Let's hope MO/IL journalists see Spotlight & here's why
There’s a group of editors and reporters who I really hope will see the film Spotlight. They’re journalists in St. Louis and four Illinois towns: Alton, Godfrey, Peoria, and Belleville.
Earlier this month, a jury awarded $8.1 million to a victim of a predator priest, Fr. J. Vincent Fitzgerald, who once worked in each of these places. But as best we can tell, despite our best efforts, only one news outlet in these areas has covered this verdict
That’s a shame because it’s of course possible – maybe even probable – that Fr. Fitzgerald may have hurt a child in one of these communities. (For example, he had plenty of chances to assault a kid in Belleville where he lived for 16 years until his death in 2009. His full work history is here: http://www.bishopaccountability.org/assign/assign/Fitzgerald_J_Vincent_OMI.htm)
At first glance, Spotlight is about clergy sex crimes and cover ups in Boston. But a troubling and accurate sub-text throughout the film is that any number of journalists were alerted to the crisis but chose, for various reasons, not to pursue it.
So I hope reporters in Missouri and Illinois see this highly acclaimed movie, take its lessons to heart, and at least mention to their readers and viewers, however briefly, that this predator was in their midst.
(By the way, there are three other reasons the Fr. Fitzgerald case is noteworthy.
First, the size of the verdict. Second, the fact that there have only been about three dozen civil clergy abuse and cover up trials in US history. And third, the fact that it’s an unusual verdict, because jurors said that a bishop is responsible for most of the harm done by a predator priest, even though his paycheck was signed by a legally separate entity, the Oblates.
As we said when the verdict was handed down: “The bottom line is that every bishop is responsible for the safety of every Catholic kid from every Catholic pedophile, whether the offender is a Jesuit, a Marianist, an Oblate or whatever. Hair-splitting may work for bishops as a public relations strategy. It works less well as a legal defense strategy.”
“Victims often stay silent, assuming no one will believe them, help them, or take serious action. Today’s verdict shows that this assumption is no longer true. We hope the wisdom of this jury and the courage of this victim will prod others who are victims of sexual violence to come forward, seek justice, prevent crimes and expose those who commit and conceal heinous abuse against children.”
And by the way, Fr. Fitzgerald also worked in South Dakota and Minnesota.)