Wednesday, February 26, 2014


I viewed PBS's Frontline show "Secrets of the Vatican" on Tuesday night. Barf! The story from Catholic News Service sums it up. I am not saying that the scandals in the Church shouldn't be fodder for news investigation stories, but when it turns this tragedy into a show for entertainment purposes, skewing good reporting skills, and being fair and balanced, one should call it for what it is, "yellow journalism."

As well, in terms of making it entertainment, the narrator narrated in a "DaVinci Code" sort of voice. I thought I was watching something Opie Taylor produced!

But apart from this yellow journalism used for entertainment purposes and the agenda to continue to use the scandals and sins of the past 50 years and beyond and neglecting entirely the progress that has been made to safeguard our children and teenagers from predators, the bishops of the Church created this mess through their mismanagement of this scandal and the rest of us, clergy and laity have to live with it and the humiliation and denigration it has brought to the Body of Christ. We know what sins does to victims and the Church at large.

As a side note, the day that PBS was at the North American College to interview some of the seminarians there, I was there! In fact I think I am in one quick shot of seminarians and others heading for the Italian dining room for Pranzo (lunch/dinner). I saw a classmate of mine but didn't have enough time to look for yours truly.

Here is Catholic News Service critique of the PBS entertainment show "Frontline":

TV REVIEW Feb-19-2014 (900 words) xxxm

"Secrets of the Vatican" documentary on PBS is sloppy, one-sided

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the headline-grabbing start of his successor's ministry are certainly events worthy of close and careful analysis.

Unfortunately, "Secrets of the Vatican," a PBS documentary purporting to provide just such an examination, turns out to be, in large part, both sloppy and one-sided.

A "Frontline" presentation, Antony Thomas' film premieres Tuesday, Feb. 25, 10-11:30 p.m. EST (check local listings).

The sun colors the sky over the dome of St. Peter's Basilica during sunset at the Vatican. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Thomas identifies three primary causes for Pope Benedict's retirement, all of them scandalous: the plague of clergy sexual abuse, financial shenanigans at the Institute for the Works of Religion, aka the Vatican Bank, and the damaging release of secret documents that has come to be known as "Vatileaks." It's Thomas' treatment of clergy sexual abuse that suffers the most from factual lapses -- and that also displays the most bias.

An early indication that scrupulous attention to detail is not on the agenda here -- and that an appealing Pope Francis is to be implicitly contrasted with his unacceptable predecessor -- comes with the statement that the current pontiff was elected after "one of the shortest conclaves ever." Yet the 2005 gathering of cardinals that selected Pope Benedict was just as brief; in fact, it ended about an hour sooner.

Familiarity with recent church history would suggest, moreover, that quick conclaves have become the norm rather than the exception. Since 1922, none has lasted more than three days.

Along the same lines, the narrative informs us that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was responsible for disciplinary matters concerning priests for 24 years. Although that was the duration of his tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, that congregation was only explicitly assigned jurisdiction over cases of sexual abuse in 2001.

We also learn that the academically focused Cardinal Ratzinger was an unsuitable choice for the papacy because he had "no pastoral experience." This ignores the fact that the future pope served as archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany, from 1977 to 1982.

Of those interviewed in connection with the terrible crimes committed by some clergy, none speaks on behalf of the church. Instead, all are reliably dogged critics, including lawyer Jeff Anderson, who specializes in bringing suit against the church. Not surprisingly, their outlook is less than balanced.

Much attention is devoted to the monstrous behavior of Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, the Mexican-born founder of the Legionaries of Christ.

Father Maciel's ability to conceal his wrongdoing is attributed to the priest's skill as a fundraiser who put "lots of money in the Vatican's coffers." If anything, Father Maciel's influence within the church more likely stemmed from the fact that his rapidly expanding order was remarkable for its success in nurturing priestly vocations. Though this aspect of the matter is referred to in passing, its significance is downplayed.

