We spoke of films, including Spotlight, due out next day. I told of sexual abuse, relatively mild, by at least four male carers at Spurgeons Homes in Kent, where we were placed from 1963 to 1967. (There will have been others, perhaps female carers too.) This abuse was not, subjectively, our worst experience there but its coexistence with the abusers’ Baptist faith made a dangerous cocktail. Sue, from a secular Jewish family, agreed and added that their torment would been projected back on us as ’causes’ of their temptation, anguish and self loathing.
I’ve now seen Spotlight and it’s very good. Fine acting and strong but subtle characterisation, splendid dialogue and tight story telling without sensationalism – even the use of music is restrained – make it so. That and an edge-of-seat tale that needs no histrionics. But this is not a story of child abuse. Indeed, in only two fleeting scenes do children appear at all. This is about systemic cover up and its exposure through the sterling but not unproblematic investigative work of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe. (An obvious comparator is All the President’s Men, about the “Woodstein” duo at the Washington Post who broke the Watergate story, but there’s less razzmatazz here and it’s the better for it.) I should add that a central ‘character’ is Irish Boston, biggest village in America. The workings of small town politics, interwoven with the formidable hierarchy of the Catholic Church, are teased out with skill, nuance and precision timing.
So another filmic thumbs up from Steel City Scribblings but, as I said, this is not a film about child abuse. That story remains to be told. Meanwhile I’ll say just this: whereas three of the four sexual abusers I knew of at Spurgeons were married, Vatican insistence on celibacy has to be a huge aggravant. The abuse here, with Boston just the starting point, was on such a scale that its prevalence in any city could be accurately predicted by applying a factor – six percent – to the number of priests and Brothers operating there. I’ve said before that abuse is inevitable where children are in the care of those who do not love them, and where that care is not subject to close and intelligent scrutiny. But celibacy throws petrol on the sparks. When, I wonder, will the implications be taken up by investigators of Buddhist run orphanages and schools in Asia?