Most people assume that, when a perpetrator fondles or otherwise sexually abuses a child, the child will immediately report the incident to his or her parents or to another trusted adult or Sunday School teacher. Generally speaking, this is not the case. Most children, especially those who have not been prepared to respond to abuse, say nothing, being confused, ashamed, and in a state of shock. Further, should the child report the abuse, it is assumed that parents and church leaders will sound the alarm and contact the police. Generally, this also not the case.
To better understand the insidious nature of child abuse and why church leaders need to instruct parents how to safeguard their children, be vigilant in an age of widespread abuse, and be prepared to act, we suggest that elders view and discuss together the following two films about the the sexual abuse of children. They refer to the sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy and its coverup by the Catholic Church, but both films have direct application for our churches as well.
The first film is Hand of God. It is a documentary about the life of Paul Cultrera. He grew up in the 1950s in an Italian parish in Salem, Massachusetts. A Catholic priest befriended him and sexually abused him. The consequences for Paul have been lifelong. The film tells his story and failed attempt in the late 1990s to confront the Catholic Church.
The second film is titled Spotlight. It is a docudrama about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church that began in 2001. The series of articles released by the paper resulted in the exposure of child sexual abuse by clergy worldwide and the criminal prosecution of tens of thousands of priests.
Hand of God and Spotlight contain explicit verbal references to sexual acts, vulgar language, and the taking of the Lord’s name in vain. We do not recommend these films for Christian entertainment or viewing by children, but for viewing by mature Christians seeking to better understand how sexual abuse harms children and spreads like a cancer when religious leaders don’t believe victims and turn a blind eye toward the crime.
Hand of God is part of the PBS Frontline documentary series. This film is available for free viewing online at PBS.org from within the United States. For viewing outside the US, the video may be purchased directly from PBS.