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Telling Vatican 'Secrets.'

Did you catch this week's episode of Frontline, "Secrets of the Vatican" (you can watch online right here)? Probably not the best title, given that the subjects it covers have been pretty well reported: Benedict's resignation, curial dysfunction, sexual abuse, Maciel's crimes, a gay clerical subculture in Rome, the Vatileaks scandal, corruption at the Vatican Bank. If you've been keeping up with those stories, you probably won't learn a lot viewing this film.

The first time I watched "Secrets of the Vatican," I found it slightly annoying.

The music: Is there some law requiring documentarians who cover the Catholic Church to score their work with spooky chant or cheese-ball action-movie music? It's distracting, especially when played behind the film's powerful interviews with victims of sexual abuse--including Maciel's son Raul Gonzales. (N.B.: When the film turns to Pope Francis's election and his focus on the poor, the music takes an appropriately humbler turn, replacing pipe organs with pan flutes. Cue Carson Zamfir joke.)

The reenactments: In the segment on the Vatican Bank scandals, the narrator describes the Italian authorites' surveillance operation, just as the camera pans across a roomful of official-looking men intently staring at computers, holding on a young man wearing headphones, leaning in toward the screen as though the thing was about to whisper the location of Jimmy Hoffa's body.

The narration: The film includes an interview with a Roman who left the priesthood to pursue a relationship with a woman. Frontline voice Will Lyman intones, “But the hypocrisy he saw around him disturbed Simone, and after a time of prayer and contemplation, he decided he wanted to live a normal life and go where his heart took him.” Ciao, celibate weirdos! (And did the director have to I.D. the guy as "Fr. Simone Alfieri" in his first appearance on film, when he knew that the man had already been laicized? Surprise.)

The sporadic imprecision: "The Benedict doctrine on homosexuality," the narrator tells viewers, "was deeply hurtful to those in the Vatican who were trying to lead celibate lives.” He's trying to describe the former pope's decree barring men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" from seminaries and ordination.

The confusing voicover: In one scene, the filmmaker interviews an anonymous priest about the pain he experienced following the Vatican's decree on gay seminarians. He's filmed in silhouette, shot from the side, and his voice is altered. He speaks. A man with an Italian accent translates. But you can still sort of make out what the priest is saying, even if he sounds like Darth Vader. And he is clearly speaking English. Was the director trying to further obscure the priest's identity? It's strange.

But then I watched "Secrets of the Vatican" again yesterday. Its pecadillos continued to bug me a bit. I wish the film had more to say about the Vatican's (and the U.S. bishops') recent attempts to address the scandal. I wish it offered a counterweight to some of victims' attorney Jeff Anderson's opinions. I wish it had tried to do less. But none of those shortcomings overwhelm the movie's greatest strength: the interviews. With victims--including Maciel's son, another one of Maciel's victims, Juan Vaca, and Monica Barrett (who tells her story of being raped in church by a Milwaukee priest); with journalists; with Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who heads Francis's kitchen cabinet. Nearly all of the interviews offer real insights--not something I've found in many recent documentaries about the church.

What did you think?

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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I agree with Grant's analysis.  The Frontline  program was too contrived.  The interview with the priest who left the priesthood and girlfriend (Discalimer: who blew my mind), was juvenile and did not do justice to the struggle of the priests I know who have requested laicization and the good will of their wives. It made me very angry.

Jeff Anderson does more harm than good in any presentation of the sex abuse scandal but Mary Bennett's story and Maciel's description of his "father's " perversions with him and his concern for his brother were more than enough, in my opeinion,  to influence any sensible person that we have and have had a major problem in our Church.

That is my two cents. Don't get me started.

If I may be so bold, Grant Gallicho, to suggest what is really unnerving and unsettling about the Frontline documentary Secrets of the Vatican is not the background music, the title of the piece, the narrator's solemn tones, confusing voiceovers, imprecisions in language and attributions, or the lack of interviewers to "balance" the renditions.  I'm sorry you're "annoyed."

What is troubling, or should be for all Catholics, is that we have supported and indeed financially underwritten the serial rape and sodomy of children, and a priesthood that requires men to lie about their own personal truth and integrity.  Our complicity is what really troubles us.

