PBS FRONTLINE: Secrets of the Vatican Review

pbs-frontline-merged-logoBy 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.

220px-Benedykt_XVI_(2010-10-17)_2Secrets 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.

VaticanPope 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.

pope-francis_2541160bVery 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.

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15 Responses to PBS FRONTLINE: Secrets of the Vatican Review

  1. Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    Sadly, Pope Benedict has done tremendous harm to victims of clergy sexual abuse around the world, for the 24 years that he was head of the office that included dealing with clergy sexual abuse, and as pope since 2005. He has written books about Jesus, and has gotten them published as pope, but he never had the courage to do what Jesus asked: to protect the innocence of children as a priority. Jesus said for those who would take the innocence from children, a millstone should be placed around their necks and they should be drowned in the sea. Pope Benedict and many popes before him have ignored the words of Jesus and have protected the sexual predator clergy, leaving many victims around the world to commit suicide, when they gave up hope of being believed that they were raped by priests, brothers, nuns, bishops, cardinals, because of the secrecy and denial of the truth by the predators, by their superiors, and by the hierarchy and popes.

    • I too saw this video and was appalled! It made me both mad and sad. I am more determined to do what I can for the cause of Christ. To whom much is given much is required. May God have mercy on those who treat His children, themselves and others with such un-Christ like love. Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven.

    • I heard that he resigned because he couldn’t stop the abuse and the only way that the people at the top could be gotten rid of is for the pope to resign or die. This way his entourage would be replaced with the new pope’s people. That is why they didn’t get a pope from Europe this time around. Europe was full of the vermin that Benedict couldn’t take the sight of. So Francis was gotten from South America, where religion is still taken seriously. So, hopefully the people at the top would be replaced with people that the current pope trusts.

      • John K, Pope Francis is known to have protected sexual predator priests from the law in Argentina when he was Cardinal there. Right now he is protecting his Archbishop Wesolowski from facing charges in Poland and in the Dominican Republic of sexually abusing young boys in both countries. The pope shows no care for the young victims. The pope says the archbishop will be investigated in the Vatican. It is the police, not the church, who have to investigate crimes and criminals. So Pope Francis is not doing what Jesus would do in protecting children from sexual abuse and in sending the law after the predators.

      • This reminds me of Bruno Bettelheim’s book “Love is not enough”. It is about raising children, but can be well applied to the church as well.

  2. More amazing than the startling revelations of this monumental program is the fact that 1.2 billion adoring followers, who weep in ecstasy at the words of these charlatans, continue in their blind love of this massive criminal enterprise.

  3. Thank you Pbs for your informative programming. I just have basic cable in Alberta, Canada, and apart from the news Pbs is the only channel worth watching. I am a former catholic, excommunicated for having had an abortion. Fine with me, it makes me a free radical. Published a book on telepathy, title VOICES FROM THE PARALLEL UNIVERSE, and as the title suggests, I am describing what the “other world” is, how we get there and back to earth, and how we communicate by telepathy, and yes, defining telepathy. For my book the Creator discloses who he is exactly, and that he is not the same being we think of as our god, and he is not involved with religion. The being we think of as our god has actually lived on earth, subject to the reincarnation cycles, and in his last life has been known as the Pharoah Zoser. The second volume of my work addresses contemporay issues, and because it teaches the method of understanding telepathy, the secret services see to it that my work be buried and never heard of. All I can do at the moment is put it out in ebook format, hoping that perhaps some day the elephant’s foot might be lifted from my mouth

  4. Frontline is a high quality producer of documentaries, but they often use their storytelling skills to distort, oversimplify, and exaggerate the themes they are trying to promote. In the case of this episode on the Catholic Church, there are many assertions made that are simply NOT “factually sound”.

    For example, twice the narrator says that Benedict changed the catechism teaching on homosexuality, calling it an “objective disorder”. Benedict did no such thing, and the church teaching says no such thing.

