Luck

Father James Talbot is a central figure in “Spotlight,” the tremendous new film about the investigative unit at the Boston Globe that uncovered the Catholic Church’s systemic sex abuse scandal in Boston. Talbot was a priest, teacher, and coach at Boston College High School, and later at a Catholic high school in Portland, Maine.

In one scene in “Spotlight,” a Boston Globe reporter meets an old B.C. High classmate — “Kevin from Providence” — in a restaurant. Finding it difficult to be anything but direct, the reporter opens their lunch with: “I wanted to talk to you about Father Talbot.” The classmate’s face freezes with startled incredulity. “How did you find out? I never even told my wife.”

In real life, this classmate’s name is Jim Scanlan. In the wake of the movie, Scanlan bravely spoke on the record to the Providence Journal “to make sure people understand it’s nothing to be ashamed of — that the bad guys are the ones, they’re the criminals.”

Of Talbot’s methods, Scanlon recounts:

“He was a hockey and a soccer coach, a teacher and a priest.” He encouraged boys to “toughen up” at after-school and weekend wrestling sessions he conducted. Talbot often instructed the athletes to strip down to their jockstraps and wrestled one-on-one with them, Scanlan says.
“It was, ‘Let’s have a few beers. Let’s do this.’ And then it was always with a group of people — until one Saturday, it wasn’t,” says Scanlan. “That’s when he attacked me.” There were two incidents: that rape and a separate sexual assault…

In the movie, the Globe journalist confronts a second former classmate, who has become an official at B.C. High:

“[Kevin] said he always wondered why Talbot picked him. I ran track. Did you play a sport?”
“Yeah. Football. Why?”
“Kevin played hockey. Father Talbot coached the hockey team. So I guess we just got lucky. You and me.”

In January 2005, James Talbot was sentenced to 5–7 years in prison after pleading guilty to rape, assault with intent to rape, and three counts of assault and battery. During his legal proceedings, he admitted to assaulting more than 80 victims in Boston and Maine between 1970 and 1998.

It is impossible for me to describe the chill I felt down mine spine when Talbot’s face — his real face — flashed on the screen in the form of a picture from a genuine B.C. High School yearbook. That is because, for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Father Talbot was my priest, and I was his altar boy.

Talbot did not abuse me. Like the Globe reporter, I guess I was just lucky. Plainly, simply, life-makingly lucky.

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