TV Review: Frontline’s ‘Secrets of the Vatican’

Frontline: Secrets of the Vatican TV

Pope Benedict XVI’s unprecedented retirement and subsequent enthusiasm surrounding Pope Francis has certainly stoked interest in the Catholic Church, an organization (with apologies to Dan Brown’s readers) that remains shrouded in mystery. Yet PBS’ “Frontline” provides the documentary version of a page-turner with “Secrets of the Vatican,” a look at scandals that may have led to Benedict’s departure and could provide formidable challenges to Francis’ reform attempts. For all the coverage pertaining to pedophile priests, writer-producer-director Antony Thomas unearths fresh material, painting a portrait of an institution that still mightily endeavors to keep its secrets buried.

Because so much has been done about the clergy abuse story – including HBO’s stomach-turning “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” from filmmaker Alex Gibney — one might think there’s relatively little new to say. Yet Thomas’ multi-pronged report covers not just sexual abuse and the manner in which the Vatican protected such predators, but also corruption and hypocrisy that goes well beyond that, including a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture consisting of illicit liaisons and wild parties.

The documentary also makes a reasonably compelling inference that Benedict’s decision to leave when he did stemmed in part from knowledge of the pending investigation into misdeeds ranging from the abuse scandals to Vatican finances, as well as the impediment an apparatus within the church, the Roman Curia, presents to any attempt to alter how the institution operates.

Given how adept the Vatican’s defenders have been at circling the wagons, there will undoubtedly be an effort to dismiss this as simply more piling on by the religion-hating media hordes. Thomas, however, builds such a persuasive case as to raise questions about how the Vatican, as a sovereign entity, can ever be changed if the onslaught of bad publicity hasn’t led to greater soul-searching already.

While Benedict is described as “a creature of the institutional church” who couldn’t take the necessary actions, Francis might not be bound by those constraints. And it all looks especially timely in light of recent moves by the new pope to appoint ideologically sympathetic Cardinals from far-flung locales.

Whatever the future holds, credit Frontline (working in concert with the U.K.’s Channel 4) with another strong piece of investigative journalism, bringing to mind the adage that where there’s smoke – even if it comes in the form of white puffs – there’s usually fire.

TV Review: Frontline's 'Secrets of the Vatican'

(Documentary; PBS, Tue. Feb. 25, 10 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Quicksilver Media for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Channel 4.

Crew

Executive producers, David Fanning, Eamonn Matthews; deputy executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath; writer-producer-director, Antony Thomas; co-producer, Jason Berry. 90 MIN.

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  1. loveyourdna says:

    Watched this last nigh. Holy Christ! I had no idea the problem was so massive. The new Pope seems like a nice enough fellow and seems to be trying to turn things around, but who REALLY knows with all the past corruption that’s gone on. Could be just a massive PR campaign to staunch the outflow of the flock. Religion, as we know it, has become twisted and evil – actually, it’s always been that way. We don’t even need it! You can be a moral person or have a relationship with your chosen “God” without some man-made idea of what that is. Alternatively, if you are seeking some different truth for yourself, as I have, check out rael.org.

    • Debu says:

      The Catholic Church of Rome is almost completely infiltrited by the freemasons. This is not the true Catholic Rome you would expect . But, Salvation is only through the Catholic Church. You need to understand how the true Mass was abolished and replaced by a graceless protestant service by the second council by the Vatican 2 council in order to deliberately deprive the Church of the required grace. Find for yourself a traditional mass center and assist at the mass there if YOU ARE A CATHOLIC. Else get converted asap.
      Remember What our Lady Of La Salette warned years ago, “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist”

      Visit sspx.org

      True Catholic are still around though small in number

  2. Chester says:

    Why should any government grant the rights of a State to any religious organization? Let alone one which professes a plausible distrust of capitalism on the one hand and operates one of the largest organized crime and rouge state Banks on the other? I hope and pray that the remains of the church find a riotous future but that program does paint a damning picture. There are issues with the program and the ‘under’ cover and darkened testimony. People identified and on camera OK but people we can’t see and don’t come forward may be telling the truth or they could be just crazy nuts or someone with an ax to grind. I mostly don’t give much weight to such ‘secrets’ revealed as whispers.

  3. Pat Comstock says:

    David….you’re in denial! There has been biased anti-Catholic reporting on the church abuses since this all started back in 2002, but this Frontline report is definitely not in that category. We can’t hide from this. Self examination is always painful. Keep in mind that it was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.

  4. Diana says:

    To say that this documentary is anti-Catholic is to openly confess that whoever says so ignores that these abuses and lifestyle at the Vatican is as old as the existance of the Organization. Catholics should read the history of the Vatican for the last 1800 years and the mistakes, sins and crimes are enormous. We Christians should not confuse men with the teachings of Jesus Christ who will reject those priests that have sinned so much and serve Satan.Jesus one day will tell them “I never knew you”. Pope Francis will not be able to cleanse a spiritually dead and corrupt Curia within the Vatican. Catholics should pray for the Pope, and for those priests that sincerely wish to serve God so that they can survive and avoid being immersed in that filth.

    • Pat Comstock says:

      Diana, I agree that there are strong elements in the Curia that are rotten, but this report states clearly that it isn’t totally spiritually dead. There is hope. As long as there is a “remnant” of men in positions of power who are sincere and willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit, there is always a chance that genuine spiritual revival can take place. But it will not happen unless journalists like Frontline do not doggedly stay on the story.

      • Debu says:

        Pat, I agree with you mostly. Genuine revial will take place with GRACE only.
        The Catholic Church of Rome is almost completely infiltrited by the freemasons. This is not the true Catholic Rome you would expect . But, Salvation is only through the Catholic Church. You need to understand how the true Mass was abolished and replaced by a graceless protestant service by the second council by the Vatican 2 council in order to deliberately deprive the Church of the required grace. Find for yourself a traditional mass center and assist at the mass there if YOU ARE A CATHOLIC. Else get converted asap.
        Remember What our Lady Of La Salette warned years ago, “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of Antichrist”

        Visit sspx.org

        True Catholic are still around though small in number

  5. Diana says:

    Secrets of the Vatican is an excellent eye opener for people that idolize men. These sins and the secret lives of Vaticaners have inspired sincere or not so corrupt clergy to leave the Catholic church and embrace Bible centered teachings and practice among various Evangelical churches.

  6. Roger L. Hatton says:

    All Catholics should watch this documentary!
    The corruption in the Vatican is unbelievable!

  7. Pat Comstock says:

    I am a life-long Catholic and like many other faithful Catholics, I am appalled and horrified by the abuses in the church that have been exposed. I have also been watching Frontline for many years and your investigative reporting is of the finest quality. I was very much looking forward to this report and you didn’t disappoint. Thank you for presenting the facts as you found them, and for presenting them in a mature and journalistically professional manner. This story needs to be told and told in a fair, unbiased way. Please do a follow up story on this because, as I’m sure you realize; this is not over. There is absolutely no hope that the corruption in the Vatican will ever be cleaned up unless someone stays on this story and continues to shine a light on this mess.

    • Vikki Evers says:

      A friend dropped by while I was watching “Secrets of the Vatican” in it’s original time slot, so tried to re-view it, but found it had been replaced by another episode of Frontline (although in both cases that was what was listed in the guide). Has anyone heard anything about why it was pulled? Must have caused quite a stir, but who would have taken it off just as more viewers might be hearing about it from friends?

  8. johntshea says:

    This program had not yet been broadcast when you posted your comment. Did you see a preview?

  9. johntshea says:

    This program has not yet been broadcast. Have you seen a preview?

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