The film “Spotlight” will be available for rent on February 23. I am eagerly looking forward to viewing it. The film was only shown once in the UAE and that was at the Dubai Film Festival. The viewing was at an hour which was passed my bedtime, so I wasn’t able to see it! Everyone I know who has seen the film has really liked it, and it has won several awards.
We Protestants are living through our own version of “Spotlight.” In the last few weeks, TIME and the Washingtonian have published stories detailing the sexual abuse scandal in the Sovereign Grace Churches denomination. A few men have been convicted of crimes and there are several more men that should face criminal charges for their participation in the sexual abuse scandal and resulting conspiracy to cover-up the abuse. Not unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the “priests” of the Neo-Calvinist wing of American Evangelicalism have largely remained silent, and some continue to participate in conferences with C.J. Mahaney, the former “Pope” if you will, of the Sovereign Grace denomination.
A few days ago a man named Danny Murphy contacted me. He had been reading some of our posts and thought I would be interested in reading a blog post he had authored. I clicked on the link he provided and read his story. Indeed, I did find it very interesting. I emailed Danny back and asked his permission to reproduce his story on this blog. He was kind enough to grant me permission.
Danny is about my age and grew up in Boston. He lived through the era which the film “Spotlight” was based on and he knew some of the victims of sexual abuse and also one of the pedophile priests. Thank God Danny was not victimized. I am also happy Danny has shared his story, it gives us further insight into how a criminal predator operates. We all need to be vigilant to guard the welfare of not only our children but also the children in our community.
The story of a priest, a boy, and a soccer ball.
To my surprise, Talbot and B.C. High were featured prominently in the film. Jack Dunn, who graduated a year after me and who worked in Public Relations for the school at the time the scandal was breaking, was portrayed. He has claimed in news stories that the depiction of him in the movie was very unfair. Walter Robinson, the editor played by Michael Keaton, was a B. C. High graduate as well.
Father Talbot was an impressive soccer coach. Although I never took any of his classes, I heard he was an effective teacher. In 1978, he starred in the senior play and he was hilarious. Talbot had a simple policy about who could join the soccer team. Anyone who was willing to do the work – and it was a lot of work – could play. Although I wasn’t much of an athlete, I was on the J.V. team for two years.
Most of the players on the team had never even kicked a soccer ball till they got to high school. We competed and did well against teams where the boys had been playing since they’d learned to walk. Fr. Talbot frequently told us we might encounter teams with more talent and skill, but we would never run into a team that was in better shape than we were.
Talbot’s nickname was Mad Dog, and everyone in the school knew there was something off about him. Among other things, he wanted his players to play aggressively. It was one more way to get an edge against more talented teams. Mad Dog ran what he called “aggression drills” in practices. Those drills involved two players wrestling in the dirt or the mud for a soccer ball. Most of the players did turn out to be aggressive on the field.
During the off-season, there were workouts in the locker room. In the sessions I went to, there were eight players, or so, in gym shorts and tee shirts. Sometimes we put on gloves and headgear, and we boxed. More frequently, we engaged in a form of fighting Mad Dog referred to as “street fighting.” It involved wrestling, punching to the body, and open-handed slapping to the face.
Wrestling mats were laid out on the floor and we all paired off, four players on one side and four on the other. You would fight one guy for a minute or two, switch spots and fight the next guy. Sometimes Mad Dog was right in there with us. Sooner or later, everybody ended up fighting him too.
I’m 5’6″ and Mad Dog was a bit shorter. However, he was quite strong, and he knew how to wrestle. When I got paired up with him, he took it easy on me at first. When I saw an opening, I wound up and smacked him on the cheek, which was allowed by his rules. The locker room got quiet. After a moment of silence, Mad Dog said, “It’s not nice to hit a priest.” Then he pretty much wrapped me up like a pretzel.
I heard about summer sessions where the street fighting was in jock straps. I also heard about Mad Dog fighting guys in private in the locker room. I never was invited to any of those summer sessions or to go one-on-one with him in the locker room. Maybe I wasn’t his type, or maybe I was just lucky.
I once had a conversation with a tough kid who had been down to the locker room for a private session with Mad Dog. When I asked him how it had gone, he quietly said, “He screwed me.” At the time I assumed he meant that Mad Dog had kicked his butt. I didn’t ask for details or clarification. It was spooky though – a haunting conversation from decades ago that I never have forgotten.
As I’ve already mentioned, everyone in the school, students and faculty, knew that Mad Dog Talbot was whacked out. His superiors had to have some idea of how whacked out he was. However, nobody put a stop to him. Instead of protecting the young men at that school, Mad Dog’s superiors protected their predator, their church, and themselves.
They took a road too frequently traveled. After trouble of some kind arose, they shipped him off to another school in Maine where he committed more crimes. That was part of his undoing because the clock on the statute of limitations (thirty-six months) for his crimes in Massachusetts stopped ticking when he moved out of the state.
From what I understand, in Mad Dog’s case, a lot of the evidence of his crimes was in his personnel files. The church fought hard not to give those up. In 2005, shortly after Suffolk Superior Court ordered the church to turn the files over, Talbot pleaded guilty. He was then sentenced to five to seven years.
Fr. James Talbot, S.J., was a popular teacher. The teams he coached won consistently. On the other hand, he was Mad Dog, a pathological predator dressed up as a priest.