SPOTLIGHT at 20 Years

20 years ago, the first of the SPOTLIGHT articles, which exposed the Catholic sex abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston, and inspired the movie of the same name, as well as countless follow-up and similar articles, were released.

But what happened NEXT?

In the weeks and months after the truth started to be told and names started to be named.

And what was it LIKE? How did it FEEL?

To have your favorite priest -- and, in my case, one of my favorite PEOPLE from my childhood -- named as an abuser.

How did it AFFECT you?

To go to your (arch)diocese and get help. Or, at least, try to.

And has anything CHANGED?


As a survivor of the Catholic sex abuse crisis, those are the questions that the upcoming 20th anniversary of the publication of the first SPOTLIGHT articles about the Catholic sex abuse crisis, leaves me increasingly obsessed with.


SPOTLIGHT at 20: Overview

If you've seen the movie SPOTLIGHT -- and, if you HAVEN'T, you SHOULD -- you know how the story of the uncovering of the Catholic sex abuse crisis by the Boston Globe, and its SPOTLIGHT team, 20 years ago, goes.

Or, at least, how MOST of the story goes.

By the Summer of 2001, the Boston Globe was in a bad place.

After first COVERING the story of Fr. James Porter, and heeding the suggestions of a larger Catholic sex abuse crisis in Boston, in a series of articles in the early 1990s, which included...

...the Boston Globe screwed up.

After initially being unaffected by the criticism of the Boston Globe by the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law, including Cardinal Law's May 1992 attack on the paper...

The papers like to focus on the faults of a few...

We deplore that.

The good and dedicated people who serve the church deserve better than what they have been getting day in and day out in the media.

St. Paul spoke of the immeasurable power at work in those who believe...

By all means we call down God's power on the media, particularly the Globe.

...and persisting in investigating and publishing stories about the Archdiocese of Boston, at the end of 1993, the Globe backed off.

Started played nice.

Dropped the story.

Instead of digging FURTHER into what it had learned -- and the bigger picture -- the Globe, with its silence, spent the next eight years ENABLING the Archdiocese of Boston; being overly deferential to, and playing ball with, the archdiocese, presumably out of a desire to not appear anti-Catholic.

And, perhaps, to not tell Boston's Catholics what they didn't want to hear.

Such that it was actually a reporter named Kristen Lombardi, from the local Boston alternative newspaper, the Boston Phoenix, who BROKE the story of Cardinal Law's handling of the case of Fr. John Geoghan...

Only a few months LATER, at the end of July 2001, did new editor Marty Baron, thanks to his fresh eyes, being an outsider to Boston, not being a Catholic, and a troubling turn of a phrase, break the spell that had previously paralyzed the Boston Globe and get the SPOTLIGHT team on the story.

Globe columnist Eileen McNamara's columns from the previous two weeks, in which she had forcefully and fearlessly written about, and lamented, the actions of Cardinal Bernard Law regarding the case of Fr. John Geoghan...

...had caught Baron's eye, particularly her close which, to Baron, suggested that...

The truth may never be known.

Finding that prospect untenable, Marty Baron challenged the SPOTLIGHT team to -- he essentially embarrassed, if not shamed, them into -- digging into the story.

And thank God he did.

During the Fall of 2001, interrupted only by the September 11th attacks, the SPOTLIGHT team researched and then published, on January 6th and 7th, 2002, its investigation of the story of Fr. Geoghan.

  1. Church allowed abuse
    by priest for years
    (2002 January 6)
  2. Geoghan preferred preying
    on poorer children
    (2002 January 7)

That investigation and those first two SPOTLIGHT stories touched off a flood of similar investigations and stories, first by the Boston Globe and then by papers in other cities.

But what happened NEXT?

And has anything CHANGED?


What was it LIKE? How did it FEEL?

To be one of the people whose lives were upended.


How did it AFFECT you?

To have one of your favorite PRIESTS -- and, in my case, one of my favorite PEOPLE -- from your childhood named as an abuser.

To get help from the Catholic Church and your diocese or archdiocese.

Or try to.

And how does that even happen? How does something so horrible happen to you? That you can't UNDERSTAND for twenty years or more.

What of it that you DO remember.

Those are the questions that lie behind my work.

And NOT the worst, horrible, terrible, gross sex abuse stuff.

And let me be EXTREMELY clear on that point. So you keep listening. And don't just tune out.

Because of the subject matter.

While my story involves child sexual abuse, that's NOT what I'm going to discuss.

NOT the what.

Instead, I'm focused on the WHY and the HOW.

HOW it happened and WHY.

And whether anything has CHANGED.


When I DO talk about the worst stuff, and the WHAT, it's only at VERY high level.

Because it's important that people understand the process of Testing and Grooming, I DO talk about how I got INTO that position. But, when things are about to graphic, I just wave my hands and go up to the 30,000 foot level.

Which I hope is enough to keep you listening.

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

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, at the Church of the Immacolata in Richmond Heights, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, I was sexually exploited, abused, and assaulted -- raped -- by a priest named Fr. LeRoy Valentine.

Abuse that CONTINUED at my Jesuit high school, St. Louis University High, where the locker room, and especially the showers, was unsupervised. And was crawling with predatory Jesuits.

Then things got REALLY bad.

While I would hope these elements of my story are, by this point, all to familiar, the aspect people may have trouble believing is that my, and our, abuse was known -- it was WITNESSED, at least in part -- by another priest who lived in the rectory at Immacolata with Fr. Valentine for two years.

From 1977 to 1979.

A man who is now a member of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

A potential Pope.

My Friend the Cardinal.

An Abuse Profiteer who established his loyalty to the church by turning a blind eye to my abuse as a child and then doing worse to me as an adult.

In March 2002, in the weeks after the release of the original SPOTLIGHT articles, a story ran in the New York Times...

...that named my favorite priest -- and not just my favorite PRIEST, but one of my favorite PEOPLE -- from my childhood as an abuser.

Fr. LeRoy Valentine.

Fr. V.

The man who, in many ways, helped me realize and appreciate my own relevance.



Who made me, a very smart -- but nerdy and awkward and insecure -- kid feel special.


While, to the other kids in my class, I was the odd kid who didn't think about kid stuff and, instead, was super-curious and always wanted to know WHY -- one classmate derisively called me Friction Boy, when I voiced my curiosity about feeling the heat from the candles on my face as we processed out of mass -- to Fr. Valentine I was...

More like a peer.

And, in some ways, more.

A receptacle for his admiration.

That feeling of meaning SOMETHING to him.


That was so powerful.

But, of course, it was an illusion.

In reality, to him I meant NOTHING.

I WAS nothing.

Completely inconsequential.

Just a tool.

To be used and discarded.

With that mess of emotions rattling around inside my head, the pieces on the news, and the subsequent pieces that that ran in the local paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, led me to go to my Archdiocese of St. Louis for help and, the next day, My Friend the Cardinal -- and not the baseball kind -- called me back.

And treated me similarly.

How Father Valentine had treated me.

Without any investigation or consideration -- of me, at least -- My Friend the Cardinal quickly, DEFINITIVELY gave me a clean bill of health.

So, secure in the knowledge nothing happened, I just went on with my life.

And then I got sick.

Don't romanticize it.

The movie SPOTLIGHT ended with a stirring scene where, on a Sunday morning in early January, 2002, two of the reporters who helped research and write the first of the SPOTLIGHT articles enter the offices of the paper to see what, if any, the response to the articles has been.

They find that the phones are ringing off the hooks.

People who were abused in Boston, and the surrounding regions, by Catholic priests are calling to tell their stories.