Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘Spotlight’ revisits Boston Globe’s exposé of abuse crisis

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the December 17, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Reviews

Spotlight is the new film on the Boston Globe newspaper’s coverage in 2002 of the sexual abuse by priests in Boston. The movie is in the tradition of All the President’s Men, which followed the Watergate scandal. I was a bit apprehensive about seeing the film, but I can report it is a fine film that is in the tradition of a mystery, putting all the pieces together. At the same time, I can well understand those who just don’t want to see this film.

The good news is that there are no flashbacks to abuse events. There is discussion about such activities and the movement of priests from parish to parish.

The early scenes of Cardinal Bernard F. Law (Len Cariou) present him as a likable person and refer to his endeavors as a young priest to end segregation in the South.

The new editor of the Globe, Martin Baron (Liev Schreiber), asks the four members of the investigative “Spotlight” group to follow up on a possible cover-up of the priests’ sexual abuse through the years in the Boston Archdiocese.

Director Tom McCarthy focuses on the “Spotlight” team led by Walter Robinson, known as Robby (Michael Keaton). Other members are Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James). The actors all do a fine job as the worker bees out on the front lines of the story.

As the team uncovers the hidden horrors which center on the Church leadership, the film also raises the issue of the involvement of lawyers and of the Globe itself. The Globe did not follow up on an obviously incriminating story years earlier.

I originally thought I would find Spotlight a difficult film to watch. But I discovered in the midst of great sadness and human failure there was hope. We know human institutions can be sometimes very broken, whether it is church, government, education or law enforcement. But the efforts of fellow citizens to get the truth out is what makes this film worth seeing.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). There is graphic description of evil acts and language issues. The Catholic News Service rates the film A-III – for adults.


Several years ago I read Walter Isaacson’s rather monumental biography of Steve Jobs. Now Aaron Sorkin, of the famed television series The West Wing, has written a cerebral and fast-paced script based on that biography for the new film Steve Jobs.

Sorkin has based the film around three introductions of new products for which Jobs was famous. The centering events are around the Macintosh, the NeXT Cube, and the IMac. At each of the events through the years there are flashbacks and the presence of Jobs’ daughter, Lisa, who he did not at first recognize as his.

The film is inside buildings throughout as the conflicts take place, with lots of close-ups, particularly of Jobs himself. Danny Boyle directs with careful dedication. I thought the first act was a little slow but maybe it is that so much information is being given very rapidly. The third act has the best acting as the crescendo of anger and frustration by many of Jobs’s co-workers boils to the surface. There is a notion of redemption in the relationship between Jobs (Michael Fassbender) and his daughter near the end. And maybe there is a beginning for Jobs in realizing he can be a caring human being and reach his almost unreachable goals in design of modern electronic devices.

In Isaacson’s book (but not in the film) we learn that when Jobs went to Reed College in Portland he only went to two classes that one year: calligraphy and dance. It was that calligraphy class that gave him his obsession on design of products.

In the third act, Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who began the Apple saga with Jobs, remarks in a confrontation: “It’s not binary. You can be decent and gifted at the same time.”

The acting is superb. Fassbender truly gives the performance of a lifetime. Kate Winslet, who portrays Joanna Hoffman, the faithful marketing director, is the one who finally challenges Jobs to the core. She is terrific. Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, who takes over Apple when the Board lets Jobs go, is perfect. Seth Rogen, as the wounded Steve Wozniak fighting for some fair recognition, is an example of powerful acting.

Steve Jobs is a wonderful film that does take some work to appreciate. It is a memorable movie.

The Catholic Film Service rates the film A-III – for adults – and the Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-restricted.

Book Reviews

I have greatly appreciated books by Jesuit Father James Martin. I particularly enjoyed his books Jesus: A Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real life. He has a new book out, a novel titled The Abbey: A Story of Discovery. It is his first book of fiction and is published by Harper One in hardbound for a list price of $24.99. The book is based on a dream of the author.

Numerous other wonderful authors, from Ron Hansen to Kathleen Norris and Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, have written kind and appreciative words about The AbbeyL on the back cover of the book. I must be looking at the book as a glass half-empty instead of one half-full because I found the book a disappointment. The Abbey is filled with exposition about Catholic practice and spirituality that overwhelms the story of the three characters brought together by a baseball breaking through a window.

Single mother Ann has lost her son. Mark, handyman at a nearby abbey, seeks meaning in his life. As Father Paul, the abbot of the monastery where Mark works, gives spiritual direction to Ann and Mark, he seeks to work out the issues of his own life.

Father Martin has a straight-forward writing style that works better in non-fiction. I can’t help but wonder if he were not so famous as a writer and a television personality would this book of fiction even be published?

It appears to me that the author is seeking to reach the non-churchgoer, or the person who has given up on the Church (or, perhaps, even God). It may be because of a tragic accident or because of the pull of the society we live in.

The Abbey tries to reach out to the hurting person. It does so in a didactic manner that makes the story move slowly and misses the sweep of a fictional piece.

Personally, I believe it is always good to take a risk in a new form of art, but the gift of Father Martin is non-fiction. It is my hope that he keeps writing it.


Some weeks ago a parishioner at a parish where I was the replacement priest for the weekend asked me to review a book. The book is Climbing the Coliseum by an Idaho and Minnesota author, Bill Percy. She said the author was a friend of a retired priest she knew. She had purchased the book for $19.99 at a Spokane book store. The publisher was Xlibris.

I would say the book is a combination of a modern-day melodrama, a love story, and a young adult book. One warning on the young adult side of the equation: Grace, who is 14 and has strong feelings of abandonment by her mother, has a wicked potty mouth.

The main character is Ed, a psychologist in the small Montana town of Jefferson, located in the novel three hours from Missoula, in the Monastery range of mountains.

All of a sudden Grace is dropped off at Ed’s, Grace’s mother’s ex-husband but not Grace’s father. The growing relationships of Ed, Grace, and Deputy Sheriff Andi Pelton is the center focus of the novel. There is a strong subplot about a rancher Vic Sobstak and his wife, Maggie. Vic gets involved in a radical religious group that seeks not to pay federal taxes. The group also has a strong racist component.

The author is strongest on a fast-moving plot in the John Grisham style. He is weak on describing the beauty of the Montana creation and on describing individuals in the story.

I enjoyed reading the novel. If you like a fast-moving human interest thriller, you would enjoy Climbing the Coliseum.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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