The journalist who broke the story of child sexual abuse at Mount Cashel Orphanage says the Oscar-winning movie Spotlight brings back both painful memories and a sense of pride in a style of investigative journalism that no longer exists.

Michael Harris published the story alleging sexual and physical abuse of children by Irish Christian Brothers on Easter Sunday, 1989 in the St. John's newspaper, The Sunday Express.

Harris said he's lived through the experience depicted in Spotlight and the movie was a powerful and accurate portrayal.

"One of the reasons I so admired the film was it's a movie I've seen before, and Newfoundlanders have seen before, in Mount Cashel," he said.

"It's one of those rare times when a complex subject that cries out for sensitivity got it in spades."

A scene from Spotlight

A scene from Spotlight. (Left to right) Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll.   (Kerry Hayes/Entertainment One)

"My hat went off to the people who made that movie, because they named names, they dealt with [it] almost in a documentary film sense, rather than a full theatrical release where things are usually air-brushed," Harris said. "They dealt with the reality as it was."

Harris said, for him, watching Spotlight was like going back in time to 1989, and it rooted out difficult memories about working on the Mount Cashel story.

'Newfoundland led the world in standing up to this.' - Michael Harris

"It caused me a lot of pain and I'm sure it caused a lot of Newfoundlanders who watched the Hughes Commission and followed the case closely, it caused them pain too," he said.

"But there was also great room for pride in Newfoundlanders, because Newfoundland led the world in standing up to this, accepting all that it meant and doing all the right things."

'Golden age' of journalism gone

Along with pain and pride, Harris said the film caused a pang of nostalgia for the "golden age" of investigative journalism. 


The story of abuse at Mount Cashel first appeared in The Sunday Express newspaper in 1989.

"Now we're into a 15-minute news wheel, we're into fairly insipid coverage, where basically it comes down to water skiing over the surface of events as opposed to delving into them," Harris said.

"If you're going to do something magnificent, like the newsroom in the Boston Globe did against a lot of opposition, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of commitment."

Harris believes the commitment and the gut-wrenching work it takes to uncover stories of the magnitude of Mount Cashel or the Boston Catholic Archdiocese is a thing of the past. 
"I don't honestly believe that many publishers in this country, or many television stations, have that burning zeal in their gut to get this kind of stuff done."

88th Academy Awards - Press Room

The producers of Spotlight with their Oscars for best picture. ( Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press)