Review of “PBS Frontline: Secrets of the Vatican”

The iron cauldron of anti-Catholic bias continues to simmer. Between the creepy music, half-truths, outright falsehoods, lack of balance in the narrative, and strategic editing, it was difficult to tell whether I was watching a documentary or The Da Vinci Code.

Summary: Both truth and untruth form a tremendously nauseating 90 minutes of public television. I should have turned it off as soon as I saw the “Viewer Discretion Advised” thing. You can consider my conscience shocked, yet I remain firmly ensconced below deck aboard the Barque.  

The true parts were nauseating because they’re true: countless children and young people were sexually abused, primarily by priests. Many in the hierarchy compounded the evil by trying to cover it up, which had the effect of multiplying the numbers of victims and amplifying the gravity of the scandal and damage to the Church. May all the victims, including those who shared their story on this program, be brought peace and healing, and protection from further exploitation.

Other true (and truly) nauseating things in the Frontline episode: certain individual churchmen committing financial crimes such as money laundering and gay priests in Rome hiring male escorts, cavorting with them in gay clubs, and celebrating Holy Mass the next morning before driving the escorts back to the airport. This is all bad, evil stuff, but it is unfair to imply that the reasons are institutional rather than individual. 

Anti-Catholic_octopus_cartoon_{{PD-US}}What’s missing from Frontline’s treatment is an honest approach to portraying the Church or the pontificates of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. The reductive logic employed by the Frontline producers is that scandals perpetrated by individuals constitute a basis for condemnation of the whole — rather broad brush-strokes indeed.

We must stop hoping that there will ever be an acknowledgement from those who attack the Church that — as Msgr. Ronald Knox noted — “one of the reasons why our Lord chose Judas to be an apostle was because he wanted us to be prepared, from the first, against every possible shock to our consciences.”

There will never be acceptance from the MSM that it is the obstinate refusal to repent of our sin that defeats the salvation of the soul, and brings scandal to the Church, or that this obstinate refusal is personal on the part of the actor, and is not attributable to the Church herself. It is in spite of the holiness of the Church that people sin, not because of it.

The untrue parts of the program were also nauseating, because there were already enough true parts. It should remind us — we should consider it penance — that even if there weren’t as much scandal involving sexual crimes, financial corruption, institutional incompetence, and moral depravity among (some) in the Church, there would still be an effort to impugn and undermine the good works of the Church, and misrepresent its positions and teachings. Some examples:

  • Frontline repeats the claim at least once that Cardinal Ratzinger changed the Catechism so that it stated that homosexual orientation is “objectively disordered”, no attempt is made to support this claim with facts. It certainly doesn’t acknowledge that the language in the Catechism cites the CDF document Persona humana, promulgated in 1975 (i.e., pre-Ratzinger), or that the 1992 version of the Catechism was provisional and therefore still in revision. Or further still that the source of this teaching is scriptural (Gen. 19:1-29, Rom. 1:24-27, 1 Cor. 6:10, 1 Tim. 1:10). What this is really about is making the man who became Benedict XVI into an anti-gay bigot.
  • Frontline implies that John Paul II ignored or disregarded Ratzinger’s warnings about the disgraceful and evil conduct of Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel — and even more egregiously — suggests that John Paul II did so out of interest in the financial and vocational success of the Legion of Christ or out of calculated disregard for the victims, it ignores journalistic integrity by assuming that John Paul knew about these things, when his secretary unequivocally states he did not.
  • Frontline mentions — a la Da Vinci Code — that the Vatican’s “Secret Archives” (again, without even so much as an attempt of offering a scintilla of evidence) house records of the horrors perpetrated by the Church, which the Church manages to shield by virtue of its status as a sovereign nation. Never mind that minimal research (try Wikipedia for a start) would verify that “secret” doesn’t mean “confidential” or that scholars are actually permitted access to the archives upon presentation of their academic credentials.
  • Frontline attempts to argue (revealing its own agenda and through those interviewed) that clerical celibacy is the primary cause of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, when the statistics from the John Jay Report indicate that 81% of the minors abused by priests were male, 95% of which were adolescent (post-pubescent), and that therefore the problem has more to do with homosexuality in the priesthood.
  • Frontline posits that Pope Francis has no problem with gay sex, citing the extensively misused quote, “Who am I to judge?” or that the Holy Father is more relaxed on the Church’s teachings on abortion, contraception, marriage and sexual morality than his predecessors. In fact, these claims are also completely false.   