By the time Father Maciel's double life finally was revealed, he was 86. Accordingly, instead of being subjected to an ecclesiastical trial, he was removed from all forms of ministry and enjoined -- not, as journalist Robert Mickens would have it, "invited" -- to live a life of penitence and prayer. This, of course, is presented as nothing but a whitewash.

The narrative also overlooks the fact that the Legionaries have acknowledged their founder's crimes and apologized to his victims. They have also been subjected to an apostolic visitation and a fundamental reform designed to purify their order of Father Maciel's influence while maintaining the positive elements of its mission. Instead of this, says Mickens, the Legionaries "should have been disbanded."

If Mickens paints with a broad brush, Anderson trifles with absurdity when he claims, "Every action taken by every bishop, archbishop and cardinal in connection with sexual abuse is effectively orchestrated and controlled by the Vatican." Since there are currently about 3,100 dioceses in the world, such a level of micromanagement would indeed be astounding.

The film also resurrects discredited accusations against Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York who, while archbishop of Milwaukee, assigned substantial funds to a trust for the perpetual care of Catholic cemeteries. This is portrayed as a blatant attempt to shield the money so that it would not have to be paid out to abuse victims. The fact that a court of law subsequently vindicated the cardinal's actions is mentioned, but treated as far from conclusive or dispositive.

Things become somewhat more evenhanded, though only marginally less depressing for Catholic viewers, when Thomas moves on to financial corruption and the Vatileaks revelations.

But a sustained attack on the church's teaching against homosexual acts -- and on its requirement of celibacy for Latin-rite priests -- skews the treatment of the alleged "gay lobby" within the Curia.

And darts continue to be thrown at Pope Benedict. He's accused of "engineering a change in the Catechism (of the Catholic Church)" in order to include in it an assessment of sexual activity between persons of the same gender as "intrinsically disordered." Since the text of the catechism itself accurately attributes this judgment to "tradition" -- a tradition firmly rooted in Scripture, as even a cursory reading of St. Paul's letters would show -- such an intervention seems superfluous as well as unlikely.

"Secrets of the Vatican" represents a squandered opportunity to inform television audiences about the very real problems facing the church and its new leader, a potentially valuable overview blinded by worldly values, preconceptions and prejudices.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service. More reviews are available online at


Gene said...

Told ya'…I gave my self the choice of watching that or
watching some cow patties in a field for the same amount of time. I chose the cow patties.

Rood Screen said...

Thanks for posting this, Fr. McDonald.

It seems to me that journalists do well to reveal any failures by any organization to protect children from child abusers, but by now it is obvious enough that the trend in modern journalism is more about anti-Catholicism than about protecting children.

I watched this program. If there really is a sexual syndicate inside the Vatican, then we should thank God someone is exposing it. As for the Vatican bank, I just don't care. Get rid of it if it's so much trouble. As for the Vatican's role in preventing sexual abuse, it is obvious enough that a pope should have long ago required reporting to secular authorities, and that bishops who moved known abusers around should have been sacked. But, again, I don't think this Frontline program was really about justice, but about anti-Catholicism.

Tom Makin said...

I settled in to watch with my son who is very interested in the church and the priesthood. We walked away less than 10 minutes in. Not because there wasn't some truth in some of what was being said. It was just so over the top that we decided not to give it our time.

Anon friend said...

Well, here's the thing: we can sit in our cloistered, embittered Catholic shell denying the real-world news coverage and refusing to watch OR begin to deal with reality --friends that IS the new Evangelization we are in, like it or not. Every day I am called upon to answer a friend or family member's questions about my Church. Perhaps some of you are not challenged in that way, but I am. If I haven't heard or seen the latest admittedly-biased jank, I am at risk of not speaking intelligently for my faith. It is a cross, but it is reality. God does not wish me to live in fantasy. If there is any shred of validity in a story, we have to admit and account for it, then give the Church's answer.
We KNOW the Truth, and it WILL set us free. We cannot afford whining about this source and that source of untruth; at this critical point in our Church's future, we must just deal with what is, informed and armed. And may God oversee all our efforts.

Gene said...

I can explain and defend the Faith without having to watch garbage.

