PBS FRONTLINE: Secrets of the Vatican Review
By Victoria Alexander
Las Vegas Informer
Pope Francis, the 266th pope of the Catholic Church, made a startling statement regarding the Roman Curia, the Church’s all-powerful civil service. He said: “The court is the leprosy of the papacy.” He has described the Curia as “narcissistic” and “self-referential.” This FRONTLINE program explores the church he is now head of.
Secrets of the Vatican premiers Tuesday, February 25 at 10 p.m. on PBS and online at pbs.org/frontline. It examines the crisis the Catholic Church faces in light of the devastating charges of financial and sexual corruption.
Secrets of the Vatican is a special, 90-minute FRONTLINE presentation that tells the inside story of the collapse of the Benedict Papacy—and illuminates the extraordinary challenges facing Pope Francis as he tries to reform the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, root out corruption, and chart a new course for the troubled Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers.
Sex, power and money are all fundamental ingredients of many best-selling novels. In Secrets of the Vatican the factual basis for each is well established. While much has been written about the Vatican’s institutionally sanctioned abuse of power, FRONTLINE has produced one of the most comprehensive television documentaries on the topic ever seen in the United States.
Explicit examples of sexual assault on minors, affairs with parishioners, priests fathering children and other inappropriate – often illegal – activities of these supposedly celibate church leaders are revealed. Articulated throughout is willful and callous disregard for the victims displayed by the Catholic Church hierarchy and often orchestrated directly from Rome. Sexual abuse victims were sued by their dioceses in efforts to silence them and dissuade others from coming forward. To circumvent court decreed financial restitution from being paid, the local church jurisdictions moved money from their own accounts into other financial institutions with explicit consent from Vatican leaders. Supporting the widespread rumors of an influential homosexual cabal of priests, the documentary includes videos taken at gay sex parties. Further religious insult arises when a priest attending a gay sex party is shown conducting mass for some participants the following morning.
Prior popes do not go unscathed. While John Paul II appears to be on a fast-track to sainthood, he is shown as repeatedly acknowledging the efforts of a politically-connected Mexican priest, Marcial Marciel Degollado, who was the founder of the Legion of Christ in 1941 and later the Regnum Christ movement. It was true that Fr. Marciel raised considerable amount of money for the Vatican, but it was also known at the time was that he was a serial abuser of young men and fathered as many as six children. One of his sons appears on the program and describes how he too had been sexually molested by his own father. The details of his own and his young brother’s sexual abuse is alarming.
Pope Benedict XVI (pictured) comes under significant scrutiny. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he worked in the Vatican for 24 years and had been in charge of the investigations into wrongdoing by priests around the world. He had access to secret files and was instrumental in establishing church policies regarding the handling of such cases.
In November 2012 a report by three cardinals was completed detailing considerable corruption inside the Catholic Church. The investigation had been launch in the wake of a major scandal in which Pope Benedict’s butler was charged with stealing secret documents and providing them to a trusted reporter. The implications of the documents were devastating. Possibly coincidentally, three months later Benedict XVI became the fourth pope to ever resign from office. The documentary makes a strong case that although the butler was tried and convicted of the crime, he did not have the linguistics skills necessary to have been the real culprit.
In addition to sex crimes, the money laundering efforts of the Vatican Bank are illuminated. Clearly stated, their financial activities supported organized crime around the world. Depicted is the arrest of Monsignor Nunzio Scarano for conspiring to smuggle twenty million Euros out of Italy. Banking transparency is problematic for all institutions, but the Vatican has been especially reluctant to comply with information regarding their banking policies.
Very importantly, the program notes the efforts of Pope Francis (pictured) to clean up the Vatican. As the first non-European pope his emphasis on charity and service to mankind has been commendable. The Vatican is a complex labyrinth of intrigue and nothing short of Byzantine in functioning. All attempts at instituting major reforms have failed.
Pope Francis has wisely chosen to bring in assistance from those not mired in recent Vatican history. Whether he will be successful in his attempts at reformation remain to be seen.
For Roman Catholics, this FRONTLINE presentation is quite distressing. As for the reason for Benedict XVI (now Pope Emeritus) resignation, I strongly believe – in light of Secrets of the Vatican, to agree with John Cornwell, a recognized Catholic journalist. Cornwell wrote the real reason Pope Benedict resigned was not his failing health but something “far more spectacular.”
Pope Benedict’s resignation came as a shock to the Catholic world. He is the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to do so on his own initiative since Pope Celestine V in 1294.
With Pope Benedict’s resignation, the whole Curia–the Vatican bureaucracy that is reportedly rife with financial and sexual corruption–was forced to step down when he did.
Cornwell wrote: “Here is the remarkable thing you are seldom told about a papal death or resignation: every one of the senior office-holders in the Vatican – those at the highest level of its internal bureaucracy, called the Curia – loses his job. Thus, Pope Benedict voluntarily delivered himself up as a sacrificial lamb to purge the Church of what he calls ‘The Filth’. And it must have taken courage.”
Pope Benedict sacrificed himself to cleanse the Vatican of corruption. Pope Francis can now proceed to make significant changes without restrictions.
For Catholics and non-Catholics, FRONTLINE’S Secrets of the Vatican is highly recommended. It is factually sound, though sometimes evocative and harrowing, program.