Friday, April 5, 2013

May Dreamworks Get It Right

By Sister Mary Ann Walsh

Word is that Dreamworks, a sub-studio of Disney, is about to make a movie on The Boston Globe’s January 2002 investigative report on pedophilia and the Archdiocese of Boston. The series marked a tipping point in the Catholic Church’s dealing with the problem of clergy sexual abuse of minors. The U.S. bishops had published a series of protocols on how to deal with such criminal and sinful behavior in the early nineties. This was a decade before the Globe series began, but the extensive coverage of the scandal by a major newspaper raised awareness to a new level.

The Globe’s spotlight intensified concern of bishops, clergy and laity and drew more allegations of abuse to church attention. In June 2002, six months after the series ran, the full body of U.S. bishops met in Dallas and adopted the unprecedented Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The document stressed a zero tolerance of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric, demanded referral to civil authorities as required and called for prevention programs to protect minors in church care. It has been revised since then and is still in effect.

To see what followed the 2002 newspaper series, you can look at church statistics from a decade later, in 2012. Last year there were 4,684,009 children in the Catholic Church who underwent child safety programs. At the same time, there were 2,362,813 priests, deacons, seminarians, educators, church employees and volunteers who underwent background checks and training in child protection programs.

This past year, researchers from the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) found 11 allegations of abuse of children under the age of 18 reported in 2012. It is discouraging to find any, but for perspective, this occurred in a church of 77.7 million people in the United States. Reports of allegations of abuse from years, even decades, before, continue to decline as well.

The Globe series likely led other institutions, including Boy Scouts, sports groups, public schools and other churches and synagogues to look into their own organizations to see how they have dealt with the human tragedy.

As Dreamworks pursues its tale of journalism and a societal problem writ large because of church involvement, one hopes for a movie that enhances protection of children. There is no need to magnify, Hollywood-style, the problem of sexual abuse by clergy. Any instance is huge in itself.

The movie might highlight unsung heroes. The late Bishop John D’Arcy is one. As an auxiliary bishop in Boston, he spoke out against transferring alleged pedophiles to other parishes. The late Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, a Sister of St. Joseph, is another. She lobbied fellow archdiocesan officials to warn parishes that abusers had served there. Neither set out to be a hero. Their actions came to light through discovery of documents in court cases. Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who bore the responsibility to heal a broken archdiocese he inherited in 2003, is one more reluctant hero.

To make a thoughtful movie on this sensational topic will challenge Dreamworks. Sister Mary Ellen Dougherty, SSND, a poet, often notes that nothing is pure but grace is everywhere. If Dreamworks practices moviemaking artfully, then grace might shine through.

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