The financial fraud and money-laundering that goes on in the Vatican is only the icing on the cake.  It's shocking to see with our own eyes that the men we ascribe the title shepherds are indeed as Papa Francesco has labelled them, "the leporsy of the church."

Frontline does a pretty good job of getting the message out to the widest of possible audiences sitting in their living rooms across the country.  Not perfect, but pretty good for media.  Certainly better than what passes for Catholic media outlets on this story.

BTW, did everyone notice that Cardinal Timothy Dolan was sitting right next to Richard Sklba when the survivors in Milwaukee were confronting the bishops who had failed to act to protect them from predator priests, indeed had aided and abetted, when they were children, and subsequently attacked the survivors when they sought redress of grievances in the courts?  Dolan looked like he was having a hard time keeping down on his stomach one of those hot dogs he so famously favors.

Jeff Anderson is not perfect by any means.  But he is a great friend and tireless advocate for survivors - something we can't say for even ONE American prelate.

That's absurd. 

"Mary Bennett's story and Maciel's description of his "father's " perversions with him and his concern for his brother were more than enough, in my opeinion,  to influence any sensible person that we have and have had a major problem in our Church."

The above observation by Helen is what makes the film so powerful and necessary. The video is not for necessarily for those who are convinced of the problem. Rather the unconvinced. The interviews are so compelling, so clear that the ordinary person can understand it. This explains the political axiom of corrupt leaders: "Never do something wrong that the ordinary person can understand."  With something as crystal clear as this (and Christie's action on the GW) no spin can distract from the truth. Even among the educated there has been a reluctance to believe such things about church leaders. A magna cum laude friend of mine wrote: "And thank you for reporting most of these abuses over the years.  Nothing in these reports was new, though the visual presentation was startling." It was like until this show I was not credible. 

Such a program lifts the unwillingness to accept what happened. The ordinary person undersands. 

Finally, as Grant concluded:"Nearly all of the interviews offer real insights--not something I've found in many recent documentaries about the church."

I talked to many men on the Frontline story that spoke about of their part on the issue. e.g. Fr Doyle Berry, Anerson etc.  They were credible then and are credible now.. Family members, not familiar as CW readers asked me " what do you think about THAT'.... I said 'it's a sad story that we have witnessed'

I never mentioned the music.

I thought the interviews were very good.  I especially liked learning more about Fr. Tom Doyle, and the interview with Maciel's son gives an idea of how devestating sexual abuse can be.  Also I thought some of the images were interesting ... Francis putting his hand on that book at the conclave before he was pope, the historical stuff about  Maciel, B16 peering through that peephole, Francis at Assisi, etc.  The PBS page also has some interview posted with The Tablet's Robert Mickens, Fr. Tom Doyle, and Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga  here ...  ... and some articles by guys like John Thavis, former Rome bureau chief for the Catholic News Service, and Thomas Fox, editor of NCR, are posted here ... ... I thought it was worth watching.

Sorry - that first link should be this ...

I am making my first comment here because of Grant Gallico.  He criticized so many aspects of the Frontline program on the Vatican.  When someone wrote in to counter that attitude, he pounced on one overstatement rather than speak to the truth in the bulk of the comment.  It IS the secular media which puts the most light and heat on the heinous crimes against children and adolescents by the clerical leadership of the Catholic Church, clerical leaders who protected the clerical physical perpetrators. We SHOULd think about how we are partiipating in the continued injustice to these dear damaged ones by the various ways in which we support that leadership. Where is our compassion for those who have suffered, often for decades?  What do WE owe them?  It deserves our prayerful consideration.  I found your reaction to the Frontline program to be cold to the essence of its content, Grant.  Please consider the good it did in helping more people feel for the victims and become aware of some of the unpleasant truths about the clericalism and monarchical power of our institution of religion.  My husband, who has not been exposed to the truth as much as Commonweal readers, learned because of the Frontline program.  

This is a compelling documentary because of the interviews as Grant mentions; the rest is beside the point.

