"Spotlight" reporter Sacha Pfeiffer delivers keynote at Bivona Child Abuse Summit

Apr 27, 2017

Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer
Credit WXXI News

A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist whose reporting  was the subject of the 2015 film "Spotlight" was the keynote speaker today at the Bivona Child Abuse Summit in Rochester.

Sacha Pfeiffer was part of the Boston Globe's Spotlight investigative team that uncovered decades of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston.

Some of the survivors who divulged the details of their abuse to Pfeiffer had not revealed their stories for decades, even to spouses or other family members.

"We were very worried that our reporting, and later the movie, might make people somehow feel re-victimized or re-traumatized,” she said, “But I was so glad that I think it almost across the board it had the opposite effect. It made people feel like finally their stories were being told, finally they don't have to be ashamed, finally they don't have to keep the secret anymore, and finally the church is being held accountable, so I think it was an empowering thing for most of them."

Pfeiffer has kept in touch with some of the survivors she interviewed for the 2002 reports. One of them, Joe Crowley, told Pfeiffer that when he was a teen questioning his sexual identity, he attended counseling sessions with a priest who ended up sexually abusing him.  Crowley died earlier this month at the age of 58.

“He had heart failure and respiratory failure, in part exacerbated by years of heavy smoking and drinking,” Pfeiffer said. “It was really a sad, somber reminder again of how this still plays out. I think he died young, in part, because of what happened to him as a teenager."

But Pfeiffer also remembers Crowley’s sense of humor. “You would think after that happened to you, how could you be funny?” she said. “I’m sure in some ways, it was a coping mechanism, but he was, to me, the embodiment of resilience. Something can happen to you that is so damaging but you are determined to survive and try to find humor in the world. And that was Joe. He was hilarious and he was wonderful.”

Pfeiffer said the Globe's investigative reporting and the subsequent film made other sexual abuse survivors feel like they could come forward. She spoke at the Bivona Child Abuse Summit to more than 700 attendees from throughout the northeast - social workers, prosecutors, mental health professionals, and others who work in child abuse prevention and treatment.