Local audiences may recognize the name “John D’Arcy” in one of the most pivotal scenes of “Spotlight,” nominated for six Academy Awards. A Fort Wayne native who lives in New York City, I felt soaring pride that former Bishop D’Arcy fought against sexual abuse in his beloved Catholic Church.
When visiting, I often attended D’Arcy’s Christmas Eve mass at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. Raised Methodist, I respected him, even though I disagreed with his conservative politics. During the Oscars, I will celebrate D’Arcy and his brief mention in “Spotlight,” the story of a Boston Globe reporting team. Gently paced, the film exploded when Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) opened sealed documents containing damning evidence against the church.
Breathless, Rezendes read to fellow reporters a 1984 letter recommending the removal of a predatory priest with a “history of homosexual involvement with young boys.”
D’Arcy, then Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, was the concerned author. In this spectacular scene, Ruffalo finally lost impartiality and shouted to his editor: “We gotta nail these scum bags! We gotta to show people that nobody can get away with this. Not a priest or a cardinal or a freaking pope!”
After the article, more victims came forward. Secondary victims often included clergy, parents, and even lawyers stuck with the unimaginable weight of staying silent in fear of the Catholic Church. I’m not here to single out religious organizations as tyrants. In Michigan, state officials knew that changing Flint’s water source from Lake Heron to the Flint River could be dangerous. But they did it anyway.
After 9/11, the Environmental Protection Agency swore New York air was safe. Yet thousands of Ground Zero responders and others continue to be diagnosed with cancer. In such cases, it’s easy to wonder why no one took action. My guess is many of us have worked in similar demoralizing situations. In fear-based regimes, which are as numerous as the stars, shame is an art form of highly skilled leaders.
That’s why D’Arcy is a hero in the movie and in real life. But back in 1984, I imagine D’Arcy didn’t feel bold when his letters were buried. In fact, D’Arcy found himself transferred to the Midwest, where he was promoted to Bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Far from his home in Massachusetts, he remained in Indiana until his death in 2013.
His obituary appeared in The New York Times, hailing him as a whistleblower, unusual for an authority in his prestigious position. After viewing Spotlight two more times, I wondered why none of my Fort Wayne friends noticed D’Arcy’s role in the film. One of the movie’s themes is that it takes an outsider to see the obvious.
Now 41, I spent my first two decades in Fort Wayne and the last 20 years in big cities. From my distant Manhattan apartment, I am in awe of D’Arcy, Fort Wayne’s adopted son. You should be, too.
New York City