Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Reflection May 8, 2016

Reflections on Spotlight


Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

On Wednesday, May 11, at 7:30 we will screen the 2015 Academy Award Best Picture, Spotlight. This film is rated R – so we ask our younger people to please stay away! As we may know, the movie is based on the 2002 Boston Globe investigations into the priest sex abuse crisis in Boston. 

We are showing this movie because we will be having a discussion about the movie on Tuesday, May 17. There will be two opportunities to join in the discussion:  at our beloved church (Morgan Park Baptist Church; 110th and Bell Avenue) from 11 am until noon in our parlor and that evening from 7:45 until 9 pm at Beverly Unitarian Church (103rd and Longwood Drive). Both these discussions will be led by Judge Sheila Murphy and Pastor Thomas. 

Both Judge Sheila Murphy and I have been deeply involved in the unfolding priest abuse crisis. It is my hope that by presenting this controversial movie and having an open discussion about the movie - we will help bring both light and healing to this terrible crisis in the universal church. 

In 1983, I moved from Chicago to Ruston, Louisiana to serve as the campus minister at Louisiana Tech University. I served 3 years there and then moved a few miles down the road to serve as pastor and campus minister at Grambling State University. 

Not long after I arrived in Louisiana, our bishop called all the clergy together to tell us about one of the first well-known cases of priest sex abuse:  the case of the Louisiana priest Gilbert Gauthe, who abused over 100 children in his appalling string of priestly sexual abuse. His story was well documented in the chilling book, Lead Us Not Into Temptation, by Jason Berry. 

The years since that first well-known case in Louisiana and today have witnessed an ever-widening array of sexual abuse cases. Since Berry’s ground breaking book, a large number of books have tried to address the clergy abuse situation. I read many of them. 

Here are some important words from a 2002 book, Sacred Silence:  Denial and the Crisis in the Church, written by a priest psychologist friend of mine from Cleveland, Donald Cozzens:

Thousands upon thousands of young victims have suffered the almost unimaginable effects of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic clergy. I’ve sat with some of them and listened to their halting attempts to put into words the pain, confusion, disillusionment, and sense of shame that followed episodes of abuse  …  Many, I suspect, carry wounds that will be healed over time, if at all  …  Reports indicate there are approximately 100,000 victims of clergy misconduct in the U. S. alone. The harm inflicted on their family members and friends is likely to raise the number directly touched by the scandal to millions … The devastating effect on the credibility and trustworthiness of Catholic clergy is incalculable. 

            Some may well wonder why we, an American Baptist church, are addressing this issue at all. Yet the sobering truth is that there is clergy sexual abuse clearly evident in ALL Christian denominations. The better able we are to understand the terrible abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, the better able we will be to face whatever must be faced as we all move into the future.   

            Recently the one-year anniversary of the death of Cardinal George was highlighted. It must be said that Cardinal George, knowing better, made a terrible mistake in allowing the pedophile priest, Daniel McCormack, to continue serving as pastor of Saint Agatha’s Parish on the west side of Chicago, even though McCormack had been arrested in 2005 on charges of sexual abuse. 

            The leadership of Cardinal George is forever tainted by his refusal to take McCormack out of ministry – even after his own Archdiocese Professional Review Board recommended such a move. Father McCormack was allowed to continue as pastor and abuse more victims until being arrested again in 2006. I had the difficult distinction of leading the Sunday service at St. Agatha’s immediately following their pastor’s arrest.

            Yes, the movie, Spotlight, is controversial. Yes, it is also controversial that we will host a discussion about this movie. Ideally, such discussions should be taking place in Catholic churches throughout our country. But, alas, I don’t see this happening. So we will host this much-needed discussion about the movie and the sexual abuse of children which it brings into the spotlight!  Please join us!