Shining the ‘Spotlight’ on Sin: A Christian Perspective

Spotlight Movie Still
Shining the ‘Spotlight’ on Sin: A Christian Perspective

About the Author

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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What does the Prodigal Son have to do with the Oscars?

I’d like to suggest that this story has everything to do with the film that won best picture last week.

Spotlight is the name of the film, but also the name of the investigative team at the Boston Globe who revealed the depth and extent of the abuse of children by priests in Boston. It shone a spotlight on the devastatingly sinful behaviour of 10 percent of the clergy in the diocese of Boston.

The Oscar best picture win of Spotlight over contenders which all seemed filled with violence held a certain irony for me. After all, Spotlight is the story of the uncovering of violence perpetrated by priests over thousands and thousands of children — so it’s a film about the worst violence of all the contenders.

What started as a story about one priest changed into 700 articles that sought to answer questions like:

  1. Why did it happen?
  2. What was the role of the hierarchy?
  3. Why didn’t lay people act?
  4. What is the psychology of the priests?
  5. Why were more boys than girls victims?
  6. Why were poor families targeted?
  7. Whom do we listen to? Why don’t we listen to children?
  8. Why was it covered up for decades?
  9. Why didn’t we report on this sooner?
  10. Who is to blame?

And the connection between this story and the story of a son who took his inheritance and squandered it on sinful living is that there isn’t one. No priest or bishop acted like the Prodigal Son. Oh, they did sin. The prodigal son broke cleanliness laws when he took care of pigs, and probably did worse before that. And we know that priests sinned time after time after time, breaking the most precious of God’s laws. But it seems that no one repented.

Why didn’t this story come to light earlier? The entire reporting team and the majority of staff and readers at the Globe were Catholics. The authority of the church conspired to keep secret case after case. When a new managing editor arrived from Florida, he noticed a small article buried in the Metro section of the paper about a priest molesting a young boy. He asked ‘why aren’t you reporting on this?’ They answered, ‘because all the documents are sealed.’ He said, “I don’t know the laws in Massachusetts, but in Florida, we would be working to get those documents unsealed.”

When they did, 10 000 pages arrived at The Globe. There was not one mention of concern about the impact on a child’s life or development. Instead the documents reveal how far institutions will go to protect themselves.

There was no prodigal son who came to his senses among the pigs and wanted to return to his father.

No one repented. That was what was so overwhelmingly painful for the reporters. They began to focus on the bishop, Cardinal Law, hoping that he might be the Prodigal son who would take responsibility for the hundreds of priests who committed thousands of crimes over his tenure, for the many victims he had used church funds to pay off to keep quiet.

Cardinal Law was educated at Harvard in medieval studies. He worked for civil rights: while a young priest he also worked as the editor of the Mississippi Register — his civil rights work made him and the paper unpopular in Mississippi.

Through his civil rights activism, he came into close relationship with other Christian denominations and served the church in ecumenical and Interreligious affairs.

He welcomed Catholic Vietnamese refugees into the first diocese of which he was bishop.

But when Mary McAleese, president of Ireland, and a strong supporter of the ordination of women, visited the US in the 90s, Law, then bishop of Boston, invited her to visit and then had strong supporters of the RC traditional view lecture her. She rebuked him, famously saying, “I am not just president of Irish Catholics, I am president of Ireland.”

The Boston Globe published the first of its articles on the crisis of sexual abuse by priests in January of 2002. Cardinal Law resigned in December of 2002 after the Globe published 700 stories about the cover up and many prominent Catholics and 58 of his own priests, signed a letter calling for his resignation.

This is the story of a man who had done his share of good in life, but also a man who had actively protected priests who did ill.

The story of the Prodigal Son is the story of one man’s repentance. The story of the Prodigal son should have been a prophetic call to Bishops and priests, to repent of their sins, to face the pigs in their lives, and to return to God.

But both the Prodigal son story and the story that unfolds in Spotlight have one thing in common.
They are both stories of reconciliation. It’s messy, it has to be public. Stories have to be told, secrets revealed and authority questioned. Older sons have to grumble, Cardinals have to resign. Lay people have to ask themselves how they colluded in covering up.

When we tell the story of the Prodigal Son, it seems simple. We don’t know all the facts. How the father and oldest son struggled with their wealth halved; what good and bad there was in the father, in the prodigal before. We know most about the past of the oldest son, who seems really only a foil for the father’s love.

We are all like Cardinal Law, with good acts and bad acts in our pasts. We are all like the Prodigal Son, wandering far away from God at times, recognizing our need to return home to the arms of a forgiving God. We are all like the older son, resenting the forgiveness bestowed so generously on others. We’re all a bit of a mess.

Jesus knows. This story captures sin, sibling rivalry, dissolute living, false martyrdom and lifts it all up in the love of a father who can only celebrate when one he has loved returns.
Paul writes, “Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:15-20)

God has given us the ministry of reconciliation and has offered us the possibility of being reconciled to God through Christ.

When we share in Communion (the Mass, the Eucharist), the meal of bread and wine that Christ instituted at the Last Supper, we share in the feast that God offers the Prodigal, welcoming us back to the fold from wherever we have been wandering. Eating the bread and drinking from the cup is like tasting reconciliation. We will stumble on our journey toward reconciliation, but we know what it tastes like because Christ has offered us this meal.

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