In other words, the Church isn’t despised because of the sexual abuse crisis or any other scandal (this is just delicious opportunity); she is hated because in spite of the sin and hypocrisy of all of her members, she always holds to what is true, even while all of us individual Catholics perpetually fall short. Even if every one of the untruths were in fact true, none of this would prove the claims of those who attack “The Church”.

For all the guilt and shame the institutional Church deserves for its hand in the past generation of scandals, what it will never receive from the MSM — no matter how sparkling clean it becomes under Pope Francis — is a fair trial in the court of public opinion. And it shouldn’t matter, for in cleaning up the hierarchy of the Church — and ensuring the protection of every one of her innocent members — we are only doing what we were always obliged to do. (Luke 17:10). We should expect no congratulations from the MSM just as we should expect none from Jesus.

Ultimately, if we are truly a people of faithful believers in Jesus Christ, we will remain confident in His justice, and His judgment, realizing that we will all be called before Him to account for ourselves. Even without such scandals, His mercy is always more than we deserve.

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37 thoughts on “Review of “PBS Frontline: Secrets of the Vatican”

  1. Many times, a mother , just looking into the eyes of the child, feels if something is not right. Maybe with more mother-father couples in charge of the church’s management , we will be better.
    Meanwhile, I will just pray more for God wisdom and protection, so all can see the good work done by the Catholic Church.

    • Interesting you say that, because the family is often described at the “Domestic Church”. It is one of the primordial elements of the greater Church. We call the priests Father and we have Sisters and Mothers who are nuns. And we have the Blessed Mother. Heck, for perhaps the first time EVER in the Church, we have someone who the Holy Father calls a Grandfather. Beginning with the Domestic Church, we are the Family of Christ.

      Point is, in FAMILIES sexual abuse happens. It should NEVER happen but it does and in many ways it’s WORST of all when it DOES happen in the family, because in the family we are all supposed to love another and desire the other’s highest good. So to the list of “why it’s so very bad” we add that the sexual abuse of minors in the Church is incest.

    • Dear Ms Roca. Your post is rank sexism (women are holier and more worthy of trust)

      According to a major 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education – In studies that ask students about offenders, sex differences are less than in adult reports. The 2000 American Association of University Women (AAUW) data indicate that 57.2 percent of all students report a male offender and 42.4 percent a female offender with the Cameron et al. study reporting nearly identical proportions as the 2000 AAUW data (57 percent male offenders vs. 43 percent female offenders).[9]
      Some have even suggested as many as 63% of sex abusers may be female.[10]
      According to a 2011 CDC report there are an estimated 4,403,010 female victims of sexual violence that had a female only perpetrator.[11]

      You’ve come a long way, baby 🙂

      • No,
        Ms. Roca is stating a mother’s intuition. My wife nailed it when our daughter had diabetes. I, Dad, simply thinking it’s just hormones, she’ll grow out of the symptoms…mom knew it was worse. I think we judge each others’ comments very harshly, and presumptiously. You may debate her comment about mother/father leadership in the Church, but I believe God gave gifts to moms and dads. She made a simple point about a mom’s intuition about a child’s problem, She wasn’t sexist…as far as I read into it.

  2. Perhaps the bias lies not within the program but within the eyes of the author of this article. I’m sure if the author cared to look objectively of this subject it would be realized that there was decades of cover-up within Church circles to keep these things quiet and the Church policy was to keep these reports under wraps and out of the public knowledge, not to mention law enforcement officials. The Church does not have a leg to stand on in this case and its about time the author gets his or her head out of the sand and stop defending the policy of Church officials, namely the Vatican and the College of Bishops who put these criminal acts under their miters so no harm to the Church’s reputation would be ruined. .. How’s that worked for you so far, Excellencies???

  3. Thanks for taking up this topic. I’ve spent some time writing about it. Some of the main problems I see in the coverage are:

    a) Obsessing about Catholics obscures a much, much bigger problem:
    http://cosmostheinlost.com/2013/09/10/richard-dawkins-puts-pedophilia-perspective/

    b) Catholic scandals will of necessity (thanks God!) be much more visible than other such scandals, because of Church structures:
    http://cosmostheinlost.com/2014/02/07/catholic-protestant-sex-scandals-structurally-different/

  4. The Church will always be under attack by those who hate what she stands for, despite her monumental failings through the centuries: Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Wisdom, Love itself, otherwise known as God. Those who perpetrate these sensational programs never bother to look at their own industry which looks the other way and has, for years. Hollywood has been a hotbed of filth, promoted it, and TV followed so it could be brought right into the home!

