Spotlight: An Afternoon with Michael Rezendes
As the spotlight in Suffolk University’s Modern Theater shined down on humble Michael Rezendes last Thursday, one would never guess that this modest man is one of the most renowned Boston-based journalists within the past 30 years.
Wearing a conventional suit and sitting cross-legged in a brown leather chair, Rezendes’s calm and collected manner helped set the stage for the presentation of his team’s transformative story.
Rezendes, a Boston Globe investigative journalist and Spotlight team member, appeared at Suffolk’s Modern Theater for a viewing of Tom McCarthy’s film Spotlight, followed by a Q & A about working in the journalism field.
“I don’t think what we do is cinematic,” said Rezendes. “We sit around with coffee stained desks, biting the fat, reading court cases, and [we thought] ‘someone wants to make a movie about this, really?’”
Spotlight, which began filming in 2008, accurately depicts the 5-month investigation that uncovered the child sex abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. The Boston Globe published the story exposing the church’s efforts to cover up these abuses in 2002. The exposition of former priest John Geoghan, among nearly ninety others, not only led to Pulitzer Prize praise, but sparked horror and anger among church-goers.
One of the key elements that went into the crafting of the film was that it remained unglamorous. Rezendes believes that the life of a journalist is not stylish and perfect, but that the aspects which make reporting mucky reveal a journalist’s passion for the work he or she pursues.
“The movie shows what the work is really like,” said Rezendes. “It shows us as being imperfect and not as superheroes.”
Despite award-winning honors, the motivation behind Rezendes and the rest of the spotlight team was to bring justice to those who had been neglected, wronged, and pushed into the shadows for many exhausting years.
“The stories of survivors were heartbreaking,” said Rezendes. “They made me angry and want to get to the truth.”
Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, along with other members of the Arch Dieses of Boston, covered up these abuse cases. Rezendes and his team uncovered this by comprehensive investigative reporting and reading through court cases, but one particular moment sticks out the most in Rezendes’s mind.
While looking through endless stacks of church directories to reveal the names of priest who were unassigned or on sick leave, he found that Geoghan, a serial child molester, was based at Saint Julius Parish. As his eyes scanned across the dotted line, Rezendes read that Geoghan was in charge of overseeing altar boys. Rezendes was in complete disbelief of what the Arch Dieses had knowledge of and let happen regardless.
Recalling how the clergy sex abuse scandal affected his faith as a whole, Rezendes says there were many things he loved about growing up Catholic and attending church. After uncovering the truth, Rezendes said he feels so much animosity towards the church that he can never go back. He reflects on the scene of himself standing on a porch with fellow spotlight team member Sacha Pfeiffer, expressing his anger about how the church could cover up something so greatly tragic.
“After seeing the wall of lies,” said Rezendes, “I know I can’t go back.”
Students had the opportunity, along with panelists Dr. Robert Rosenthal and Professor Bruce Butterfield, to pose questions about the investigation, film, and journalism field itself. Rezendes said that during the age of journalism in the digital era, it is important to stick to old school methods and meet with people face-to-face.
“Everybody wants to talk and everybody wants to tell their story,” said Rezendes. “You have to know when to just let people go, and sometimes, you’ll learn something you didn’t know before. You need to be a good listener.”
Rezendes believes that if reporters continue to work hard that journalists can make the world a better place.
“We have to as a people and as a planet,” he said.
Rezendes, born and raised in Bangor, Maine, realized that journalism was the career for him when he was graduating with an English major at Boston University. He volunteered at the East Boston Community News while in college, and was even offered an editing position after graduation.
“I loved the spirit of the place,” he said.
Shortly after finishing college, Rezendes moved on to other publications including the Boston Phoenix, San Jose Mercury News, and The Washington Post. Eventually finding his way to The Boston Globe, he is proud that the current Spotlight team is being recognized for their dedication to hard journalism.
“I’m a paid skeptic, but I’m not cynical,” said Rezendes. “I think [journalism] is a calling. You do it because you believe in it, because you want to do it.”