In most movies, the star is often an attention-seeking glory-hound. Following the trail of the award-winning Mea Maxima Culpa, Silence in the House of God (2012), Spotlight has a supremely talented cast who subsume individual ego to tell a story of group achievement. And despite a lack of conspicuous melodrama or cinematic trickery, this film feels authentic, where the police and the priests are as thick as thieves and entire communities become complicit behind the dogged silence of religious omertá.
About half of the priesthood in the Catholic Church, it is said, are celibate. Those who are not discreetly bend the rules with housekeepers, congregants and others sworn to absolute secrecy. A very small minority break the law by self-gratification with minors, so much so that it has become a caricature. The film tells the story of how such activities were covered up behind smoke and mirrors by the Church hierarchy, whose duplicity extended right to the top of the organization and its appalling extent uncovered by a team of investigators from the Boston Globe. The very ordinariness of the cast, the tedium of the legwork and the deep conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy is hardly Oscar-fodder. It was like All The President’s Men, but the target was an infinitely more powerful organization. It’s a grown up, serious film, leaving us with the uncomfortable realization that some suspicions are not better off being dismissed. The Vatican’s policy of “deny, minimise and blame” was systematic, endemic and ubiquitous.
The church – in the lower-case sense – has acted as the bedrock of European and American jurisprudence for centuries, whether or not we like it much. We owe our culture, our morality to her, despite her manifold, often deeply embarrassing lapses and her authoritarian dominance. Or, we have until now. Perhaps Spengler was right a hundred years ago in prophesying that Europe was moving inexorably towards its end as the blooming Renaissance must ultimately give way to ossified, bureaucratic regulation and the twenty-first century religion of human rights inexorably supersedes belief. The philosopher Roger Scruton quite properly calls it a religion because ‘it is designed expressly to fill the hole in people’s worldview that is left when religion is taken away or, better, declines in popularity. The notion of a ‘human right’ purports to offer a template for moral opinions, for legal precepts, for policies designed to establish order in places where people are in competition and conflict.’ However, in itself, it is without foundations, a house built on sand. If you ask what religion commands or forbids, you usually get a clear answer in terms of God’s revealed law or the magisterium of the church. If you ask what rights are human or natural or fundamental, you get a different answer depending on whom you ask, and nobody seems to agree about how conflicts can be resolved; argument, however well-reasoned, is no substitute for a certainty upon which one can build. Furthermore, we no longer dare ask, since in so doing, somebody, whether a Muslim, pro-choice, or LGBT, howls in protest. We are no longer allowed to ‘discriminate’ when all human reason cries out that we do. Imagine a Muslim shopkeeper living in Brussels employing a Jew because he recognizes the man’s accounting skills. No, he employs his nephew because he wants to keep it in the family. But the idea of meaningless human rights leaves the Muslim no alternative but to dismiss the secular law and its cultural imperatives as an impertinent attempt by mankind to usurp a privilege which is God’s alone: the privilege of guiding us to our salvation. As secularism continues to grow, there will be fewer and fewer who will push back against it since the behemoth of political correctness that it has become is simply too large to topple. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is unassailable, applying equally to both energy and political systems. Entropy, or degree of disorder, always increases but can be made to decrease within a closed system; order in the sheepfold is maintained. The policy of the EU, and indeed the US under Obama, has been to dissolve borders and renounce the use of force. This has created an open system without the resources to counter the increase in entropy pouring in from outside its borders. The Catholic Church contained its internal chaos by creating a closed, impenetrable system. Its principles were enshrined behind walls of silent, sacramental immutability. Europe has no such luxury.