    The teaching states that homosexual acts are objectively disordered, which simply means they do not align to God’s design for human sexuality, as the church understands it. It is a theological teaching about spiritual alignment of a specific behavior, not a psychological assessment of the mental health of a gay person, as implied by the narrator’s language.

    More importantly, the letter in which Benedict made this assessment as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1987, starts not with a condemnation of homosexuals, but with a recognition that they are children of God and deserving of all His love, and the respect and love of good Catholics everywhere. This is important because the sin is not being homosexual, it is engaging in homosexual acts. Just as it is not a sin to be heterosexual, but it is a sin to engage I certain heterosexual acts, such as adultery, premarital sex, or sex even with a spouse using contraception (which blocks the process by which God brings new life into the world).

    Furthermore, this 1987 letter from Benedict did not “change the catechism”. It updated the teachings of the church based on new social issues that had not been directly addressed before, such as pointing out the sin of bigotry and hatred of gay persons, but clarifying that certain behaviors put the souls of gay persons at risk.

    Of course, you won’t hear this kind of subtlety or accuracy from Frontline. They wanted to create on overly dramatized, hyperbolic, exaggerated criticism of the RCC, and they succeeded.

    The sex abuse cases are horrifying, and the church must continue to take strong action to weed out the problem, prosecute the offenders, prevent recurrence, compensate the victims, and help them heal. But shoddy reporting from a slick PBS news show does nothing to help anyone .

  5. The PBS “Secrets of the Vatican” was both disturbing and refreshing. As a practicing Roman Catholic for over 60 yrs. it certainly disturbs me to know the Curia of my religion is being controlled by some men who have no other desire but to have their egos, and other scenes, stimulated by other men who are mostly narcissistic brats hiding behind their collars. To think some of my faith leaders are involved in some of the most self-indulgent sins and can still believe they are followers of Christ is just another example of what happens when you put men only in charge of an organization. Hypocrites Incarnate. In spite if the debauchery, I am refreshed and have a new faith in the efforts Pope Francis may have on the Church. However, just as with the other past papal reformers, Francis too may not live to see the fruits of his labor and spirit. His Papacy may be short lived. He is just too far removed from the inner circle that really runs the Church and his actions will be considered too threatening to the business as usual real church leaders. May God have mercy on their souls, but they get what they deserve.

  6. I watched this well-done episode of Frontline last night and to say that I was shocked would be an understatement. I was raised Catholic but have becomed extremely disillusioned over the past few years. The former bishop of the Diocese of Phoenix (where I live), Thomas O’Brien, is guilty of harboring and transferring abusing priests. This Frontline show was the final straw. I am done with the institutional Catholic Church.

  7. Why we have to condemn Benedict XVI….The church is not a democracy….everything has to be approved by the Head ! A right questions is….who was the Head when he was prefect of the faith….Benedict XVI was the first person who addressed this scandal from the first day of his pontificate. He punished Masiel and spoke out and asked forgiveness….what i am saying is….he, as a Head of the Church….did his job…

    • You can’t blame Benedict alone for the abuses and excesses of the Catholic church anymore than you can blame Hitler alone for the German atrocities (incidentally, both Germans) during the Second World War. They were products and part of a culture. I am skeptical if pope Francis will be able to clean house completely, but at least he is taking steps in the right direction. I hope he survives it, unlike pope John XXIII who wan not so lucky.

  8. Thanks everyone for their comments on my review. I am Catholic and love the Church no matter what.

  9. Susan Thorndike

    March 13, 2014 – 6:24 pm
    I have been a Catholic for 69 years.
    I was not in the least surprised by your special. I have a friend whose brother was sexually abused, and he still became a priest, because he was assured that the offending priest was no longer a danger. What a surprise when he was assigned to his first parish, and there as his senior was the self same priest. He tried to comit suicide, and soon after his unsuccessful attempt left the priesthood. I feel like many of my Catholic friends that this horror will not end until priests are allowed to marry. After all the disciples were married.

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