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Real Life 'Spotlight' Lawyer Deluged With New Abuse Cases

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian has represented hundreds of survivors of clergy sexual abuse and was featured prominently in the film “Spotlight” – he was played by Stanley Tucci.

Garabedian tells Here & Now’s Robin Young that since “Spotlight” came out, and particularly since it won the award for Best Picture at the Academy Awards on Sunday night, the phones at his Boston law firm have been lighting up with calls from more abuse victims coming forward.

Note: Here & Now reached out to the Boston Archdiocese for comment on our interview with Mitchell Garabedian. Spokesman Terrence Donilon referred us to the below statement from October 2015, as well as to this document that offers a summary of the Boston Archdiocese’s “efforts over more than a decade.”

Interview Highlights: Mitchell Garabedian

On the news in Pennsylvania yesterday that a grand jury concluded 50 priests abused hundreds of children over 40 years, and two bishops led a cover-up

“Well, it’s not surprising at all unfortunately. The cover-up continues, the sexual abuse continues, and there needs to be transparency. There needs to be an independent investigation.”

The abuse is still going on now?

“Oh, I have no doubt that it’s going on. You have an entity which is the most powerful in the world, most influential, has trillions of dollars, they’ve operated through secrecy for centuries.”

After Spotlight won the Oscar for Best Picture on Sunday night, what happened in your office on Monday?

“In my office, my phone was ringing off the hook. Victims were contacting me, survivors were contacting me and even church people were contacting me to let me know that I should continue to do my work.”

You’re talking about current abuse?

“Current abuse. I represent 147 children in Haiti who were sexually abused by Douglas Perlitz, who is not a priest, at his Society of Jesus, a Jesuits-run school, Order of Malta-run school, Fairfield University-run school.”

Is this just an allegation? Has it been tried?

“Well we have 50 cases filed in federal court and earlier I settled 24 of those cases for $12 million and those children were abused up until 2008.”

On the church’s response

“The church’s commission has not done anything. It’s just a PR stunt by the church. What has Cardinal O’Malley done to help victims? He made a statement. They’re not helping victims. How can you possibly trust an entity that has allowed sexual abuse to occur for decades and centuries to be a watchdog over themselves? My first credible case of sexual abuse involves a case when a man was sexually abused from approximately 1938 to 1940 within the Archdiocese of Boston. This case was found credible, he came forward to me last year when he was 89 years old, he told me he wanted to make peace in his life and once he was found credible he faded and passed away.”

You’re calling for an investigation outside of the church.

“There has to be a fully independent entity investigating the church’s activities. They state that they have these programs for the prevention and safety of children within the parish, for instance, but what they don’t tell you is those programs are voluntarily implemented.”

What was it like trying to tell the press about this, and they would not listen?

“There was a culture of secrecy in these cases. The perpetrator tells the victim – the priest tells the victim ‘you better keep this a secret or you’re gonna burn in hell.’ The victim believes that. When the mother goes to the church to report the abuse, they say “we’ll take care of it,’ but they don’t. Then canon law states sexual abuse matters, when looked into, shall be kept secret. So there was this thread of secrecy that perpetuated the sexual abuse, that allowed it to happen and kept the public from knowing it was happening. The movie picks me up three years into my work in obtaining documents. It took me three years of litigation to obtain the documents indicating Cardinal Bernard Law knew that Father Geoghan was sexually molesting children yet he did not want it public. So, there was just this silence written into it.”

What was it like being an outsider in a very religious town with deep ties to the church?

“Oh I was ready to go down with the ship. They were offering me millions of dollars for the Geoghan victims in settlements if my clients would sign confidentiality agreements. My clients would not sign confidentiality agreements, I advised against it. The church knew I was ready to go down with the ship.”

Meaning what?

“This had to be exposed. They could destroy me, or try to destroy me if they wanted to, but this had to be exposed. Any human being would want to expose this.”

But you could not get anyone to listen.

“I would have thought of a way. I was just doing my work, I was building the evidence and eventually, as the movie showed, I could not be ignored.”

You were hounded by individuals defending the church and accused of being a ‘gold-digger,’ taking money from the church like an ATM machine. That must have been tough to hear.

“Well, not really because I knew I was doing the right thing. When you know you’re doing – you’re trying to help other human beings and you’re trying to prevent criminal activity and children being sexually abused, they can throw all the rocks at me they want, it really doesn’t matter.”

Does the success of the film and the attention it has brought help?

“Well, it helps many victims. I’ve gotten many calls from victims who have seen the movie and it has helped empower them, and it has helped other victims to come forward because they finally have the courage because they see that they’re not alone.”

Some have said that the fact the movie won the Oscar has empowered them, because otherwise it would have meant people didn’t think it was true.

“That’s so true, but I’ve also heard from victims say ‘I’m not ready to watch the movie yet, I can’t do it but I will watch it. I just can’t do it.’ Each victim has to proceed at their own pace.”

Have you gotten a better office than what was depicted in the film?

“No, the office they portrayed in the film, kind of, is a much neater than my office actually.”

Statement From The Boston Archdiocese

October 28, 2015 – Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley statement regarding release of Spotlight

The Spotlight film depicts a very painful time in the history of the Catholic Church in the United States and particularly here in the Archdiocese of Boston. It is very understandable that this time of the film’s release can be especially painful for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

The media’s investigative reporting on the abuse crisis instigated a call for the Church to take responsibility for its failings and to reform itself — to deal with what was shameful and hidden — and to make the commitment to put the protection of children first, ahead of all other interests.

We have asked for and continue to ask for forgiveness from all those harmed by the crimes of the abuse of minors. As Archbishop of Boston I have personally met with hundreds of survivors of clergy abuse over the last twelve years, hearing the accounts of their sufferings and humbly seeking their pardon. I have been deeply impacted by their histories and compelled to continue working toward healing and reconciliation while upholding the commitment to do all that is possible to prevent harm to any child in the future.

The Archdiocese of Boston is fully and completely committed to zero tolerance concerning the abuse of minors. We follow a vigorous policy of reporting and disclosing information concerning allegations of abuse. Any suspected case of abuse should be reported to civil authorities and to the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach (866-244-9603 or 617-746-5985).

More information about the protocols and programs run by the Archdiocese to assure safe environments for children and to address the needs of survivors may be found at www.bostoncatholic.org.


  • Mitchell Garabedian, Boston-based attorney who since 1979 has focused on representing victims of sexual abuse.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stanley Tucci (left) plays lawyer Mitchell Garabedian in the film "Spotlight." He's pictured opposite Mark Ruffalo, who plays Boston Globe reporter Mike Rezendes. (Open Road Films)
Stanley Tucci (left) plays lawyer Mitchell Garabedian in the film "Spotlight." He's pictured opposite Mark Ruffalo, who plays Boston Globe reporter Mike Rezendes. (Open Road Films)