I specifically mention: 

Jason Berry, a co-producer and incomparable person of integrity, who interviewed Maciel's son, and stood with Juan Vaca et al through decades of vicious opposition and neglect,

Tom Doyle (of course, of course),

Jeff Anderson (love the guy because he just digs and digs and digs and gets results, like access to untold numbers of documents we wouild never know about otherwise. He genuinely cares about survivors, takes no crap, and to hell with the money, except as it allows him after years of near bankruptcy to do things like go to Mexico to get at perpetrators and enablers there --- while putting his life at risk; having to be rescued by police, who drive him to the airport to get away from anonymous highly armed men about to highjack him). 

Robert Mickens, the most astute, skilled, straight-talking journalist at the Vatican, who has the courage of his convictions. Please do read his unparallelled interview on a Frontline page. It's very long but eminently worthwhile. I can't speak highly enough of him.

Bill Mazzzella and Ed Gleason are right; it takes getting to the ordinary person to have an impact on the corruption and what is at stake.

Thank you, Frontline. 


The shocking thing about the Frontline documentary is to realize that I gave my allegiance, loyalty, mind, and time (I was once a seminarian in a prominent diocese) to this organization. 

Of course I knew of the abuse cases; who didn't after 2002, especially? But rarely, if ever, has an American television interview with victims of priest rape been so shocking. It was more-or-less told to me, as a seminarian, that lawyers are after money and want to argue the widest scope to get to the deepest pockets. Nowadays, I say sell off the cathedrals if you have to. The idea that any assets still exist because they were protected by lawsuits is sickening. Of course, I knew the story of Dolan's "cemetary fund" but it didn't hit me like it did when I saw the victims walk through those actual cemetaries.

The most demoralizing thing is realizing that all of it has certainly been going on for centuries. That eight year old girl who was abused has centuries of fellow victims behind her. It's astonishing and mind blowing.

Random, unimportant observations:

The story about the priest who fell in love and was scorned by trying to leave the priesthood in Rome felt like a bit of shoe-horned levity, relatively. But then the narrator mentioned that young Roman woman is now single...? ; )

I didn't quite understand Frontline's take on the butler case. Was it the butler? Or was it someone who gave files to the butler? Is there an old Curia hand who's ultimately reponsible for Benedict's resignation and the subsequent Francis cleanup attempt? Maybe I'll have to watch it again.

Most infuriating was watching John Paul consistently embrace that hideous freak, Macial. Whether or not Francis's cleanup effort succeeds, I'll never again regard the papacy like I once did (I was admittedly naive.)

And the Italian mafia killing Francis? Please. You can't do banking in Europe anymore like you did before. It's either VatiBank reform or no bank. Hopefully, they're smart enough to realize that.

I see my link above to MIckens' interview on the Frontline web page does not work. Maybe this one will:

Thank you, Brian, for your comments. It means so much when people's eyes are opened. The visual is indeed powerful.

Any shortcomings notwithstanding, I found the program most interesting and informative.  After its airing, I asked my ex-wife (Episcopalian) what she thought of the documentary.  She replied, "I knew there were problems in the Vatican, but I didn't know they were *that* bad!!!"  For folks who don't keep up with stuff coming out of Rome, I think this PBS program gave them plenty to consider, especially if they are churchgoing Catholics who still toss their shekels into the weekly collection plate.  Any bishop who saw this program should be able to say, "I saw the enemy, and it is us!"

That second link did not work either.

When you get the message page not found, check the URL and delete the second forward slash after the last word "francis" at the end and it should work. I don't understand.

In case, here's the interview section about the butler:

What happened next?

… I was at the man’s trial. … Nobody that I have spoken to and that I continue to speak to in the Vatican really believes that the butler did it. He was a scapegoat. He was a scapegoat, and he was probably pressured either by blackmail, that they held something over his head, or convinced him, paid him something.

But he took the fall for other people. He may have helped, but he certainly was not working alone, if he was involved at all. He was certainly not working alone. It’s impossible. There were documents that were leaked, that he supposedly leaked, that were written in languages that he does not speak. How would he even know that they were important? …

Mickens' comments on Benedict and Maciel:

He knew about the [Marcial] Maciel case. It was going across his desk before he became pope, and he stalled. What was going on?

