PBS Frontline’s ‘Inside The Vatican’

I’m sure many readers caught PBS Frontline’s documentary program on the Vatican, broadcast on Tuesday evening.  Here’s the preview.

You can watch a few minutes of excerpts here. Yahoo News had this to say in its review of the documentary.

The Roman Catholic Church is enjoying some of its best press in decades, and hundreds of thousands of alienated Catholics are returning, thanks in large part to the new, and in some cases revolutionary, leadership of Pope Francis.

But, says a new documentary by PBS’ “Frontline,” “Secrets of the Vatican,” the morally wrenching controversies that threatened to destroy the church’s credibility, starting about the time Pope John Paul II died in 2005, have not fully subsided. Further, the success of Francis’ papacy will depend on how quickly and thoroughly he addresses them.

“Secrets of the Vatican” … takes an unsparing look at the state of the church Pope Francis inherited from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, successor to Pope John Paul II and the first head of the church to resign in 600 years.

“2012 was an annus horribilis for [Benedict],” Antony Thomas, the producer, writer and director of the film for “Frontline,” told Yahoo News in an interview. “Everything was exploding. He wanted to clean up the Vatican bank. He was in a very difficult predicament all the way through.”

A horrible year on many fronts, not just with mounting evidence of financial impropriety at the Vatican bank, but also with incidents of sexual abuse by clergy spreading to more than 20 countries and, further, exposure of church hypocrisy about homosexuality. Two of Benedict’s most significant moves were to publicly re-frame the Catholic catechism — in effect, its rules of practice — to emphasize its reference to homosexuality as an “objective disorder,” laying groundwork to, among other things, remove gay clergy.

At the same time, reports emerged from Rome of a “gay mafia” inside the church that included some of its top officials, who were unafraid to wield political power and at the same time live an openly promiscuous gay lifestyle.

“There was a lot that came to light, including a man who was, as it were, providing choirboys as rent boys,” Thomas said. “What we have tried hard to do in the film is not be simplistic about this. There are a lot of people in the Vatican who are gay who are leading celibate lives, and this is difficult for them. And there are others who are promiscuous.”

There’s more at the link.  Recommended reading.

The tragedy from my point of view is that the institution of the Church has closed ranks, and will undoubtedly continue to close ranks, to protect its own.  Its instincts are to protect itself at all cost, even if that cost must be borne by the abused faithful.  I’ve written extensively about my experience of the clergy child sex abuse crisis (see the articles listed in the sidebar), and I remain appalled at the total – I repeat, TOTAL – lack of progress in dealing with any of the senior clergy and officials who orchestrated the crisis to begin with.  The guilty priests have largely been punished, but those who tolerated their actions, covered up for them, transferred them to new parishes where they could prey on new victims . . . none of them appear to have suffered any more than the proverbial a slap on the wrist.  In particular, priests who tried to speak up about how intolerable the situation had become have by now been sidelined, silenced, and in some cases forced out of office.

It’s a hellish situation for those of us with profound qualms of conscience about these things.  It’s not that we’ve left the Church.  It’s that we no longer know where to find her.  I find myself more and more feeling like Mary on the morning of Easter Sunday (cf. John 20:11-13).  “They have taken away my Church, and I do not know where they have laid her.”

It’s a sad, lonely place to be . . . and eternity looks pretty bleak from here.



  1. Thanks for the link- I'll watch the program next time I'm ashore and have the bandwidth.
    Having grown up in Boston right in the middle of the airing of this crisis, I've run into a few credible victims (and a few not-so-credible hucksters. Unfortunately, they exist too), and have watched the implosion since.

    The current pope is apparently inspiring people to come back to the church, although I'm certainly not seeing anything of that sort. I suspect that he could influence the Catholics of Convenience- the Christmas/Easter attendees and the families who no one knows who proudly bring in their kids for baptism and are never seen again.
    My dad spent a couple of years in a Franciscan friary, and loved to tell us about the triumphs and many, many shameful actions of the church; his lesson was always that the Catholic church survives despite the curia, not because of it. Given that, it's no surprise that a monk was elected to the papacy rather than another intellectual or a Jansenist. The Catholic church must be purged to emerge stronger, but to expect rapidity is to set oneself up for failure. Right or wrong, the church does not respond timely to secular requests, especially when doing that could support change. Maybe pope Francis can change that.

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