by Becky Posey Williams
I must admit, there are days when I choose to not read a paper or watch the news. I deliberately avoid websites which offer stories reflecting the worst of our humanity. I suppose it is one way to not face the harsh reality of life. So when my co-workers thought it a good idea for me to see the movie Spotlight, I cringed. It seemed too much like work, but at the same time, a movie I must see.
I walked away with two words clearly formed from the movie: intimidation and courage. In a nutshell, it is the story of the investigative journalism of the Spotlight Team from the Boston Globe and the decision by leadership to uncover cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area. In an atmosphere highlighted by native Bostonian colleagues who had worked together for years, the invitation to second guess and doubt the decision to move forward with the story was met at every level. The team was regularly reminded that 53% of The Globe’s customers were Catholic and were asked to remember all the “good work” done by the church in the community. It was downplayed by many as nothing more than “he said-she said” gossip. The investigators were regularly told to “leave it alone” and reminded that disclosing would only make things worse. The decision to go forward with the story remained steadfast, even in the heat of intimidating comments aimed at silencing anyone who dared to speak out.
The “shift” in the movie happens immediately upon the reporters hearing the individual stories from victims who were now adults. They described a common theme of feeling special when shown attention by the priest and affirmed as being good in the eyes of God when all they knew were struggles in life. I sat in awe as I listened to stories of courage in their decisions to step forward and share the nightmare of sexual abuse by Catholic priests whom they trusted. I listened to the description of sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse perpetrated by a person in a position of power. Feeling as if I had been punched in the stomach as I listened to these victims’ stories, I found new breath and energy each time the Boston Globe would renew its pledge to one another to press on in its focus on the institutional practice and policy of the church. Ultimately, the story reveals the multi-layered cover-up by the Catholic Church and legal consultants of hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse.
I walked away from the theatre reminded of our call to provide a system within The United Methodist Church to prevent and respond with accountability and healing in every complaint of sexual misconduct within the Church. I realized clearly how this work must involve collaboration and must not be done alone. And today, I breathe deeply in my commitment to this work as I remember the words of Sojourner Truth, “Truth is powerful and it prevails.”
Becky Posey Williams is the Senior Director of Sexual Ethics and Advocacy for GCSRW. She loves the outdoors and actively seeks opportunities to be in nature. Becky is a native Mississippian and proud mother of Rebecca.