Monday, March 28, 2016


Given that they are generally aimed at a younger demographic, I rarely watch movies these days. However, on the return leg of our trip, one of the films offered by Air Canada was the award-winning Spotlight, important for a few reasons. The winner of two Oscars, the movie
tells the riveting true story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation that would rock the city and cause a crisis in one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper's tenacious "Spotlight" team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of Boston's religious, legal, and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.
I will engage in no spoilers for the film, but I have to say it resonated with me in two very important areas. The first involves my own history of being subjected to both verbal and physical abuse during my Catholic school days, abuse that began early in Grade One with the strap, progressing to being made to 'stand in the corner,' a common method of public shaming and ostracism in those days, to slaps across the face, all by the third grade. As I recall, my infractions usually involved, as they used to say, 'talking to my neighbour.'

Things got worse in high school, where the same methodology (minus the strap) was employed, but in a much more intensive way. Teachers, both lay and cleric, seemed almost demoniacally driven to wear down any sense of our self-worth, suggesting our worthlessness on a regular basis. The physical abuse escalated to being slammed over our heads with heavy books, more forceful slapping across the face, and outright mockery.

I vividly recall my Grade Eleven physics teacher being especially cruel one particular day. I did not know the answer to a question when called upon, so he asked someone else who, with his textbook open but concealed, read off the answer, at which point the teacher said, "Whoa, slow down, Potter, slow down. Warwick is kind of slow." His bon mot was met with a response of general hilarity throughout the classroom, and absolute humiliation on my part. But I was hardly the only victim. There was a lad in the same class who had a stutter, and I will always remember that same teacher trying to hide his amusement whenever he gave an answer.

I could tell you so many stories, but the above serves to illustrate, I hope, that even though I was never a victim of sexual abuse, what I did experience left a deep scar for many, many years, and an abiding hatred for those who had subjected us to such measures. It was a hatred I only managed to let go of well into my forties.

I often think that those experiences were the genesis of my own extremely strong aversion to abuse of power in its many shapes and forms. They helped make me what I am today, both the good and the bad.

However, beyond my own personal reasons for valuing the movie, there is a much greater lesson to be had from it. It underscores very effectively both the power and the importance of the press, the same press that we find in our time under constant financial barrage. Had it not been for the doggedness of the Boston Globe and its reporters, the scope of both the abuse and the concealment at the highest diocesan levels would never have come to light, and the priest would have continued to be relocated to other parishes, free to carry on their predations. The movie is both an indictment of the tawdriness, cowardice and complicity of the Catholic Church and its many prominent Boston lay supporters, and an extollment, in a very quiet way, of how the profession of journalism can often rise to noble heights.

So yes, I still subscribe to a print newspaper, despite the ever-rising costs, because I know that good work costs money and a great deal of time. Think of all the investigative stories you have read over the years, and the results that ensued. My own paper of choice, The Toronto Star, has a remarkable track record of getting things done, often to the point of affecting both and provincial governments to the point of inspiring remedial legislation in a number of areas.

The battle will never end, as long as we live in such an imperfect world.


  1. The strap was used in my elementary school and high school, Lorne. And, at each report card period, the principal would come in and hand out report cards, while we stood beside the teacher's desk as he read out our failing grades.

    I would not want to return to those days -- having been publicly humiliated a couple of times. Perhaps that's why I became a teacher -- who tried to do things a little differently.

  2. It's hard to believe, isn't it, Owen, the sorts of inhumane practices that once passed for sound pedagogy?

  3. My brother went to an all boys Catholic high school. On his first day of school, a boy in class spoke out of turn. The teacher who was a priest, a very large priest, walked down the isle, took the boy out of his seat, lifted the boy up over his head, walked back to the front of the class, then with all his might threw him against the blackboard. The boy was seriously hurt. The priest was never disciplined. When my brother got home, he told my mother the story and said he wasn't going back. My mother agreed and he transferred to another high school. I don't think today teachers Catholic or otherwise would get away with hitting students. I saw the film Spotlight, I thought it was excellent, with really good actors. The sexual abuse that these priests imposed on children destroyed many of their lives. Children overall are vulnerable, but probably the most vulnerable group of children were the First Nations children when they were forced into Residential Schools and we now know what happened to them. There is something wrong with a society that does not protect its children.

