Doubt is set in a Catholic parochial school staffed by the Sisters Of Charity, wearing habits consisting of black dresses with short capes and matching bonnets, inspired by the early 19th Century clothing of their foundress, Elizabeth Anne Seton. The time is pre-Councilar, but indefinite, perhaps the late 1950s or early 1960s, to judge by the nature of the nuns’ commentary on the students’ behavior, and that one of the discipline problems they encounter with their students is a young boy listening to a transistor radio with a single earphone in class.
I’ll probably hear from a number of people who had Sisters of Charity as teachers, talking about how mean they were. My father went to a Catholic elementary school with Sisters of Charity as teaching nuns, and he said “Sisters of Charity: now there’s a misnomer!”
Now, by all accounts, a wide spectrum of teaching nuns (as well as monks/priests/brothers) used corporal punishment as a means of discipline in Catholic schools from the time of Christ well into the 1970s.
A lack of proper training and knowledge about teaching and child psychology may have led to some of the seemingly cruel or excessive behavior on the part of the religious: there are also accounts of nuns, priests, and monks, because they constituted free labor for the Church, thrown into classroom situations for which they were not trained, or expected to teach when they were ill-suited to teaching in general. And there are no shortage of children for whom “being sent to Catholic school” is put forward as a threat; indeed, there have been some parents who have transferred children from public school to Catholic school because they had been discipline problems in public school.
That said, the nuns nevertheless notice when a previously normal boy becomes quiet and withdrawn.
The wise old nun (a stereotype usually filled by Mother Superiors and white women approaching senior citizenship) played by Meryl Streep, becomes suspicious that more-than-ordinary abuse has happened to this boy and sets about trying to discreetly find out what it was and who did it.
She sets about tricking a pedophile priest into admiting his wrongdoing (way before the combination of the two words became common in the media) threatens him with exposure, and gets him to leave, handling the problem nicely for the Church and the parish population, but keeping the media and the public uninformed. What, if anything, is done for the boy involved, is not stated or shown.

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