Anonymous said...

For the secular left, of which PBS is a part, the Catholic Church is the one major, institutional obstacle to furthering its agenda.

To expect journalists of the secular left to deal with the Church in a "fair and balanced manner" is to expect that which is not possible. It simply will never happen.

Fair reporting on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church would note that rates of abuse are as high or higher in other religious denominations and that the rate of sexual abuse in primary/secondary education is 5-10X higher. No fair report would intentionally leave the impression that the sexual abuse crisis has been somehow unique to the Church.

Also, notice that almost none of the secular reporting reveals, according to the 2002 John Jay Study, that, unique to the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, 83% of the abuse was male abuser/male sexual abuse victim and that the median age of the abuse victim was 14/15. Those particular details don't fit their narrative.

Gene said...

Oh, this is nice. Francis has welcomed Gutierrez, the founder of so-called "Liberation Theology" with open arms at the Vatican. This is the guy Benedict criticized. Still liking this Pope? Unbelievable...

Anonymous said...

Gene said: "I chose cow patties."

Someone else said: "I always thought he was drawn to B.S."

Rood Screen said...


The usual response to this 83% situation is to observe that altar servers were always boys until recently. The Frontline program made this observation, as did the 2011 John Jay report. However, this response seems to be born of an illogical assumption that priests are only ever around altar servers, and have no further contact with humanity.

Anonymous said...


Related to the media's usual take on the 83% situation, it also assumes that there is no "pre-meditation" in the choice of abusers to place themselves into situations where young boys, 11-17 years old, but not predominately pre-pubescent boys, are present. According to the logic of the media, they just "happen" to find boys present, so they abuse boys.

The general observation that 15-40% of Catholic priests are reported to have some degree of homosexual inclination, as opposed to only 1-3% of the male population, would point to a more predominate male abuser/male abuse victim profile.

This observation is countered with the assertion that the abuse is predominately about power and control, but that power and control ultimately has a predominately sexual expression.

So, sexual orientation is not related to abuse in any primary sense? This does not seem logical. If the motivation for abuse was primarily non-sexual, but focused on power and control, wouldn't abusers be abusing both boys and girls? In fact, most abuse only boys.

Any discussion of the sexual abuse of minors must comprehend that "conventional sexual aspects" do not account for the heinous nature of sexual abuse, but that does not mean that sexual orientation has little or nothing to do with the sexual abuse.

Anon friend said...

Thank you Anonymous--good factual observations (without emotionalism attached) that can be used in real-time discussions. We tried to discuss this finding 12 years ago in. Church-sponsored "town meeting" and were accused of "homophobia". There are now a ton of studies on this subject, and the facts cannot be denied; the conclusions however can become highly subjective and self-serving depending on one's personal agenda.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The John Jay study in this country on the abuse of children in the Church made clear that the majority of cases were not technically pedophilia, meaning the sexual abuse of children who are prepubescent. This is a tiny fraction of the problem in the Catholic priesthood and those who are pedophiles have a very serious clinical mental illness and often can have hundreds of victims if allowed unsupervised access to children. So in the cases of true pedophile priest, which is only a tiny,tiny number, that small number has a huge number of victims.

The major problem in the Catholic priesthood (and related to the sexual revolution of the 1960's and the overnight relaxation of discipline and supervision of priests after Vatican II with little or no preparation) is of a homosexual nature, but of arrested development of the priest-abuser. In other words, their sexual development and human relations with adults, men and women, had be arrested, perhaps due to being in an all male environment for High School seminary and college when most men mature in the sexuality, especially through dating same age people of the opposite sex.

Now all homosexuals have this kind of arrested development, even if their "dating" is same sex and they mature in a mixed sex culture.

Yet we must also acknowledge that many heterosexual men often prefer teenage girls and our culture has not discouraged this as perverted or immature.

We must also acknowledge that in the homosexual community there is a significant desire for young looking men who are teenagers or boy looking although older.