People say that the case of Maciel was really stalled in Cardinal Ratzinger’s office because his hands were tied, that other forces within the Vatican — the secretary of state [Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone], Cardinal [Angelo] Sodano and others who were friendly and in the pay of Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, his order — blocked any kind of action from the office that Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of.

But once he becomes pope, he finds a kind of middle solution to deal with Maciel. In 2005, after he was elected pope, at this point he has got enough evidence. Look, there were former Legionaries who were writing to him way back in the 1990s about this. He cannot claim that he didn’t know. He didn’t choose to believe.

Once he did believe and once he’s pope, then the question becomes, how do you deal with this man? He did not banish him. He did not kick him out of the priesthood as other priests were kicked out. What he did was he ordered him — “invited him” was the language that was used in the Vatican communiqué — invited him to spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. Didn’t give any reason why, but it was clear that they believed the accusations against him, which had been piling up since the 1950s and ’60s, [involving] not just child abuse but drug abuse as well, financial abuse.

Why didn’t he just banish him? Why? Because the Legionaries of Christ is a large and very wealthy order and puts lots of money in the Vatican’s coffers. I think Benedict XVI thought that he could save the order by getting rid of Maciel.

When Maciel dies in 2008, they open up an investigation, and they thought that this would lead to a renewal and a reform of the order, preserving the order. But how you can you preserve an order that was founded on the cult of personality of a psychopath? It doesn’t make sense. … If the Legionaries of Christ were a small, kind of poor order with few people, that’s exactly what they would have done. …

The church is meant to be the highest moral authority in the world. This speaks of shocking hypocrisy. The guy was a monster, and he was sent off to some holiday resort to think about it. What were they thinking?

"The Maciel case is probably one of the darkest chapters in the history of the contemporary church, without a doubt, without a doubt. I still cannot get my head around this idea that his order can somehow be salvaged and reformed.

The people that were formed in that order, in secrecy they took a vow — fortunately, Pope Benedict made them rescind this vow — but for decades they took a special vow to never speak ill of the founder. … There were still members of the order who go to his tomb in Mexico and celebrate Mass and celebrate him. They were supposed to have taken down all photos of him in their houses in the 22 countries around the world where they’re present, and there are still houses that reportedly have been slow to take down these photos of Maciel. …

What should have happened was the order should have been disbanded; the members of that order should have been given psychological, spiritual help to discern whether or not they wanted to continue to be priests and find places that could accommodate them, either in dioceses to become diocesan priests or other religious orders. Why this has not been done — the only way I can explain it is it’s too wealthy, it has too much money, it runs a lot of schools, and they’re just afraid to shut this thing down."


I'm just amazed that there were still people who didn't know how bad things have been.  Why didn't they know?  Don't they read newspapers or watch the news on TV?

John Allen's text about Maciel: 

"Benedict XVI became a Catholic Elliot Ness... Benedict XVI's... next move, with Maciel, got the attention of the wider world. In May 2006, NCR broke the news that Benedict had barred Maciel from public ministry, instructing him to live a life of prayer and penance. Due to his advanced age, no formal canonical trial would be held, but the verdict nevertheless seemed clear: Guilty. (Benedict "invited" Maciel) 

Though Maciel died in January 2008, revelations of various scandals surrounding him continue to emerge -- including fathering a child out of wedlock, and plagiarizing some of his best-known spiritual writings. Benedict eventually ordered an apostolic investigation of the Legionaries, which is now reportedly complete, though it will be some time before conclusions are forwarded to the pope for whatever action he might take.

Given Maciel's high international profile, and his reputation for friends in high places, Benedict's move was widely taken as proof positive of a new dispensation in the Catholic church: If you're credibly accused of abuse, no power on heaven or earth will protect you from paying the price."

Jim Jenkins talks about "the serial rape and sodomy of children" as if Monica Barrett's infernal rapist were typical of the RC clergy. Yet Catholic apologists claims that only 68 US priests have been accused of the actual physical rape or buggery of minors. Can anyone tell me if this is the correct number?

