world for themselves,” said Ruffalo.

“Let’s face it Christ was a social justice advocate,” he said. “I was raised Catholic as well. And I would like to think that my involvement in social justice also came in some part from those teachings.”

McCarthy hopes that the film will also put a spotlight on investigative journalism today. He said the the team at the Boston Globe still exists “miraculously.”

"As we know, the journalism industry has been decimated in our country and in most countries," he said. "They’ve suffered severe cutbacks. Maybe we’re too late to make a difference in what’s happened to journalism around the world. But I do hope this movie at least points to the importance and the impact that investigative journalism has on the local level, national level, or international level.”

“I’m not completely sure that the general public fully understands just how dire this situation is, and how fundamental to our individual democracies a strong free press is. If this can in anyway serve as a wakeup call to that, that’s terrific. “

Ruffalo spoke to his optimism about the current state of how information reaches people. “I think news media lost an incredible amount of credibility after the Iraq war, especially centralized news. So you see a lot of long-term investigators move into digital realm. And they’re doing some pretty darn good work. We’re in the infancy of a new news media,” he said, speaking to independent non-profit models like ProPublica.

McCarthy, however, sees the immense reduction of on-the-ground reporters as a huge drawback. “The industry was so decimated,” he said. “Keep in mind most of that was not by the advent of new media, but rather by big money, who came in and was trying to turn a profit on newspapers, something that was never meant to be, an enormous profit. It drove most of those papers into the ground.”

“What we’re losing, what this movie illustrates, is supportive professional journalism on a local level. We still need boots on the ground. We need reporters to be in courthouses, in police stations, in bars, all the places that corruption happens, and that is what we’re losing,” he continued. “The manpower has been greatly decreased in our country. A reporter said to me it’s a great time to be in local corruption, because there’s nobody there to keep an eye on you. And I think that is the power of great press. That’s what they do.”