spotlight: the oscar winning movie the catholic church probably wishes you would NOT see…but you should

spotlight 1

Spotlight was the movie we had all heard of sort of, but not really. It wasn’t featuring Marvel superheroes, didn’t have R2D2 and Hans Solo skipping across galaxies far far away, it wasn’t embroiled in Hollywood’s color war. It is a movie so incredibly freaking profound that if you DON’T see it now, you are missing something extraordinary, significant, moving and very, very real.

Spotlight is the story of the Boston Globe Spotlight reporters who did the unthinkable: they took on the Catholic Church in Boston in 2001-2002 over pedophile priests.  This dogged team of reporters and an editor who assigned them the story did the unthinkable at the time. They actually took down Boston’s powerful Cardinal Bernard Law.

Cardinal Bernard Law, now retired, much like has happened with these pedophile priests was essentially sent away and not to a life of reflection and penance, just read here:

Where Is Cardinal Bernard Law Now?

WBUR Boston

 Updated September 22, 2015,

…when critics call for more transparency and accountability, it’s Cardinal Bernard Law they often point to.

Law was forced to resign as bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston after a series of stories by a team of investigative reporters at The Boston Globe found victims and uncovered documents showing that church authorities had protected pedophile priests from prosecution — a story that will be revisited by the release next month of a new movie called “Spotlight.”

But despite the disgrace that befell Cardinal Law in Boston, he found a comfortable and influential second career at the Vatican….

The Globe’s Spotlight team of investigative reporters had revealed that Law and other bishops before him had covered up the priests’ crimes against children, then moved the priests to new parishes and, as it turned out, new victims.

But during that press conference, the cardinal insisted not once, but three times that it was all in the past. Not a pedophile priest was still in service.

“When he made those statements, we knew they were false,” says Globe editor Walter Robinson, who was on the team that uncovered the abuse….Like Nixon, Law said he wouldn’t go. But eventually he had to — a grand jury was afoot and both priests and parishioners were demanding he step down….

A poster boy for the sexual abuse scandal in one country, Law came to another, the Vatican, in May 2004, where protected and assisted by friends and allies he actually became more influential than he had ever been in Boston.

Pope John Paul II named Law archpriest of one of Rome’s four papal basilicas, and its most magnificent: Santa Maria Maggiore, the first church dedicated to Mary….Law, who had only given up his position as archbishop of Boston, was allowed to keep his seat in the College of Cardinals….

Law is about to turn 84 — he’s grown old in Rome, listening to Italian church bells.

Now retired, he can no longer cast a vote to elect a new pope or to recommend the appointment of new bishops. But he still wears a red hat and, by all accounts, lives comfortably in the earliest Renaissance palace in Rome — the Palazzo della Cancelleria, or the Papal Chancellery.

This article, which was a news story September 2015 is long and well worth everyone reading either before or after seeing Spotlight, the movie. And thanks to The Boston Globe, you can now read once again  the story behind the ‘Spotlight’ movie.

This movie Spotlight moved me like no other in years, truly. It wasn’t cute or sweet or a date night movie. It was raw and real and while you don’t want kids to see it they almost should.

And I so got this movie.

Why?

Because for years, I lived in a neighborhood in Lower Merion Township loaded with small children and a slightly creepy priest who is now convicted and jailed pedophile priest (now inmate number KL8296 look him up)

After the Boston Globe and their groundbreaking series of articles other major cities in the US with major Catholic Church strongholds started investigating and publishing.  It happened with the Philadelphia Inquirer. I believe 2003 was the start.  You can’t seem to find that far back on the the Inquirer’s website, but Bishop Accountability has articles dating back from the paper to December 2003.

And it was a Sunday in 2005 that I remember a front page story of all of these priests in the Philadelphia Inquirer and all their photos. That was when a slew of information was released in a grand jury report.

There was the priest from my neighborhood. He had been placed on administrative leave in 2003. Eventually he was de-frocked. But no one watched this guy, he wasn’t on Megan’s List, he roamed our neighborhood. And when both his mother and brother passed he inherited a very valuable apartment building property in our neighborhood and lived there.

He drove a Lexus with vanity plates even while a priest. He was even seem driving through our neighborhood in warmer weather in what we swore was an older gold Rolls Royce convertible in a panama hat.