    1. I think part of the problem, as the film points out, Pamela, is that in those days, priests carried much authority that was never questioned. I, for example, don't recall ever telling my parents about the abuse, and I think that kind of silence was the norm. Good for your brother and your mother for reacting as they did.

      Your story just reminded me of something else that happened when I was in Grade Nine. I was having lunch in the cafeteria when one of the boys I knew got up and closed the window. He was immediately pounced upon by a small-statured but vicious priest who struck him repeatedly across the face while screaming at him, "Who the hell do you think you are?" As usual, there were no consequences for the priest.

      God's love was not to be found in that school, but the Old Testament's avenging and vindictive Jehovah surely was.

    2. You're right Lorne that the priest "carried much authority, that was never questioned."Isn't it interesting though that people with that amount of unquestioned authority turned that authority into abusing children. Not all of them of course, but the ones who did had to have been psychologically and morally corrupt. With good priests though there was another interesting side to them that when I got older I liked and learned to appreciate. Remember when your parish priest visited every parishioner once a year. One day, I came home from school and our parish priest was sitting at our kitchen table talking to my mother. My mother had poured him a glass of scotch.I liked the fact that he was having scotch instead of tea. You probably remember that priests could go into bars and drink. I think it made them more approachable. One night my friend and I were at a jazz bar in Toronto, Goerge's Sphagetti House.. The owner came over and asked if we would mind having Father so and so (I can't remember his name) sit with us. We said sure. My friend was still a practicing Catholic, but I wasn't. Some of the best conversations I had were with priests, especially Jesuits, so I wasn't biased. It turned out to be a great conversational evening. This priest also had amazing knowledge about jazz, which I was just getting into at the time. He was intrigued that I had become an atheist and wanted to know more.When the evening ended, we exchanged phone numbers. He called about 2 weeks after and I met him at another jazz bar. We met several times after that always in jazz bars. I never once felt sexually threatened by him. I was in my 20's Then.eventually, I lost touch, but still today I remember him as being one of the most intelligent, interesting men I have ever met.

    3. I did not have any similar experiences, Pamela, but there were three priests in high school that I did respect, in large part because I recall them only hitting a kid once, and, unlike all the others, as I recall they were quite provoked when they did, not that that excused any violence.

      Years later, I did encounter the priest described in my above response to you, the one who brutalized the student who shut the cafeteria window. At the time, I was driving a taxi part-time, and he happened to be one of my fares. His remorseless and joyless approach to life hadn't changed a bit. I asked him if it was true that the Church had eliminated the doctrine of Limbo, the place where unbaptized children spent eternity. He corrected me by saying it had never been a doctrine, merely a 'theological deduction.' I asked him that since this 'theological deduction' had been eliminated, what then happened to babies and fetuses that had not had the benefit of the sacrament of baptism. His chilling and prompt response was, "Hell." I told him I couldn't agree with that, and he told me it was the parents' fault for having not gotten them baptized or for having aborted them.

      Although I had since long drifted away from Catholicism, I knew right then that I would never be back.

  4. That priest sounds like a nasty piece of work!

  5. hi Lorne....welcome back. I thought your story about how you were bullied by your teachers very moving, and I'm sorry you had to endure a nightmare like that one. I also thought your exchange in that taxi to be absolutely mind-blowing. How dare people like that call themselves Christians. Oh well, at least we are making some progress fighting bullying, even if it came too late for me, and it will never be enough...

    1. Thanks for your comments, Simon. Despite our living in a very troubled world that seems to be getting worse all the time, the fact that we have made progress in some areas perhaps can provide us with some hope for the future. I hope the world can last long enough for us to conquer other demons as well.