So to classify the homosexual nature of the abuse in the Catholic priesthood is not homophobic in the least but does point to some institutuional reasons for it that the Church has addressed since the 1970's. It also points to the clericalism in the clergy especially bishops who did not use canon law to remove these abusers from the priesthood or report them to law enforcement when the crimes and sins happened.

This latter part of the scandal is what is the greatest scandal and if this clericalism and arrogance had not be present, more children/teenagers would have been spared what they experienced at the hands of those they thought represent God and Church--which is the most serious kind of sexual abuse there is, when it is an authority figure such as a priest or parent.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

clarification on a misprint in my typing in the above comment:

I typed, Now all homosexuals have this kind of arrested development...

I intended to type, "NOT" all homosexuals have this kind of arrested development...

Anonymous said...

" It also points to the clericalism in the clergy especially bishops who did not use canon law to remove these abusers from the priesthood or report them to law enforcement when the crimes and sins happened."

Father, wasn't it true, to some extent, that the therapeutic approach to dealing with the abuse was considered more "pastoral" and politically correct at the time? To what extent were Bishops, and those responsible for dealing with the issue at the diocesan level, advised to initially deal with this issue primarily as a matter of obtaining what was considered, at the time, proper/appropriate therapy?

This attempt to better understand what happened in no way should be seen as excusing what was done, but wasn't it true that the first approach to the issue was not "canonical/criminal" but "therapeutic?" Bishops were told, in many instances, that these abusers could be treated "medically" and, in many instances, be returned to their pastoral activities. The first step, they were advised, should be to obtain medical treatment, not initiate canonical proceedings? Sadly, many Bishops took this advice, which we now know was most certainly not medically sound, thinking they were sensitively and properly addressing the issue.

No doubt, some Church officials took what they saw initially as the easier path to dealing with the abuse, provide counseling/treatment for the offending priests, rather than pursue canonical/criminal penalties.

When it later came to light that the therapy, in most instances, didn't work, the Bishops were faced with having to explain their actions. Rather than do so, in too many instances, they attempted to cover up the issue. In this, and in the failure to immediate report the abuse to the proper criminal authorities, they were gravely wrong.

George said...


"The general observation that 15-40% of Catholic priests are reported to have some degree of homosexual inclination as opposed to only 1-3% of the male population". What is your source for this?
The interesting thing about the last part of your statement is that this closely corresponds to the percentage of priests (from things I've read) who have commited child sexual abuse.
Approximately 4% of all active priests between 1950 and 2002 were even ACCUSED of abuse – a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population.
Nearly half of all abuse accusations concern priests who are already long dead.
From the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate tracking abuse data(as an example):
Year 2010: numbers of accusations against Catholic Priests involving a current minor that were even deemed "credible" 8
That same year there were 63,527 reported cases of child sexual abuse in the United States
From Ernie Allen president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
"Experts disagree on the rate of sexual abuse among the general American male population, but a conservative estimate is one in 10."

While child abuse is unquestionably a great evil,many of those who attack the Church on this issue do so with less than honorable and even let it be acknowledged, evil intent.

Anonymous said...

George, the 15-40% and the 1-3% figures are both, I believe, pretty widely accepted numbers . . . concerning the 15-40% figure, as reflected in the Wikipedia entry “Homosexuality and Roman Catholic priests.” Actually, I think the Wikipedia article sums up the current literature with the wider-ranging figure of 15-58% as the number or priests who may have some homosexual inclination. The 1-3% figure for homosexual orientation in the general male population is a summary of the conclusions of the Wikipedia entry, “Demographics of sexual orientation.”

As for your final point, we must all acknowledge, no matter the intent of any critics of the Church, that a better understanding of the child abuse crisis in the Church must lead us to ensure that it never happens again and that the Church, and society generally, must reach out to those who have been abused with love and compassion.

In part, we do this by uncovering the facts behind the issue and going where the facts lead us, while providing reasoned responses to those with less than pure intent. And, I'm sure you would agree, while we speak of the abuse and the abusers in order to better understand the abuse, the focus ultimately must be on helping the victims.