If you flash forward to 2012, you can find on Bishop Accountability an entire file on this guy written by Ralph Cipriano for the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog:

“Father Ed” … liked to hang out at Smokey Joe’s and drink beer with college kids. He was into sleepovers with altar boys. He also preferred to spin records as a DJ rather than say Mass….The priest, a defendant in the archdiocese sex abuse case, pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a child, and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a 10-year-old, and faces a prison sentence of 2 1/2 to 5 years. But that guilty plea didn’t end Father Ed’s role in the ongoing archdiocese sex abuse case.

…A psychological examination of the priest concluded that Father Ed had a bi-polar disorder, and a history of alcohol abuse. A psychologist wrote to tell Msgr. Lynn that Father Ed was also “dealing with shame.” It happened after the victim confronted Father Ed at St. John Vianney. After treating the priest, the psychologist wrote Msgr. Lynn that he had “concern about other victims.”

(here is a PDF of a cache of the original referring blog: _The Avery Files_ _ Big Trial _ Philadelphia Trial Blog )

Yup this guy was not only roaming free until he went to prison (which I wrote about on this blog in 2012) but when he went for “treatment” it was to that St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown. I was told this is a quasi-open campus? And is it near schools?

So anyway there is a scene in Spotlight where one of the reporters realizes a “treatment center” for problem priests was around the corner from his home.  It made me think of all of this.

I wrote in my 2012 post :

In late October 2009 while at a political event for a potential local candidate from my old neighborhood, he approached me.  Why me I will never know, because we weren’t buddies.  He was always filed as be polite and keep on moving whenever I saw him.   He sat there with a beer in his hand and told me how he was being targeted blah, blah, blah.  There I sat with camera in hand not knowing what to do.  It was horribly uncomfortable to listen to someone you did not believe for one hot moment with empathy.  I remember saying to him his choice of venue to discuss his current events with neighbors and locals was inappropriate at best, and if he was innocent, the truth would will out.  Ick.

What I did not write about at the time was later speaking to the person running for office and people volunteering for him asking them if they ever read the newspaper because at that point in time, that guy had already been on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer and in a slew of other articles. Would you have wanted this guy at a political fundraiser where kids were actually in attendance? (Again he eventually pled guilty to abuse charges in 2012.)

(Here is a giant docket on the PA Courts website about these pedophile priests in the Lynn trial.)

Flash forward a couple of years and  it  also brings to mind a conversation I had with a then very pompous and sour Monsignor at St. Catherine of Siena in Wayne a few years back during of all things a viewing before a funeral.  At the time, I was planning a move to Wayne and that would have been my new parish had I chosen one.  This man was all up in my face about getting married in “The Church.” In March 2011, that parish had a priest removed on suspected abuse charges. And it was the one who had given me a “talking to” as it were.

Once again it made me think about the irony of the Catholic Church being worried about my immortal soul, yet for how long in the greater Philadelphia area did they move pedophile priests around like some sort of twisted shell game or chess pieces on a board?

And when I moved to Chester County I was reminded of even more pedophile priests removed from Chester County parishes. They were written up in an article in Main Line Media News in 2011.  They were from St. Isaac Jogues, Our Lady of the Assumption (rectory), and St. Patrick’s parish right in the Borough of Malvern. At the time NBC10 Philadelphia did a great report on this (CLICK HERE).

I will freely admit as a Catholic that I still can’t reconcile what my church and the Archdiocess of Philadelphia did over the years. I can remember when I was in my early twenties when a guy who was dating a friend of mine at the time recounted a story of a abusive priest when he was growing up. The obvious pain when he spoke about it at the time was palpable. Can’t remember the guy’s name – it was too long ago. But I can still remember the pain on his face as he spoke of it and the experience of basically no one much believing him.

These abuse stories have grown and multiplied over the years locally, internationally, and nationwide. They aren’t going away, yet the Catholic Church here in the US really doesn’t want you dwelling on them.

The Catholic Church is by it’s very history a very powerful machine. Politically, socially, religiously. If you speak out about the Catholic church even in a local setting, you are absolutely guaranteed to make someone uncomfortable.  In 2014 when a monsignor involved in the Philadelphia cover-up was released from jail, reporter Karen Heller summed it up beautifully she wrote the Philadelphia Archdiocese was prolonging it’s own suffering.

The Pope’s visit to Philadelphia in 2015 once again placed the sexual abuse spotlight back on Philadelphia (as well as placed an interesting spotlight on the very ambitious and often seemingly cold fish Archbishop Charles Chaput.) The Pope’s comments in Washington DC on the topic were criticized and I am sure Philadelphia’s Chaput wasn’t thrilled the Holy Father met with abuse victims.

