The day Ryan MacDonald wrote “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court,” Fr Gordon MacRae saw the movie, ‘Spotlight’ because he wanted to be fair and just.
Several readers were puzzled that I waited two weeks before mentioning Ryan MacDonald’s recent guest post, “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court.” A part of the reason is the simple mechanics of writing for These Stone Walls. When I write my own post, I know exactly what’s in it so I have no problem commenting on it in the next post. When we have a guest writer, as was the case with Ryan’s post, I have no way to read it and have to wait for a printed copy via snail mail. That takes up to a week, and by the time it arrives, my next post is already written and in the mail for scanning.
That’s why there was no mention of Ryan’s bombshell of a post when I followed it with “Seven Years Behind These Stone Walls.” This is what I meant when I wrote that TSW is the underdog in the online world. I know of no other blog that has to surmount so many obstacles to have a voice. That’s not a complaint. It is just a fact of life.
I received Ryan’s post in the mail on the night before I started to write this one. It was shocking in its simple, ordered profession of truth about events that have deprived me of freedom for 22 years and counting. But what I find most surprising of all is this: when Ryan first asked about writing that post, we picked June 22 as the date for posting it. At the time, neither he nor I was aware that June 22 was the Feast of Saint Thomas More who appears prominently in that post. It was only after Ryan finished the post and submitted it for publishing that we realized the significance of that date. I also did not know until I was well into this post for July 6 that July 6 was the date that Saint Thomas More was martyred upon the command of King Henry VIII. If you are not catching on as to why that is important, then you haven’t read the entire post, “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court.”
Please do read it, and please share it online. Lies were told, and then they were blindly accepted with no trace of the judicial skepticism required of justice. To this day those lies endure with the complicity of arrogance and hubris. So when someone like Ryan writes the bold truth in the face of all that, it must spread just as the lies themselves were spread. That’s our only hope for justice in the only arena left: the court of public awareness. That is where souls are swayed from the truth and ultimately swayed from faith and trust.. So please share this post, and share “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court.”
MY SPOTLIGHT OSCAR HANGOVER
This prison has a weekend movie program that broadcasts DVD films (mostly donated) each week from Friday through Sunday. I was initially dismayed to see on the posted movie list that ‘Spotlight’ was slated for four prime time showings in this prison. ‘Spotlight,’ you recall, is a film about The Boston Globe’s Spotlight exposé of the priesthood scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston. For political as opposed to artistic reasons, it won “Best Picture” at the 2016 Academy Awards.
So on the same weekend that Ryan MacDonald wrote “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court,” I watched ‘Spotlight’ twice. I watched it because I have written twice of the story behind the film without actually having seen it. Those two posts were “A Spotlight on Truth Before the Academy Awards,” and “A Cold Shower for a Spotlight Oscar Hangover.” I watched it because I wanted to be fair and just, and if I were wrong in my previous posts about the film, I wanted to revisit them.
Having sat through ‘Spotlight’ twice, however, I won’t be retracting anything. To be honest, I actually liked the film. Maybe it was just that I knew the subject matter from another perspective, and knew all the players, at least by reputation, from multiple angles, so the film was a very fast two hours for me.
But the film also contained some very troubling distortions. It glorified the journalists involved while casting doubt upon the integrity of just about everyone else. Some of its charges were accurate. For example, the film early on criticized the contingency lawyers who became millionaires by “turning sexual abuse into a cottage industry.” The film exposed how they arrived at financial settlements – minus the usual 40% contingency fee – without filing anything in any court, thus keeping the stories of real predators out of public view.
Early in the Globe coverage of the scandal, Church officials defended themselves by stating that the “non-disclosure” terms were actually demanded by the contingency lawyers and accusers. This was in large part true. In fact, in 2005 when The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote “A Priest’s Story Part I” about my own case (WSJ, April 27, 2005), she got an urgent call from a lawyer for my diocese. His near panic was not over the fact that I, and perhaps some other priests, had been falsely accused, but that The Wall Street Journal had named names of accusers after my diocese agreed to the non-disclosure demands. It was I who provided those names. I was never a party to any such agreement.
But the bigger scandal is that the Globe and it’s Spotlight Team did nothing to follow up on the role lawyers continued to play. That’s the real coverup in this story. The film had clear allusions that Boston lawyer Eric MacLeish, for example, became wealthy representing claimants, filing demands, and keeping it all out of the news media before the Spotlight Team got hold of the story.
But when the story was over, and the Globe had its prize – the forced resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law – the spotlight stayed on the Church but left the lawyers alone to continue business as usual.
