The two institutions that have most shaped my life – journalism and the Catholic Church – collide in the stunning film, Spotlight. It is the story of the investigative reporting team whose reporters uncovered the systematic cover-up of sexual abuse of children by priests in the archdiocese of Boston. The film is up for five Academy Awards, including best picture.
The Globe’s exposé was published in early 2002. But nine months before, in March 2001, the Boston Phoenix, the alternative weekly, published its story, “Cardinal sin,” which explored in depth allegations that Cardinal Bernard Law was complicit in the abuse cover-up. Kristen Lombardi wrote that first story, and continued her reporting, writing eight stories in all. The Globe’s reporting did not acknowledge her work.
Lombardi lacked the resources of The Globe and was largely working alone, although guided by her editors. But Lombardi, then a young and relatively green reporter, did her best. Her role was consigned to only a throw-away line in the film, when a reporter from The Globe describes the Phoenix as a weak and under-resourced rival that “nobody reads.”
Others have noted The Globe’s dismissal of Lombardi’s contribution. In 2012, media critic Jim Romenesko posted a letter from Susan Ryan-Vollmar on his popular website. Ryan-Vollmar, Lombardi’s editor at the Phoenix, chided The Globe for not acknowledging Lombardi’s ground-breaking work. Ryan-Vollmar praised The Globe’s “phenomenal” coverage, but wondered why the paper seemed determined to take “100 percent of the credit,” unwilling to concede even ten percent to the stories the Phoenix published.
Boston Magazine revisited the credit controversy last fall, when Spotlight premiered.
Despite not getting the credit she deserved, Lombardi went on to become an accomplished investigative reporter. She earned a Nieman journalism fellowship for study at Harvard University and several national journalism awards. She’s now a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity.
I interviewed Lombardi for my forthcoming book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope. Like so many of the reporters in the film, Lombardi was born and raised Catholic. She went to Mass with her family, made her First Communion and was confirmed.