A victim abused by a Catholic priest, whose story is the focus of Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, says the Vatican is still failing to get a grip on the scandal. Phil Saviano was one of many children repeatedly assaulted by a priest in their home town near Boston in the 1960s and 1970s.
He revealed his ordeal to the Spotlight investigative team of reporters at the Boston Globe some 30 years later. The information handed over by Saviano – played by actor Neal Huff in the film – allowed the newspaper's reporters to uncover explosive evidence the Catholic Church in Boston had covered up abuse by dozens of priests.
The investigation revealed Saviano's case was not an isolated incident – and that other incidents of abuse were being hushed up by senior church officials. The affair has since gone global, with child sexual abuse scandals uncovered in the Catholic Church across the world.
The arrival of Pope Francis as head of the Vatican in 2013, and his call for action on sex abuse in the church, gave hope to some survivors the problem was finally being taken seriously. But Saviano said he's disappointed with what he suggests is a mismatch between the Pope's words and action.
"People who were so hopeful about Pope Francis are starting to wonder 'Jeez, maybe he's no better than his predecessors'," Saviano told Sky News. "It gives you the impression that the Church really devalues children and their vulnerability and that they carry this abuse for the rest of their lives.
"It is a really big problem and I don't see that the Vatican is anywhere near getting a grip on it."
The reporters behind the Boston Globe investigation – played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton – say victims of child abuse have been pleased with the portrayal of the scandal on the big screen. Directed by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight has brought the issue into the public eye again, portraying a newspaper and victims at loggerheads with a Catholic Church intent on hushing abuse up.
Journalist Mike Rezendes, played by Ruffalo, told Sky News: "Their truth was denied for decades. Most of them believed they were alone and somehow at fault for what happened to them. Our work showed there was a systemic problem and it was not their fault and it liberated them to come forward. The movie amplifies that."
Sacha Pfeiffer, played by McAdams, added: "I hope it reminds people that this is why you should buy a newspaper. If you don't have investigative teams doing this work you end up with institutions that are unquestioned and not held to account."
Loyalty to the Church or the victims?
Pope Francis set up the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2014 to look at how children can be protected from paedophiles in the church. Headed by Boston's Cardinal Archbishop, Sean O'Malley, the initiative has been marred by bitter in-fighting.
Earlier this month, British victim Peter Saunders – a vocal critic of the Catholic Church who was abused by two priests as a child – was dismissed as a member of the commission. Saunders told reporters the commission had been "far more loyal to the church than it is to the cause of protecting children".
A committee member, on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian at the time the Commission was "deeply dedicated to the protection of children", adding: "It's not a public relations exercise."