  5. Congratulations; your article is well written, honest, and needed. Would you be so kind and patient with your readers as to write another piece answering this question: Why are the media so anti-Catholic Church as to abandon journalistic ethics completely? Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D.

  6. “Countless” children? Says who? Are there so many children in the Vatican that they can’t be counted? Are the clergy in the Vatican so numerous and so lascivious? Do they have such incredible leisure for “countless” children?

    Stop promoting the lies of the father of lies.

    • Mack, your comment is not well taken. Yes, COUNTLESS. For example, according to this article, nearly 1,000 people have filed sexual abuse claims against the Catholic Church since 2002 in the state of California alone. The same article also states that according to a 2004 report “commissioned by the Church”, more than 4,000 Roman Catholic priests in the US had faced sexual abuse allegations in the last 50 years.

      Let’s just say, arguendo, that the majority of the 4,000 priests were innocent. Let’s say that all but 10% of them were innocent. Still, if each priest in that 10% abused just one minor, that’s over 400 kids, in just one country that the Church operates.

      I have just one thing to say to you: be quiet. For you to take issue with what number of children constitutes a sufficient number to be considered “countless” and to accuse me of “promoting lies” is at the very pinnacle of absurdity.

  7. Pingback: Irresponsible Frontline Catholic Church Show | It's a Crazy Catholic World

  8. Pingback: Pope Francis Feeling Better, Met with Romanian P. M. - BigPulpit.com

  9. Excellent piece except for excusing blessed John Paul II whose business as captain of the ship was to find out…find out…. and then protect children. I think he sent signals that he wanted no bad news and careerists all around him took the hints. He defended Groer in Austria til he couldn’t be defended anymore.
    We had not one Pope nor one Cardinal nor one Bishop that stands out as a hero for forty years of this sin. That is what frightens the non Catholic world….a heroless Church which contained no Christ driving the money changers out of the temple until the Boston Globe forced us to meet in the southwest. And still….Cardinal Law was spirited away to a nice job and we never did see Christ’s wrath in any leader excepting Benedict with one man. There should have been meetings in the Vatican just concerning how heros cannot rise in our system which seems strangled by a love of long winded procedure and canons as more important than protecting youth. Then rather than analyse what just transpired in terms of system changes…we suddenly had the new evangelisation campaign …as frankly a diversion. A recent poll had 45% of weekly Mass goers supporting gay marriage. Do you really want them going door to door or has Romans chapter one been revoked.

    • Your mention of Cardinal Law tells me that I am not the only one bothered by his taking refuge overseas. Until the Church allows him to return to the US and face his consequences in the US judicial system, we will not believe a word of remorse from the church heirarchy. He is a coward hiding behind Vatican walls, and he is being sheltered rather than facing his accusers. Until he is made to answer for his actions, we cannot believe the Church heirarchy has any remorse.

      So glad that I am not the only person who has not forgotten what happened in Boston.

  10. Pingback: Secrets of the Vatican PBS EXPOSED

      • It does not. I suggest you read the 1999 document “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church” linked here, paragraph 15 of which states: “In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

    • What is even clearer is this:

      “Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”*

      He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

      He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

      The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”

      Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      Mathew 19:16-21

    • What is even clearer than 2:8-9 which says faith but not faith alone is this:

      “Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”*

      He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

      He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

      The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?”

      Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

      Mathew 19:16-21

      • Actually Eph 2:8-9 is very clearer. In Matthew we have Jesus speaking to a self righteousness rich young man and the young man’s attachment to his material wealth. The young man’s faith was in his self-righteousness.

  11. Read it. I also know that the Council of Trent has never been abrogated, along with its anathemas. Until Trent is abrogated on may fronts, nothing that looks like Rome teaches salvation by faith alone is to be trusted.

    • You asked a question (Does Rome teach that salvation is by faith plus works?) as though you didn’t already know the answer. When I answered your question, you changed it by shifting the sand from “faith plus works” to “salvation by faith alone”. These terms are not synonymous. Be careful with usage.

      Trent doesn’t need to be abrogated. [Resect lengthy statement, which you will refute, which I will respond, ad nauseum].

      More to the point, since you seem to be more familiar with the source material than you let on, is whether you’d actually like to discuss the merits of the argument. To borrow from the Anglican bishop Tony Palmer, “the protest is over.” Lutherans and Catholics agree faith vs. works is a non-issue. So for you to hang your hat on it as somehow determinative of anything is, well, centuries too late.

