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Q&A: ‘Spotlight’ Screenwriter Josh Singer Discusses Papal Commission

Josh Singer earned his first Oscar nomination for original screenplay (with director Tom McCarthy) of “Spotlight.” The pair spent countless hours of research to craft the story of the Boston Globe journalists who investigated the cover-up of child sex abuse within the Catholic church. Singer, who is also favored to win the WGA Award this weekend, spoke to Variety at this week’s Oscar luncheon about the worldwide effect their film is having.

How did you find out about the Oscar nominations?
I won’t lie, my wife and I got up early. I was obviously nervous about screenwriting but wanted to see how we would do across the board. I was thinking if we got five it would be a pretty good morning. And we got six.

You share writing with Tom McCarthy, but he didn’t intend on being a co-writer at first?
Right, originally Tom wasn’t going to be a co-writer and we started going to Boston together for research. I love collaborating. Tom’s a great writer and a great guy so I’ll always enjoy spending time with him. Three or four months in he said, “Do you have any interest in writing this with me?” And I said, “We basically already are!”

The film is being seen everywhere; it screened last week for a Vatican commission on clerical sex abuse.
There’s been some interesting developments there. Pope Francis had created this commission in 2014, the Papal Commission for the Protection of Minors. He created it in 2014 and put two survivors on the commission; Peter Saunders is one of them. They screened our film at the top of the session on Thursday, which was terrific. Less terrific is that Peter Saunders has been pushed out of the commission because he was agitating for too much change. I think he was pushing the Pope to do more. One can read this several different ways but I have a real concern that this commission is a bit of a straw dog — it’s not actually affecting change, it’s just there for show. I think we all need to bring more pressure on the church to do more because I think they have not done nearly enough to protect children.

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Did they give a reason for pushing him out?
They said he was perhaps more comfortable as an advocate as opposed to an adviser. And I understand it’s an advisory committee. But things he was advocating are things we all should want. The Pope announced there was going to be this tribunal to hold bishops accountable and yet hasn’t actually created the tribunal. Peter Saunders asked why. The Pope elevated a bishop in Chile and there are allegations he was involved in enabling and actually participating in a child abuse scandal involving a priest named Karadima. And the Pope has made some not-so-great comments about this when people have protested, calling people leftist and dumb. Peter Saunders asked why hasn’t he said more and why has this bishop been allowed to maintain this position? These are both good questions, I think. I was deeply disheartened to see Saunders pushed off that commission. If we don’t have our survivors speaking for other survivors and children, I think that’s a problem.

That’s disappointing, as I feel this Pope has done some good things.
I love what the Pope’s done, what he’s said about climate change and he’s been wonderful on so many issues. But this is a huge issue and it’s one that is actually within his power. It’s somewhat unfathomable to me why he isn’t taking more action here. This is something he actually has control over.

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