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'Spotlight' Oscar Win Cheered by Chicago-Based Sex Abuse Survivor Group

By Kelly Bauer | February 29, 2016 11:40am | Updated on February 29, 2016 11:49am
"Spotlight" has been heralded by a Chicago-based group that works to expose pedophile priests.
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CHICAGO — A Chicago-based group that has fought to expose pedophile priests for years is heralding "Spotlight," the film that won best picture at the Academy Awards this year.

In a statement released Sunday even before "Spotlight," which focuses on a team of Boston Globe reporters working to expose the abuse scandal, won the Oscar, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests founder Barbara Blaine said: "kids are the real winners."

"They are safer because the movie Spotlight has prompted hundreds of thousands to think, talk and take action about child sex crimes and cover ups, even or especially in trusted institutions," she said.

"These adults are more careful now with babysitters. They are more attentive to changes in kids’ behavior. They more skeptical about claims by officials about alleged 'openness,' 'care' and 'prudence' about kids’ safety.

"We are deeply, deeply grateful for this fact. As a result, more children will be protected. As a result, more victims will be believed and more crimes will be prevented," said Blaine in the statement.

SNAP was started by Blaine, a clergy abuse survivor, in 1991 and members held their first meeting at a Holiday Inn in Chicago. After the Boston Globe began publishing stories about pedophile priests in 2002, SNAP saw more and more survivors coming forward and the group eventually opened its national office in Chicago, according to its website.

Blaine was abused by a priest when she was about 12 in 1969 in her hometown of Toledo, Ohio. The priest wasn't removed from active service until 1992 when she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in Chicago, she has said.

Blaine has worked as a social worker and a children's rights attorney. Her resume lists a master of divinity degree from Catholic Theological Seminary in Chicago and a law degree from DePaul University School of Law. As a lawyer, she worked for the Cook County Public Guardian's office.

The Globe's effort helped keep SNAP alive, the group says.

SNAP had considered closing its doors before the Globe's stories were published, co-founder David Clohessy recently told the Morning Call. The investigation into what was happening in Boston sparked investigations throughout the United States, Saviano said, bringing more attention and inquiries to the Chicago group.

"Virtually overnight, we went from a group that couldn't get its phone calls returned to being a group that couldn't return its phone calls," Clohessey said.

On Sunday, the stars of the film were among those who joined Blaine and other SNAP members at a protest at a Los Angeles Catholic church, one of several demonstrations across the country aimed at bringing more attention to the sex abuse problem.

 Barbara Blaine, founder of the the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. is seen in this file photo from 2005.
Barbara Blaine, founder of the the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. is seen in this file photo from 2005.
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"We wanted to use this moment with all of the attention on the movie 'Spotlight' because that movie tells our stories and gets it right. Every Catholic should see this film," said Blaine, according to the Los Angeles Times.

SNAP has curated stories and reports about the movie, setting up a special section on its website. In the film, a Massachusetts SNAP chapter is portrayed helping the Globe reporters — and asking them why it took so long to dig into the abuse allegations. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago praised "Spotlight," saying the film "portrays the important work of journalists and covers a painful time in the Church’s history." In an unusual move, church officials met with the editorial boards of the city's two daily newspapers in October ahead of the movie's release.

Vicar General Ronald Hicks told the Sun-Times that "Chicago is extremely different in handling the case of clerical sexual abuse of minors than Boston and how it's being portrayed in the movie." He said the archdiocese has acted on six priests accused of molestation since 1992. In the church's history, there have been 385 substantiated allegations of abuse against 65 priests, the Sun-Times reported. 

"The Archdiocese of Chicago has been a leader in victim assistance for decades and we remain committed to being vigilant in protecting children and preventing future abuse," an Archdiocesan spokesperson said in a statement. "We hope the film encourages survivors of abuse to come forward for the help and healing they deserve."

Blaine is still unsatisfied with the way the Catholic church handles accusations of sexual misconduct.

"We believe it's still ongoing," she said in an interview with WHCR radio in New York in connection with the film, saying that conditions are ripe for sexual abuse in any environment "where there is a unbridled authority without accountability."

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