      Jesus said, “Thou art Peter…”; He did not say, “Thou art the King James Bible”. To be Catholic is to subscribe to the fact that Christ entrusted His flock not to a book (the Bible), but to living shepherds — the Apostles — who were given His authority. It’s from that living apostolic authority that the New Testament proceeded in the first place.

      You wouldn’t have the salvation you claim through faith alone WITHOUT the Catholic Church providing you the Scripture upon which you rely. That you reject the authority that brought you the means by which to receive the gift of salvation is simply that — rejection of authority (which I might add, is authority given by Christ Himself), leading you into error.

      Christ has much more to offer you, Born4Battle; you have the road map; the Sacraments are the food for the journey. You belong in the Catholic Church!

    • The council of Trent teaches that faith alone will save you however faith is not a one time ordeal but an everyday ordeal. Meaning one can’t just chant I am born again and expect paradise.

      • I beg to differ:

        “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).

    • Faith and grace are gifts, however sin takes away the gift of grace and thus it takes work not to sin in order to get saved. And as 2 Cor 5:10 states “We all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad”

      So in essence protestants have a very narrow sense of the word faith and perhaps forget that the gift of grace is something we must maintain and grow in it.

      • The Apostle Paul disagrees with you.

        “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Eph 2:8-9

  12. Obama cut a $350m check to PBS hours before the govt shut down. It is clear to me now why he moved so fast. I believe he wanted to assure continued production of this hate based film. It was strange to me how he could not unload dead troops from planes but could write a check to this just completely left wing, gay, social engineering, joke of a media company. It still amazes me how we could still be funding this waste all while we live through this media, communications era. This will hurt us as Catholics that love our faith and it will cause more harm to us having to explain their agenda. But mostly, it will affect them, the producers, actors,etc, as they continue to justify their life style by bashing us. A real falsehood in which they continue to spin their wheels as our Lord and us see through their illness. With this said, my point will be made as some gay person will not post this opinion.

  13. I’m Catholic.

    Although I can understand the different perspectives about the documentary (some say hate, others say liberate), all people deserve the facts. We will all surely encounter some type of injustice during our lifetime despite our hope to avoid it.

    Within the Church, I regret to learn about the child abuse, the cover ups, the depths of hypocrisy, continued cover ups, corruption, power struggles and more cover ups. It is an injustice committed by individuals on every level of the Church….I hope now that there is someone in the Church who can have the courage and strength to re-calibrate it.

    Reading the comments above is a great example of the variety of opinions, agendas and perspectives about the documentary coupled with the review of it (which is what brought me to this webpage from a search for a review). I enjoy reading the creative language to demonize the documentary – my only comment about the review is: “Is that it?”

    Considering the heavy-weight issues presented in the documentary, the list of inaccuracies seems weak. I ask that the reviewer either dig deeper into the consequences about what makes the list so critical, or find more material.

    Blessings to you.

  14. No doubt you found the 90 minutes of this documentary “nauseating.” You don’t WANT to believe what the show had to say. Time to stop blindly following such a corrupt, vile institution. But, you won’t.

  15. the Church is people and if there is corruption and cover up at the head of it, then the institution is corrupted. As in the old testament Kings were corrupt and the temple of God was stained so it has been in the time of Christ with God’s Church. It is time for the Catholic laity to stand up and be counted and hold the Church leaders to account.

  16. If you watch Public Television regularly you know that they replay episodes of Frontline until you’re ready to scream at your television “we’ve seen it 20 times!” But, this particular episode was not replayed after the month of its initial release. Certainly it hasn’t been replayed ad nauseum like other episodes. My initial reaction was that Frontline had clearly established that the overwhelming majority of sex abuse cases were tied to gay priests who were homosexual pedophiles. Frontline then established that the Church administrators in Rome were trying to cover up the scandal. Then Frontline made a strategic error in its attack piece; they demonstrated that many priests who worked as administrators at the Vatican were also homosexuals. This leads the viewer to an inescapable conclusion: homosexual pedophile priests were preying on defenseless young children and homosexual priests who worked at the Vatican conspired in an effort to cover up their crimes. Frontline and PBS know that the producers of this attack piece simply couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Only after it was released and viewed by the general public did it become obvious that this was an indictment of the homosexual community and a warning that the Church needs to be more careful about screening candidates for the priesthood. I’ve spoken to dozens of people, Catholic and non-Catholic, who drew the same conclusion after viewing this hit piece.

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