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The Movie “Spotlight”: Philosophical Reflections
John G. Messerly   Aug 14, 2016   Reason and Meaning  

Last night I watched “Spotlight,” one of the finest films I’ve seen in years.

The film follows The Boston Globe‘s “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States,[6] and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. It is based on a series of stories by the “Spotlight” team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.[7] … The film … was named one of the finest films of 2015 by various publications. Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay … (from Wikipedia)

I am no expert on pedophilia and there is no consensus about its causes even among experts. However, pedophilia does not appear more prevalent among Catholic clergy than among other professions. The best estimates are that about 4% of the general population are pedophiles and between 90 and 99% of these are men. This is consistent with “the best available data … [that] 4% of Catholic priests in the USA sexually victimized minors during the past half century.”

Still, we recoil when abuse is perpetrated by those who claim to be moral exemplars. Many expect the mafia or military to be violent and corrupt, but not the clergy. But it doesn’t take much life experience to learn that hypocrisy is a defining trait of human beings. If someone boasts about his moral character, it’s a good bet that he is a scoundrel. As for the subsequent cover up, churches, governments, businesses, political parties and individuals usually try to hide their misdeeds, even if others are hurt in the process. This is a  near truism of human life. 

Another thing that struck me was how costly and difficult it is to do investigative reporting. It really takes a lot of work to uncover corruption, and the supposed purveyors of decency do their best to keep their hypocrisy from being illuminated. Thus it is easy to understand attacks on the media by the rich and powerful, inasmuch as they know that a really free press is one of the only constraints on their power.

In response, a few of the most powerful have simply bought the media. Most people don’t realize that 90% of all the media  in the United States is owned by one of 6 corporations. “With the country’s widest disseminators of news, commentary, and ideas firmly entrenched among a small number of the world’s wealthiest corporations, it may not be surprising that their news and commentary is limited to an unrepresentative narrow spectrum of politics.” – (Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley)

Given this state of affairs the spotlight investigative team deserves our unending praise for uncovering just a small bit of the corruption that surrounds us. I thank them for reminding me once again that a defining trait of most human beings is hypocrisy.

John G. Messerly
John G. Messerly is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. He received his PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University in 1992. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of philosophy, evolution, futurism and the meaning of life at his website:


John, I appreciate the even-handedness here.  I’ve read that the frequency of abuse of schoolteachers has been just as common, maybe more, as with priests. I’ve also read that most of the abuse by clergy ended by the 1980s.  Trying to enter the priesthood today is daunting, and has been for decades.  They put you through the mill with psychological testing and scrutinizing your history.  It’s also become much tougher if you are actively gay or participate in gay culture.  For those who may be interested the US Bishops commissed a team at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CCCNY) to see what they could come up with re causes.  Here’s their report:
I think if folks are really concerned with sexual abuse, they should be trying to deal with it in families, where most of it occurs.

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