Blogs by Marc S. Miller


I recently had the opportunity to see the newly released movie “Spotlight”. 

It is the true story of how the Boston Globe newspaper uncovered the massive scandal of child molestations and coverup within the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston 

The movie “Spotlight” takes its name from the name of the independent group of 4 investigative reporters – working autonomously within the Globe. 

In existence since the 1970s, this group can spend months on a single story, which they choose amongst themselves. They seek big picture issues – outside of normal news cycles. In the late 1990’s they found one. Or one found them. Their coverage and the resultant exposure resulted in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law in 2002 and sent shockwaves around the world reaching the Vatican. 

The “Spotlight” group found that there was a systemic cover up by senior church officials who knew about the charges of molestations and who, rather than confronting the problem and try to stop it, they condoned the acts and chose to re-assign or transfer the culprit priests from Parish to Parish within the Archdiocese. 

Under the direction of the newly hired editor-in-chief, the Spotlight group was told to broaden their case and shift their focus from one Priest named by a victim – to finding out about the existence of the anticipated many more priests and instances of cover-ups. Finding hardcopy “Annual Directories” – listing every priest in Boston and that person’s status, they began a line-by-line review of each year’s Directory. Using the names of the known suspected priests they found that their status was listed in the Annual Directory as “inactive” with a reasons as either “on leave”, “sick”, “transferred”, or “emergency response”. 

The Hollywood film showed a series of scenes showing each of the 4 members going thru the Directories and building a list.
The team developed a database (looked to be a chart – maybe in excel – in the movie) to track all the assignment’s of the Clergy. The database identified 102 priests who were place on “sick leave” or otherwise removed from parish assignments in the early to mid 1990. They had 6 weeks to identify and corroborate their findings – before the Editor-in-Chief would allow the results to be printed in the newspaper. 

While watching I realized – “If Only…….” 

If the Archdiocese of Massachusetts had electronic files – or even any kind of “personnel record keeping – or even an HRIS, and IF the Globe was granted access to them (highly unlikely), or IF the Boston Globe had anything reassembling an ad-hoc report writer under any kind of HR technology – this multi-week exercise (as shown in the movie) would have been a simple task. With basic data entry, the Spotlight team would be able to generate reports of the status of any priest over any timeframe. 

Either way. What took weeks could have been accomplished in mere days – or within minutes after data input was complete. Certainly an “if only“ musing on my part. 

Their data analysis led them to confirm the individual Priests and gain further corroboration from lawyers and others sources that convinced the Editor-in-Chief to release into print the lead article in Boston Globe’s edition on January 6, 2002. 

Cardinal Law, the head of the Boston Archdiocese resigned his position in December of that same year. 

Thus, IF an HRIS/HCM/HRMS software application – a delivered Master file, with status codes, effective dates and with an un- adorned ad hoc report writer/search capability had been on hand and available, then it is reasonable to suggest that the “spotlight” on these despicable men would have shined much sooner. 

An HR Technology – IF ONLY there was one in place – might have shared a few rays of the spotlight, in support of an already brilliant true story of investigative reporting – and a fabulous movie as well. Look for it at “Oscar Awards” time. 

Happy Holidays to all my colleagues in HR and HR Technology. 

Marc S. Miller
December 10, 2015

more insights