Sins of the Fathers > Sins > TOC > SPOTLIGHT: The Reality

The movie SPOTLIGHT, which chronicled the work of the Boston Globe team that did so much to expose the Catholic sex abuse crisis in Boston, and then the rest of the U.S. and the world, did a superb job exposing what happened.

But what happened next?

After the folks on the SPOTLIGHT team, and at the other publications who followed their lead, effectively tossed a grenade into the middle of so many lives?

And families?

Yes, with the best of intentions.

While performing a supremely NECESSARY service.

But set off a chain of events that was disruptive. If not devastating. And, for some, including me, I'm ashamed to say, debilitating.

Though, at least I survived.

Because, for some, it was lethal.

And WHY did it all happen?

Why exactly did such a scheme, which turned what seems like a proportional problem with child abusers, take root? Turning what for the rest of society is a relatively smaller problem into one where an abuser was enabled to abuse HUNDREDS of innocent children.

And what's CHANGED?


SPOTLIGHT: The Reality

Can you imagine the confusion, consternation, and turmoil that resulted, for too many of us, from seeing, out of nowhere, our favorite priest — and, for some of us, our favorite PERSON — from our childhood named as an abuser?

The replacement, often, for a too busy, distracted, himself traumatized, or otherwise absent father.

Or maybe the living embodiment of Jesus Christ.


In something terrible.

Something that you, at best, without help, can only peripherally see. Like a dim star which, when looked at directly, with the heart of your naked eye, disappears. At least, when it comes to the worst stuff.

Something that, sometimes, left NOTHING to be seen.

Only felt.



Seemingly at random.

And, when there are clear memories, they are often our most cherished ones. Memories that helped to make us who we were and are.

That established why we mattered.

And to whom.

And are suddenly called into question.

No, the SPOTLIGHT articles weren't the original sin.

Their PUBLICATION wasn't abuse.

They were NECESSARY.

But what I'm not sure that people understand is that, in too many cases, including my own, not only did the SPOTLIGHT and follow-on articles about the Catholic Church call EVERYTHING into question, but they TRIGGERED a process that was WORSE. Worse than being raped as child and forced to run for your life.

The process of getting recognition and help from the Catholic Church.

Or, at least, trying to.

I'm sure there are many who can't or won't believe me and us. I've met them. Been tweeted at by them.

But they don't change anything.

What people WANT to believe — how they WANT the world to be — is irrelevant.

All we have is the world as it IS.

And the world, as it is, is full of survivors like me whose stories began — or, well, resumed — with the publication of the original SPOTLIGHT articles in January 2002. Who read one of those articles — or, in my case, a following article in the New York Times just a few weeks later — and then went to our dioceses and archdioceses TO help.

And to GET help.

Help understanding our memories and what they meant. If and how that might be relevant to what, for too many of us, was the slow collapse — the de-evolution — of our lives.

Stuff that was already happening before the release of the SPOTLIGHT articles. But that, generally, we didn't understand was related.

Psychological problems. Financial problems. Marital problems.

Addictions. Bankruptcy. Divorce.

And worse.

Already present or on the horizon.

And, in response, we were manipulated.

Taken advantage of.


Told that, not only DIDN'T it happen, but it COULDN'T have happened.

By people we trusted.

From way back when.

The fact is that, when we went to the Catholic Church for help, starting with figuring out what our memories meant and what had happened, in my and too many others' cases we experienced only further, and far worse, forms of abuse.

What I call the Abuse of the Abused.

Levels of callous, if not depraved, indifference that provoked in me, and left me preoccupied with, a number of fundamental questions.

Questions I go over and over again.

Looping and looping and looping and...

Questions that possess me, even forty years later. Such that there's no way I'm going to be able to (just) move on without trying to answer them.

The point of this podcast is to raise and try to answer those questions.

So here goes.

First, SPOTLIGHT told us WHAT happened. But HOW and WHY did it happen? And what's changed?


I ask that, and think it's relevant, because of the gaps in the accounting that are all too obvious to me as a survivor. And all the questions that are NOT being asked.


For instance, there's my friend the cardinal.

And not the baseball kind.

He saw, at least in part — because he lived and worked in the same rectory and church as my abuser — and turned a blind eye to, my abuse. And he now, STILL, is one of the men who is running the Catholic Church.

And is a potential Pope.

And he's raised his profile, of late.

He's emboldened.

And — BECAUSE? — he has yet to be punished for what he did, and did NOT do, way back when.

In fact, it seems he was rewarded.

For keeping his mouth shut?

For protecting the Catholic Church?

Rather than children.

Kids like me.

And nobody's interested in the story or holding him accountable. Not the Catholic Church or the press.

So how exactly have things changed?

And, speaking of the Pope, there's the fact that he hasn't kept the promises he made to survivors in Vos Estis Lux Mundi, his survivors' bill of rights.

And why won't people talk about the Pope's failure to enforce Vos Estis?

Why are they enabling him?

And, how can kids be safer when there's so much enabling going on? Still. By the press and the laity and even law enforcement.

Multiple state attorneys general.

And one now U.S. senator.

And the FBI.

And, most fundamentally, if the Catholic Church can justify and rationalize treating survivors the way it does — STILL — what does that say about the safety of children?


And, finally, what am I supposed to do with, and how am I supposed to process, a document that to me is a virtual Smoking Gun? A document that says it didn't just happen.

That it wasn't just bad luck.

Rather, we were sacrificed.

Thrown to the wolves.

And it happened not just once, but twice.

First as children.

And then, again, as adults.

What am I supposed to do with that?

And, most of all, what am I supposed to do with the image on the cover of this podcast?

And the incident it memorializes.

And the callous indifference and arrogance and hypocrisy it revealed.


My name is Chris O'Leary and I'm a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis.

And this is my story.