"This one priest was the tip of a very large iceberg" - 'Spotlight' reporter Walter Robinson

The leader of the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative team spoke to Colette Fitzpatrick

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Walter Robinson. Image: Casey Curry / AP/Press Association Images

A Boston Globe journalist responsible for uncovering sexual abuse in the city at the hands of the Catholic Church says they realised the scale of the issue within days of starting research.

Walter Robinson was leader of the 'Spotlight' team that went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

In 2002, they launched an investigation into reports that children were being abused by priests.

The team went on to unveil a cover-up involving dozens of clergy members within the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese.

Their work is now portrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, which is due on Irish cinema screens on January 29th. Michael Keaton plays Robinson in the film.

Mr Robinson says they realised very quickly that they had a major story on their hands.

Speaking to Colette Fitzpatrick, he explained that "Marty Baron, in his very first day as editor of the Globe, asked us to look at the case of one single priest, John Geoghan.

"He had been much in the news because he had been sued by over 80 victims. We started looking into this one priest, and within a week or so we discovered he was the tip of a very large iceberg".

The investigation team discovered that the Archdiocese had made secret settlements to keep the crimes of a large amount of priests secret. "The lawyers told us that the amounts paid out amounted to hush money," Walter recalled.

"Most of these abusive priests were quite charismatic individuals," he told Colette. "They particularly took advantage of poorer families, often single-parent families, where the presence of a priest paying attention to the family was seen as kind of a blessing".

Speaking about the film version of the story, Walter praised director Thomas McCarthy's handling of a moment when a victim - Patrick McSorley - recounted the story an ice-cream melting down his arm as the abuse was happening.

"The actor portraying Patrick McSorley just tells the story of what happened to him. Tom McCarthy was brilliant in that he felt no need to create a video flashback to show the actual abuse.

"It was quite a brilliant, understated way to bring this horror to people's attention," Walter added.

You can listen back to the full interview via the podcast player below, and check out a clip from the film here.