Monica Barrett's allegations against William Effinger were never proven in court (statute of limitations). Effinger was convicted, and did not contest his conviction, of molesting boys -- 

Carolyn is too lavish in praise of the interviews (other than those with victims), which to me were the weakest part of the "show". I found Robert Mickens tired and routine. Tom Doyle went on about the abortion of his ecclesiastical career and in the same breath about how he never wears clerical dress -- his interview was more about Doyle than anything else. The program offered no new info and above all no analysis, so the effect was rather one of indoctrination and propaganda, reinforcing perceptions already established in the media.

The person most damaged by the program was John Paul II -- himself the object of a mindless cult of personality (to which the majority of Catholics contributed) he loved his successful fellow cult-object -- a guy who got out the youth and excited crowds just as the pope himself did. There was a touch of the rogue about John Paul II -- and not just a "loveable rogue".

I found that the total impact of the program tended to a "blame the gays" line, It segued to gay seminarians and gay priests as if this were something equally wicked with the preceding harrowing accounts of child rape. It had a few willfully ignorant anticlerical jabs, as in the pseudodoctrine that ordination "changes your character"? The producers are happy to milk confusion from the phrase “sacramental character”. The lay Catholic hatred and destruction of the male-female couple (ex-priest and girlfriend), recounted in the film, is of a piece with the holy horror of sexually active gay priests. Is it so horrible that a tour guide would have sex with a chorister in the Vatican choir? Must it be classed with child rape? Anglican and Orthodox priests have their gay lifestyles etc too, but we don't link that with child rape. The interview with the North American College students was striking -- the lofty idealism of the young men is based on tuning out the full dimensions of their human affectivity, ready to explode after a few years in the ministry -- then addio il celibato, addio lo stato clericale! I believe the attrition rate is high.

So what is to be done about gay priests? Well, what is done about them in Anglican and Orthodox circles? I suggest that they should be embraced, allowed to marry if they wish, and that when this is done, the church should make an effort to recruit from other categories as well, such as straight men, married if they wish, and of course -- women. Francis and his friend Maradiaga are doing a good job on the pastoral front but they have not given any sign of thinking in these directions. They are still oiling the homosocial Tridentine clerical apparatus, imagining that nothing more is wrong with it than creaky joints. If the Synod of 1971 had accepted Paul VI's proposal to ordain married men as priests the necessary process of change would by now have been well underway and we might even have women bishops. Instead we have has four decades of increasingly obvious and unnerving dysfunctionality.


Joseph, thank you for comments, however:

I think that might be innacurate about the 1971 Synod. Paul issued Sacerdotalis Caellibatus in 1967 reffirming clerical celibacy. The Synod of 1971 supported this postion; opposing views were in the minority.

I came across that item about the 1971 Synod in Schillebeeckx's book on Ministry and also read about it in The Tablet (Peter Hebblethwaite). Paul VI put it to the Synod that the pope should have the right to ordain married men in cases of pastoral necessity and when it was turned down he remarked "why did they reject it?". I see Francis has now ordained a married man of the Maronite rite.


Also, the Harvard psychiatrist interviewed, Dr. Martin Kafka, explicited stated that:

The number of Catholic clergy who are accused and prosecuted for child and adolescent sex abuse vastly outnumber the number of Protestant clergy. One of those factors is this issue of suppresing sexuality in order to serve God. The data that we have suggests that men who abuse children are equally likely to be heterosexual or homosexual in their adult orientation. But people who abuse adolescents, post-pubescent children, are more like to reflect their own adult sexuality in those whom they victimize.

Is this anti-gay? Or a reflection of the facts of sex abuse (a universal phenomenon, sadly) in the priesthood as it is currently practiced and defined? 

The hidden camera video gave the gay priest and tour guide bit the feeling of scandal-mongering; I've never heard of anyone secretly filming a priest and his girlfriend. But isn't this because Rome has been so anti-gay, doctrinally and rhetorically? In fact, there's the well known, century's old Catholic rationalization that prostitution (female) is at least "in accordance with Nature" and even socially necessary at times(!) whereas homosexuality is always, always wrong - maybe even worse than heterosexual rape. Any organization that promotes such an ideology ought to be ready for hidden camera journalism focusing on gay life within it.  