This month, a couple of weeks ago another pedophile priest (this time from SS Simon and Jude in Westtown) was sentenced to 20 years in prison. (See February 19, 2016  Philadelphia Inquirer article by Jeremy Roebuck.)

And after watching Spotlight, I think everyone should say “thank you” to both the real reporters from Boston who broke this wide open in 2002 but to the actors and filmmakers who told their story so incredibly well. No wonder these reporters won a Pulitzer in 2003.

This also should make us respect and want to keep our print newspapers across the country alive. So many newspapers are essentially on life support.  They tell our stories, they risk their own careers and lives to tell a lot of these stories.

Here is what CNN said this morning about the Oscars for Spotlight:

(CNN)“Spotlight” is basking in the golden glow of Oscar….when the last award of the evening was read, it was the little film about Boston Globe investigative reporters digging into a sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests that was left standing.

“This film gave a voice to survivors,” producer Michael Sugar said. “And this film amplifies that voice, which we hope will become a choir that will resonate all the way to the Vatican.”

It was one of just two awards “Spotlight” took home. The film also won for Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer’s original screenplay.

I will freely and fully admit that it was the Oscar buzz and subsequent win that made me sit and watch the movie “Spotlight”.

I urge everyone to watch this movie regardless of their faith, but especially if they were raised Catholic.

When you are raised Catholic unless you experienced the horror of clergy sexual abuse you have a hard time wrapping your head around the topic. At first. Then you realize some of the accused are a little too close to where you call home. Then you wonder why your Church expects the fealty and obedience of the devout and faithful is so hypocritical. It’s quite a dilemma.

I myself am Catholic. I was raised Catholic. I am still Catholic but have I been to Catholic church in a few years? Except for funerals, no.  Do I consider myself lapsed? No, even if some would disagree.  I am still a Catholic but I have somewhat lost faith in my church.  How have they protected the children with their ongoing cover their ass? How are those actions God speaking through them?

I can’t answer that. Maybe someday I will. Until then, I know where God is and that anyone can speak to him, you just have to believe.

I am sure this post will be a bit heavy for some, and I am sorry for that.  But seriously? Spotlight really mad me think about this whole thing again. Go see it and if you live in Chester County support non-profits like Justice4PAKids.

Thanks for stopping by

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a new dawn: defrocked priest heads to jail on child molestation charges

Father Touchy Feely goes to jail today.  I hate to say I was glad to hear this but I was.  I am glad that Edward V. Avery is off the streets. Finally.  Even if it will only be for a couple of years or so.

Why do I care?  This man lived in my old neighborhood for years and years.  On a street named Berkley Road in Lower Merion Township which has always had lots of kids and small children growing up there.  He until recently owned an apartment building he inherited from his late mother Rachel Avery called the Berkley Arms.  A fabulous early 20th century building with large apartments, that throughout the years has also on occasion been home to families with small children.

For years we all watched and waited.  Avery was named in September 2005 in a Grand Jury Report just a couple of days after his mother died.   In 2006 Avery was defrocked by the Vatican.  Yet in this neighborhood full of young children he remained.  He lived across from a narrow street from a Lower Merion School District bus stop.

No one watched him, no one that we knew of monitored him.  He was as a former priest not yet convicted outside the realm of Megan’s Law websites, so if you did not know, you did not know.

I will say that although I thought his little old mother was adorable, he and his brother Kenneth (who died in 2008 and I loved how they referred to Edward Avery in his obituary as Reverend Doctor although he was a Reverend of nothing at this point) always creeped me out.  There was nothing I could ever put my finger on, it was female intuition I guess.

I first became aware of Edward Avery’s presence many many years ago (about 15 years I think)  because he drove at the time a high-end sedan like a  caddy and  I think it was then  followed by a high-end SUV with vanity plates that said “FREVA” (eventually the vanity plates went away and were replaced with first regular PA plates then FL plates) – that stood I always assumed for Father Edward V. Avery.  Being raised a Catholic I found that flashy display somewhat distasteful since all you hear about from jump as a child are how nuns and priests have these vows of poverty and whatnot.   I also wondered about God’s plan when this man was outed in Grand Jury reports and then inherited a very tasty real estate portfolio.   How does God let a man charged with hurting children become in essence a millionaire?  How did the Archdiocese of Philadelphia just put this guy back into a residential neighborhood filled with kids?

