Sex abuse survivors get to see their story
Tonight victims of clergy sexual abuse and their advocates will have the chance to see how the television industry has dramatized the events that rocked the Boston archdiocese and led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. ''Our Fathers," a two-hour movie made for the cable network Showtime, is set primarily in Boston and includes the real names and stories of local victims. Christopher Plummer stars as Law and Ted Danson plays Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian.
A group of survivors will get to see the movie tonight in a special invitation-only screening at Faneuil Hall. It will air on television for a broader audience May 21 at 8 p.m. ''We are illuminating the truth," says one of the film's producers, David Kennedy, who believes he and other Catholics were ''betrayed" by church officials. ''Let this film be a lesson so it never happens again."
The Globe and its reporting are dramatized in the movie, which is based on ''Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal," a book by David France. The Globe did not participate in the screenplay or filming.
Based on the reaction of two survivors portrayed in the film who saw advance copies, ''Our Fathers" may leave some people dissatisfied because it focuses heavily on Garabedian and the events he set in motion when he sued the archdiocese on behalf of some victims.
It also takes artistic license in portraying behind-the-scenes conversations.
Bernie McDaid, a Peabody-based survivor who is portrayed in the film, commends Showtime for being the first to dramatize the events.
Still, he feels that abuse survivors like him are positioned as a back story.
''The movie is about Bernie Law and attorney Garabedian," he says. ''You look at that and go, 'Whoa! Wait a minute."'
''I understand that the producers had a lot to say in a two-hour frame. Still, I feel unfinished by this event. They robbed my soul. The church owes me my soul back. . . . There's all this focus on Bernie Law and the attorneys. What about the guys sitting at home?"
Olan Horne, a Lowell-based survivor who is also portrayed in the film, agrees. ''There should have been more emphasis on the survivor community," he says.
To be sure, ''Our Fathers" does have a number of powerful scenes dramatizing priests as they prey on children. Those victims are later portrayed as troubled adults.
Kennedy, who couldn't be reached late yesterday to comment specifically on the remarks by McDaid and Horne, said in an interview last week that focusing heavily on pedophilia by priests would be too ''tabloid" and that the real story was the church coverup, which ''ruined" thousands of lives.
''This story is as much about pedophilia as Watergate was just about a burglary," he says.
Dan Curtis, who directed the film, came to Boston last summer to survey the city and meet with Garabedian, whom he offered an onscreen part as a fictional bishop. (Garabedian said yesterday that he doesn't remember the offer but he would have probably declined).
Curtis says he was concerned about using real names in the film.
''I didn't want to hurt them any more than they'd been hurt," he says. ''But they asked us to name them. They wanted their story told."
Horne is one such survivor. His amazing face-to-face confrontation with Law in the cardinal's residence is dramatized in the film. In real life, Horne and another survivor had an appointment with Law. In the movie, Horne just barges into Law's home by himself.
''When we met with Law, our intention was to give him a firsthand account of our dysfunctional lives so he could understand the size of this problem," says Horne.
In that meeting, Horne says he told Law he didn't know how to address him because he couldn't bring himself to call him by his official church titles. ''So I called him Bernie," he says.
In another incident drawn from his life, Horne says the film portrays an angry confrontation he had at a local store when a worker approached him, laughing, and made a vulgar gesture. ''I was sick and tired of explaining that this wasn't an act of sex when I was a child," he says.
Horne added that because of the stigma attached to sexual abuse, he's relieved to see the story finally come to the screen. ''I have family members who still have difficulty discussing this. There are a lot of hushed tones behind my back," he says. ''I know people ask, 'Did it really happen?' We're still talking about the wrong issues.
''As much as people may argue about the details, they can't argue that the film leaves you thinking if A and B had happened, maybe C wouldn't have happened."
Suzanne Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org