Helen Parish, Clerical Celibacy in the West, p. 226, says that in response to pressures from bishops in the build-up to the 1971 Synod Paul VI "conceded that in areas in which there was a significant shortange there might be reasons to consider the ordination of mature married men", referring to Acta Apostolicae Sedis 62 (1970):98ff. Half the bishops at the Synod were in favor of this idea but when a vote was held on it on the penultimate day of the Synod it was defeated.

Francis's ordination fhe Maronite married deacon continues a piecemeal erosion of celibacy, which is just what the bishops in 1971 did not want to see.

Thank you for the clarification of the 1971 Synod. It's good to see Francis chip away at mandatory celibacy. I wonder if he really has a master plan or if this is just more of "Francis being Francis".

"In May 2006, NCR broke the news that Benedict had barred Maciel from public ministry, instructing him to live a life of prayer and penance."

Prayer and Penance - hogwash. 

He lived his last days in a gated community in Ponte Vedra, plush area in the Diocese of St. Augustine, probably subsidized by a member of Regnum Christi.  I doubt that it had the approval of the bishop of the diocese, since I heard (Disclaimer: Hearsay, not proven by me) that the bishop would not allow Legionnaire priests in the diocese.(At the time I lived in Jacksonville.)

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Didn't seem to me as if the documentary misrepresented the present dysfunctional situation? Not much news to me, subscribed to Commonweal, NCR and America. But the interviews, some alongside shots of the monster Maciel in John Paul II's embrace, were sobering. If the hierarchy is having such a hard time opening the windows to let the fresh air in, let the secular media open them from the outside to let the filthy air out. Nobody owes any loyalty or respect to bad managers.


One wife and one daughter were there, according to Jason Berry.

Re: "barred from public ministry," Maciel had already resigned from his position as superior. No consequences there either. 

And not a word from Benedict for Juan Vaca and the other victims; as though they did not exist. Surreal.

Grant - to your last question......trying to be balanced but most of this Frontline piece contained information I had already known, read about, or experienced.  So, my initial reaction was more one of disappointment.  (there was no groundbreaking information, data, etc.)

Other commenters have already mentioned some weaknesses (whether trying to include too much; touching on a subject or topic without providing adequate background, current information, or relating to one point of view) e.g. why insert the priest who left and his girlfriend?  the gay scenes in the Rome apartment?

Sorry, don't really pay much attention to secondary stuff - music,voiceovers, narration gaps, etc.

What struck me most was that the subject *secrets in the Vatican* was probably too broad of a subject and thus the program covered too many topics; didn't have time to actually show documented issues, etc.; and came across as disjointed and unconnected.  e.g. some have mentioned how a viewer could have walked away with confusion in terms of the treatment of homosexuality (the psychiatrist made excellent, documented, and researched points vs. the baseless stuff that JOL constantly posts - i.e. only 68 actual perps (using his very narrow and biased definitions and dismissing Ms. Barret's lifestory).

Would disagree, Grant, with your view of J. Anderson'a opinions - historians will eventually see his role of service to his church as opposed to the cover-ups, collusion, denials, etc. of most of the episcopal ranks.

To be honest - would have rather seen specials for each topic that involved more research; more careful efforts to show the history and current questions, and balanced spokespersons.


All in all this is a smashing video. Perhaps one has to look at the nuances to glean what may come. The Vatican bank is a big issue here. That bank has never been cleaned the way it is being cleaned now. If Francis can do that the Curia will be much easier. They will know they have met their match. John XXIII took the blows for Francis clearing the way. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez is one of the appointees to reform the Curia. He is a tireless worker who has fought for the poor all over the world. One can see his determination to change things.

The timing is here. The right people are in place. Their are those looking to trap Francis abroad and in this country. Francis has stayed with the unassailable mandate of Christ. The poor and the disenfranchised. The others things will follow. 

Bill de Haas, I fear it is your own remarks that are baseless -- never, never, never did I say there were only 68 actual clerical perpetrators; nor did I dismiss Monica Barrett's story (note the correct spelling of her name). 