In late October 2009 while at a political event for a local candidate from my old neighborhood, Avery approached me.  Why me I will never know, because we weren’t buddies.  He was always filed as be polite and keep on moving whenever I saw him.   He sat there with a beer in his hand and told me how he was being targeted blah, blah, blah.  There I sat with camera in hand not knowing what to do.  It was horribly uncomfortable to listen to someone you did not believe for one hot moment with empathy.  I remember saying to him his choice of venue to discuss his current events with neighbors and locals was inappropriate at best, and if he was innocent, the truth would will out.  Ick.

So when he was charged anew in Philadelphia in February 2011, if I saw him on the street, I turned and moved the other way.  And wondered what would happen this time.

Here is an article from March 13, 2011 from the Inquirer that also appears on BishopAccountability.org:

‘Smiling Padre’: His path to court

Case may be a guide in Phila. prosecution.

March 13, 2011|By John P. Martin, Inquirer Staff Writer

In 1995, a few hundred people packed a Northeast Philadelphia banquet hall to mark a milestone for the Rev. Edward Avery: a quarter-century in the priesthood.

By then, Avery had cultivated a near-celebrity profile as an outspoken advocate for Asian immigrants and as an exuberant part-time disc jockey.

The Smiling Padre, he was called.

At his celebration, Avery took to the piano and belted out an Irish tune. “He was beaming,” a former parishioner recalled.

Few knew the underside of Avery’s record. Two years earlier, he had been plucked from his parish and secretly sent to an inpatient program for sexually abusive priests….

Now 68 and defrocked, Avery is one of four current or former priests due in court Monday for the first time since their arrests last month on abuse or related charges. The hearing comes less than a week after the archdiocese suspended 21 priests pending a review of old allegations against them, and follows a grand jury report that blasted the archdiocese’s efforts to expel abusers and aid victims.

If true, the allegations against Avery starkly illustrate how church officials may have ignored warning signs and concealed a possible child predator from parishioners, then scrambled to remove him amid the national furor over abusive priests…..Avery did not answer requests for an interview left at his Haverford apartment. His attorney, Michael Wallace, also did not respond to calls. An archdiocesan spokeswoman said it would have no comment about Avery or the grand jury’s depiction of him.

Avery made his only public remarks about his removal in 2003 when he told The Inquirer that his life and career had been unfairly ruined because of a misunderstanding one night decades earlier.

“I am totally devastated,” he said…..The grand jury report suggests the allegation that led to Avery’s removal was more serious than he has said.

It happened in 1992, when Avery was pastor at St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the Northeast and enjoyed a reputation as a popular and energetic priest.

For a decade, he had been a vocal advocate for the burgeoning Hmong immigrant community in Philadelphia. He helped a family of Hmong orphans settle in a house close to his rectory. He became legal guardian of the two youngest siblings, records show, and called all of them his adopted children.

Avery also flourished as a record-spinning cleric who entertained at bars, parties, and school dances.

“It’s been very beneficial to my priesthood,” he told the Philadelphia Daily News about his DJ business in 1984. “I’ve been able to give a lot of counseling and that type of thing because of it. Parents see me and send their kids to me. They see I’m approachable.”

In a letter in September 1992, a 29-year-old medical student accused Avery of having molested him when he was an altar boy at St. Philip Neri in Pennsburg in the late 1970s…..Archdiocesan officials sent Avery to the Anodos Center at St. John Vianney in Downingtown, a treatment center for clergy sex offenders.

After four days of evaluation, doctors found Avery’s account of his interaction with the young man “vague and inconsistent” and recommended inpatient treatment, the grand jury report says.

Ten months later, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua acted on the request…..Avery remained in Downingtown for six months in 1993. At one point, his accuser was invited to confront him at the hospital. Lynn’s handwritten notes indicated Avery had been “angry” and “in denial” but “got into shame” when he faced his accuser, the grand jury report says.

At the same time, the cardinal’s ranking assistant, Msgr. Edward P. Cullen, allegedly directed Lynn to inform St. Therese parishioners that Avery had left for health reasons…..Avery was discharged from the treatment center that fall with recommendations for “a ministry excluding adolescents and with a population other than vulnerable minorities.” Doctors also said he should attend Alcoholics Anonymous and limit his contact with the Hmong to an administrative or pastoral capacity, according to the grand jury report.

