It was news that was utterly painful to hear.
One’s first reaction was repulsion, denial and anger in a desperate attempt to reduce it all to mere attacks and wild accusations. But it soon became undeniable and all the more painful, especially if you were a Catholic.
The initial discovery of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the subsequent cover-ups of allegations within the Church received widespread media attention after the first Boston Globe report in 2002, shocking the world.
Catholics everywhere were faced with what seemed to be the corruption of the Catholic institution itself. But as the dust settled and the truth was confirmed, it became clear that to deny recognition of this tragedy was to deny justice to the victims.
In the film “Spotlight,” the investigative work of the team at The Boston Globe is dramatized, detailing the grueling journalistic process that led to the unnerving realization of the full extent of the scandal. A profoundly moving film, it tells the difficult and important story with force and fearlessness, again making relevant a story many would be all too happy to forget.
But the nightmare of child sexual abuse by priests is one that is not limited to Hollywood retellings. With new discoveries recently made by a grand jury in Pennsylvania, it is apparent that this horrifying problem is still affecting the world today.
But what is the proper response of Catholics to the scandal and what, if anything, can be done to end it?
Father Thomas Esposito, a Cistercian priest and theology professor at the University of Dallas, offered his experiences and thoughts on the matter.
Esposito recalled his feelings of shame as a young man discerning a call to the priesthood when the news was first released in 2002. But this feeling soon became instrumental to his vocation.
“It galvanized me into thinking about the priesthood,” Esposito said. “How can we fix it? By having good priests, not monsters.”
Esposito pointed to the Safe Environment Program and to more thorough psychological screenings of priests as practical measures taken by the Catholic Church to ensure the safety of children. But he also explained the importance of fixing other aspects of the priesthood, from seminaries to dioceses.
“The culture in seminaries needed to be fixed to form fidelity to the Church and to the serious promise of celibacy,” Esposito said. “There is a need for people in authority, whether bishops, clergy or lay ministers, to be transparent, not sacrificing children for the prestige of the institution.”
When asked about the reaction of many Catholics to reject the institution altogether, Esposito expressed understanding, but suggested that healing can come from within Catholic communities.
“Faith is never a purely individual matter,” Esposito said. “We have to purge that mentality to show that the mercy of God is at work in this very institution. We are in a penitential time as Catholics. There is shame and dismay, but we have to show that the presence of Christ is real and somehow still credible.”
Esposito offered his encouragement to Catholics to watch “Spotlight” to spark difficult but much needed discussion on the matter. And as UD is a Catholic institution within the larger institution of the Church, this kind of discussion is all the more necessary within the student body as a way to reconcile the repulsion felt by many with a true sense of justice that adheres to the liberal arts foundation of our school.
By confronting the horrific nature of this scandal, it can become a call to action for all students and faculty to take seriously the union of the central precepts of our community: devotion to truth and justice and an unwavering Catholic identity.
“We can’t undo what happened,” Esposito said. “But we can be compassionate to the victims, fix what is needed and live the Gospel credibly.”