Hollywood and the Catholic Church? Really? Yes, it’s true. Hollywood could learn a few things from the Catholic Church in terms of how it handled or rather mishandled the priest abuse crisis. The same shit storm is coming Hollywood’s way and they are as prepared as the Catholic Church was at the beginning of the new millennium.
I just finished reading Jim McDermott’s excellent article published in the Jesuit magazine America and thought I’d write a post based on the article including my own thoughts about the Harvey Weinstein debacle. McDermott lists five things Hollywood could learn from the Catholic Church. I’m going to use some of them and add a few of my own.
McDermott writes, “It’s just Harvey Weinstein—one horrible, sick person. Except it isn’t” The floodgates have opened and we’re going to learn a lot more about Hollywood culture and its own abuse of power very soon. Just as we did with the Catholic Church in early 2002 when the Boston Globe wrote its first story about Father John Geoghan. Some Catholics in Boston at the time were tempted to argue “Well, it’s just one bad man. The Catholic Church isn’t like that.” We found out quite differently. We found out priest sex abuse wasn’t limited to Boston either. Its northern neighbor, the Diocese of Manchester (NH) was worse given its population size and the relatively fewer number of priests. McDermott concludes the section by writing, “It’s all going to come out.” Hollywood has a choice here just as the Catholic Church did back at the turn of the millennium. It can either let this come out drip by drip or it can put it all out there.
This brings me to my second point. Industry leaders in Hollywood knew about Weinstein and his behavior. They had to have known. They were just to afraid to do anything. Sound familiar Catholics? The bishops knew they had a huge crisis on their hands because good priests like Father Tom Doyle told them so in a 1985 meeting of bishops. But Doyle was ostracized for his speaking truth to power. I suspect the same will happen in Hollywood.
Just as in the Catholic Church, the problem with Hollywood is its culture. It’s an insular one to which only a few, select folks can gain access. But there’s a price to pay for that access. For young women, they were subject to sexual harassment and abuse if they were to gain access. Similarly, Catholic priests and bishops were to shut their mouths if they wanted to climb the ecclesiastical ladder.
Some will argue and I mentioned it in an earlier post, that in an earlier time, such behavior was tolerated even expected. It was boys being boys and considered comical. Not anymore. Excusing decades old behavior isn’t tolerated any longer and shouldn’t be. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. If Hollywood execs want to trot out this lame excuse, they’d better first check how well it worked for the Catholic Church.
Another tempting excuse the Hollywood industry may try is another one the Church still attempts to use. “We’ve paid the victims and we’ve adopted new strict policies. Can we now move on?” No, we can’t the Catholic Church nor Hollywood gets to dictate the terms and the negotiating process for the termination of this crisis. Hollywood will be tarnished by this scandal just as the Catholic Church has lost its status as a cultural pillar. There is no timetable in these sorts of scandals.
If those in charge of Hollywood were smart, they’d learn to cooperate with the media instead of fighting them. Transparency is the best disinfectant, however painful. They can’t run and hide. They certainly can’t deny and they can’t act as if its business as usual.
Can Hollywood learn from the Catholic Church? Time will tell.