Bevilacqua assigned Avery to work at Nazareth Hospital and live at St. Jerome’s. In a letter to the pastor there, Lynn said Avery should help out “as much as he was able” but made no mention of his treatment or the allegation, the grand jury report says…..Doctors also prescribed an aftercare team to monitor Avery and regularly chart his progress. That team, composed of Lynn and two other priests, allegedly did not meet for more than a year after Avery’s discharge. One of the priests “denied even knowing he was on such a team,” the grand jury found….In December 2003, Bevilacqua’s successor, Cardinal Justin Rigali, declared the accusation credible and removed Avery from ministry. In a letter petitioning the Vatican to defrock Avery, Rigali said he was “morally certain” the allegations were true.

According to the grand jury report, the church offered Avery $87,000 if he agreed to leave the priesthood. It’s not clear whether he took the money or whether he collects a pension or other benefits.

Avery still lives in the 85-year-old, sand-colored apartment building, the Berkley Arms, that his family has owned for a half-century. State records indicate he registered a business called Avery Solar at that address, but it’s unclear what the business is or whether it still exists…..Avery’s mother, Rachel, died in 2005, and named him sole heir to her estate, valued at $1.1 million, public records show. Most of that reflects the value of the Berkley Road apartment building, just steps from the Haverford train station and the tony boutiques of Haverford Square.

He sold his North Wildwood home in 1999. Two years ago, Avery bought a two-bedroom beachside condo in Ormond Beach, Fla., public records show.

I couldn’t believe when the news broke on March 22, 2012 that he was pleading guilty to sexually molesting an altar boy.  Huh, so there we have it, then?  Do innocent men please guilty of sexually abusing kids?  Wow.

When the news broke of Avery’s confession I was once again deeply troubled and angered by the shepherds of my religious Faith: the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  With every day it becomes apparent they have just shifted these sick and morally depraved individuals around various communities with really no one watching them and even fewer people knowing what it is that ails them.

How is that living and acting God’s word?  I still don’t understand.  It also brings to mind a conversation I had with a very sour Monsignor at St. Catherine of Siena in Wayne a few years back during of all things a viewing before a funeral.  At the time, I was planning a move to Wayne and that would have been my new parish.  This guy was all up in my face about getting married in “The Church.”  I don’t know what the guy’s name was, but in March 2011, that parish had a priest removed on suspected abuse charges – The Rev. Monsignor John Close (1969), pastor, St. Katharine of Siena Church, Wayne section of Radnor .  Once again it made me think about the irony of the Catholic Church being worried about my immortal soul, yet for how long in the greater Philadelphia area did they move pedophile priests around like some sort of twisted shell game?

(A good website tracking all this and more if you are interested is BishopAccountability.org )

I was happy when NBC10’s Tim Furlong reported on Avery going to jail this morning:

By NBC10 Philadelphia – Tim Furlong

Former priest Edward Avery will head to prison Monday after pleading guilty on a child molestation charge. NBC10’s Tim Furlong reports that Avery could be behind bars for five years

So what about this Anodos Center at St. John Vianney in Downingtown?  On their website they say:

Opening in 1946, Saint John Vianney Center is the oldest running behavioral health facility in North America for clergy and religious. We are an internationally-renowned behavioral health organization. Saint John Vianney Center is a faith-centered community that specializes in the treatment of behavioral health issues that are unique to Catholic clergy and consecrated religious, as well as the clergy of other major Christian denominations. Our research-based, multi-disciplinary approach, focuses on recovery, reconciliation and a return to ministry.

It doesn’t seem to me like they are meeting their mission, does it?  And who watches over them and their residents?  Does it have a quasi-open campus?  If so, who watches over these people in Chester County? After all (again on their website): 

Our in-patient services pride themselves on the comprehensive care and rich quality of  daily life experienced at Saint John Vianney Center; to that end our facility includes:

  • ….Walking trail on the periphery of the hospital campus
  • Proximity to a variety of restaurants and shopping nearby

So obviously, we can’t trust the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when it comes to pedophile priests, so how do you trust this center where a lot of these suspected and proven problem priests have been sent?

I am still a Catholic, but I am deeply troubled by my Church and  how they test our Faith.  How can we in this week before Easter believe in our Faith and keep our Faith in the midst of an Archdiocese which is supposed to lead all of us as the Vatican’s emissaries?  This is a Church that has let all Catholics down, and I just don’t see them doing enough of anything to either make it up to all of us or to even say they are sorry.

Will I personally join the ranks of lapsed Catholics all across this area?  That remains to be seen.  I think it all depends on the accountability of the Catholic Church today and going forward.  Right now I am not impressed.  Right now I am disgusted.