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On January 6, 2002, Boston Globe subscribers picked up their local paper and saw the front page headline: “Church Allowed Abuse by Priest for Years.” The story, written by Michael Rezendes, a reporter on the investigative “Spotlight” team, was massive, in word-count and impact, but it was just the beginning. Two more Spotlight stories on the same topic ran that day, with more to follow. The uproar from the Spotlight stories (The Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly, had covered church sexual abuse but it didn’t have the circulation of the Globe) was so sustained that by December 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston, stepped down in disgrace, saying in a statement, “To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness.” (Pope John Paul II gave him a position in Rome, where Law remains to this day.) The Spotlight team won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for their reporting. These events are familiar to everyone by now, but those first Spotlight stories are painfully familiar to Boston Catholics (my family is Boston Irish-Catholic), and it was the first news story to dominate everyone’s conversations since September 11th only a few months prior.
Tom McCarthy’s superb “Spotlight,” co-written by McCarthy and Josh Singer, is the story of that investigation. “Spotlight” is a great newspaper movie of the old-school model, calling up not only obvious comparisons with “All the President’s Men” and “Zodiac,” two movies with similar devotion to the sometimes crushingly boring gumshoe part of reportage, but also Cary Grantand Rosalind Russell shouting into adjacent phones in “His Girl Friday.” At a late moment in “Spotlight,” there’s an image of the presses printing off the edition that carries the church abuse story. Such a scene is so de rigueur in newspaper movies that it borders on cliche, but in “Spotlight” it is a moment of intense emotion. The truth in that edition, the evil it describes, will be a wound in the psyche of millions, but it must come out.
The true story of how The Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child abuse and the cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core. The story, written by Michael Rezendes, a reporter on the investigative “Spotlight” team, was massive, in word-count and impact, but it was just …