There was a big problem with The Boston Globe’s crusade. It made no distinction whatsoever between real crimes with real evidence and mere accusations with real fraud behind them. The ‘Spotlight’ film glossed over this, treating every claim without question as demonstrably true. In her bold article, “Oscar Hangover Special: Why ‘Spotlight’ is a Terrible Film” (which also profiled my own case) journalist JoAnn Wypijewski taught the Spotlight Team a lesson in journalistic integrity:
“I am astonished that, across the past few months, ever since ‘Spotlight’ hit theatres, otherwise serious left-of-center people have peppered their conversation with effusions that the film reflects a heroic journalism, the kind we need more of… What editor Marty Baron and the Globe sparked with their 600 stories and their confidential tip line for grievances was not laudatory journalism, but a moral panic, and unfortunately for those telling the truth, truth was its casualty.” (JoAnn Wypijewski, Counterpunch)
Well after the Globe Spotlight Team criticized the lawyers for turning abuse into a “cottage industry,” David Pierre followed up with his book, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, exposing what “business as usual” looked like beyond the glare of the Globe’s Spotlight:
“A year later, in 2002, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, faced accusations from 62 individuals. Rather than spending the time and the resources looking into the merits of the accusations, ‘Diocesan officials did not even ask for specifics such as dates and specific allegations for the claims,’ New Hampshire’s Union Leader reported. ‘Some victims made claims in the past month, and because of the timing of negotiations, gained closure in just a matter of days,’ reported the Nashua Telegraph [quoting lawyer Peter Hutchins]. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it’ a pleased and much richer plaintiff attorney admitted.” (Catholic Priests Falsely Accused, p. 80)
David Pierre’s book has a chapter analyzing five categories of false accusations against priests: 1. The “repressed memory” accusation; 2. The “dead priest” accusation; 3. The “me too” accusation; 4. Simple criminal fraud; and 5. Psychological illness. The above scenario with plaintiff lawyers bringing claims unfiled in any court, and church lawyers offering settlements with absolutely no findings of facts while hiding the names of accusers, was all placed by David Pierre in the category of “simple criminal fraud.” The Globe Spotlight Team might have noted this too had it taken a moment to focus its spotlight just a little off the real target of its crusade.
CARDINAL BERNARD LAW
And the film makes clear what that real target was. Despite the fact that I generally liked ‘Spotlight’ as a film, one of its great downfalls was the sheer prevalence of Catholic cliches. The problem was in its writing, and readers might note that it won no prize for writing. The very worst of the cliche-driven script was actor Len Cariou’s pompous and cliche driven portrayal of Cardinal Bernard Law. It wasn’t the actor’s fault. Len Cariou is a fine and accomplished actor whose role as the Regan family patriarch in Blue Bloods is well respected. The ‘Spotlight’ script just didn’t give him much to work with.
It seemed a foremost goal of the film to portray Cardinal Law as a shallow, pompous, out-of-touch bureaucrat. Two scenes in the film depicting Globe editor Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber) with Cardinal Law were saturated with smarmy cliches that Law himself would never use. “Boston works best when its great institutions work together,” he pompously instructed the Globe editor. I knew Cardinal Law. He was not the pompous ass this film depicted him to be. It was a gross distortion.
This is one of the great injustices of this film, and it could not have been further from the truth. ‘Spotlight’ made only passing reference to Cardinal Law’s life before Boston and his courageous 1960’s activism that I wrote about in “Cardinal Bernard Law on the Frontier of Civil Rights.” That civil rights activism was something The Boston Globe in any other era would have researched, honored, and celebrated. But for Hollywood, it simply didn’t fit the present agenda.
If ‘Spotlight’ claims at all to depict with accuracy the goals of journalism employed by the Globe Spotlight Team, then the Globe was responsible for a bigger media disaster than most people realize. In the film, the supposed expertise of some very questionable figures was at the heart of the Globe’s quest to corroborate the story. The “survivors” activist group, S.N.A.P. was heavily represented, even bearing the “Holy Childhood” photos that Bill Donohue of the Catholic League reported on in his coverage of a S.N.A.P. conference. This media manipulation was described in “SNAP Exposed: Unmasking the Survivors Network”:
“Display ‘Holy Childhood Photos’: Attorneys should conduct an interview in front of the parish where the [accused] priest was assigned… If you don’t have compelling holy childhood photos, we can provide you with photos of other kids that can be held up for the cameras… Use the word ‘kids’ as often as possible.” (CatholicLeague.org)
The Globe Spotlight reliance on former priest-psychotherapist, Richard Sipe was the most troubling aspect of the film. Sipe is portrayed only as a voice on the other end of a telephone, but every word, every claim, every statistic is absorbed by the journalists without question, without the skepticism required of journalists, and without attempts at verification.
Sipe provided unsubstantiated statistics that Globe reporters ran with, such as “six percent of all priests” molest children, and the numbers of victims run in the “hundreds of thousands.” He told the Globe reporters, with no offer of proof – and none requested – that fifty percent of Catholic priests are sexually active. In a 2010 feature on ABC News, he claimed that “hundreds of Popes have been murdered.” In his book, Sins of the Press (p. 121) David Pierre quoted Richard Sipe’s bizarre claims about the celibate priesthood from Sipe’s 1995 book, Sex, Priests and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis:
“When I substitute ‘Jew’ or ‘homosexual’ for ‘woman’ in the schema, I am struck by how everything fits with Nazi theory and practice… I cannot forget that the people and forces that generated Nazism and the Holocaust were all products of one Christian culture and the celibate/sexual power system.”
These are the people The Boston Globe climbed into bed with. That’s the problem with a spotlight. It casts its beam in one place while all the corruption beyond its singular focus remains in the dark.
It’s not easy for people in the media to stand up to those among their peers who are honored for biased distortions. There are journalists for whom the truth is its own reward, journalists who write the truth even when prevailing political correctness tries to silence them, even when it means they will sacrifice a Pulitzer, or an Oscar. The truth means more to them than the approval of their peers. These are the true guardians of integrity in journalism, and, though my voice is small, I honor them here. Please join me in this by sharing this post, and these stand-out contributions against the tide:
- Ryan A. MacDonald for “A Grievous Error in Judge Joseph LaPlante’s Court” (These Stone Walls, 2016)
- JoAnn Wyijewski for “Oscar Hangover Special: Why ‘Spotlight’ Was a Terrible Film” (CounterPunch, 2016)
- William Donohue for “Travesty of Justice” (Catalyst, 2014)
- Ralph Cipriano in Newsweek for “Catholic Guilt? The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy Behind a Lurid Rape Case” (Newsweek, 2015)
And the winner is……. Truth itself!