Bill de Haas, I fear it is your own remarks that are baseless -- never, never, never did I say there were only 68 actual clerical perpetrators; nor did I dismiss Monica Barrett's story (note the correct spelling of her name). 

I asked in all humility whether it is true that only 68 priests have been accused of actual physical penetrative rape (not for a moment do I suggest the many other kinds of sexual abuse are not monstrously wicked). Reply from Mr De Haas: "Baseless!" Does anyone know the answer? 

Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea writes on Facebook: A new article in Pastoral Psychology by Kappler, Hancock & Plante studied 156 priests -- 67% identified as gay; 27% as hetero and 6% as bi. Overall age was 60, ranging from 27-86. They were 45% religious; 55% diocesan. They entered the seminary on average at 21. Comparing hetero and gay priests, researchers found -- contrary to hypotheses -- that the two groups did not differ significantly on measures of psychological well-being or depression. However, within the gay group, internal homophobia WAS correlated with increase depression and less psychological wellbeing. In turn, higher levels of internal homophobia were correlated with a less integrated sense of sexual identity, a result that support John Jay's finding that sexual abuse was NOT correlated with the sexual orientation of the abuser but rather with his level of "integrated psychosexual maturity." So -- my extrapolation is that the more the Church accepts homosexuality as a naturally occurring, sacred orientation on a par with heterosexuality, the greater likelihood that its priests, especially its large population of gay priests, will achieve an integrated sexual identity. The full article is: Kappler, Hancock, Plante. (2013). Roman catholic gay priests: internalized homophobia, sexual identity and psychological well-being. Pastoral Psychology, 62:805-826.


Those readers of Commonweal and commentors in these blogs joined with those reading other mainline Catholic publications represent what percentage of American Catholics? 1%-2%?

How many would have heard of Marciel?

That is why Frontline is necessary- even with its faults.

And Father Tom Doyle, with whatever idiosyncracies, is a gift to the Church.

Anyone else in these blogs have taken the risks and energy that he and others - even Jeff Anderson- have?


I agree with Bill DeHaas's assessment of the production values of the Frontline program. It is unfortunate it had that slightly tacky title, lacked clear editorial focus, and tried to do too much. It probably reached a somewhat  mixed audience, including some who had followed the issues treated in it closely, many who knew little except what they had seen in the headlines, and, no doubt, a ew diehard PBS  viewers who could not resist Judy Woodruff's earnest appeal to watch it, at the close of the Newshour that night.  It would not be surprisng to find the program getting a mixed reception.

But it did put on the record the vivid testimony of  those victims of abuse who bravely appeared in the first part. And though the second part tried to cover  a complicated subject  in too short a time, it did show how many important stories are out there, worth covering in greater depth. One, certainly, is the story of Maciel and the Legion of Christ , and their links to prominent figures at the Vatican. If Frontline did nothing more than juxtapose Juan Vaca's story with that unforgettable shot of  John Paul II embracing Maciel, it would have been a worthwhile project. 

The tragedy and personal horror of Maciel ( and how DOES the Legion survive???) will forever blemish John Paul II. How he could have been seduced does not speak well of some other personal judgments as we know- perhaps his treatment of Oscar Romero being among the most egregious.. Yet we will celebrate his canonization soon and wil hear of his great and and deservedly praised "triumphs" with the Communist bloc. Yet this is why we continue to need muckrakers like "Frontline" and others with whatever foibles, warts, poor editing, and even exaggerations that we would never see otherwise.

As Jos. O'Leary tries to  minimize the extent of Catholic clerical abuse , by mentioning "what about Protestant and Orthodox clerics abuse'  I will offer my prospective that I give when asked by Catholic  abuse  deniers questioning me.

I worked 30 years in the Bell System, and worked  with thousands of men who had un-supervised access to children in front and back yards , bedrooms, basements,  schools and offices. I never heard of one child abuse case [surely there were some in 50 states but I worked in Ca. the largest state] and in a gossipy work culture.  And The Bell System had deeper,  deeper pockets then the Vatican could even  imagine.  I then worked in an Archdiocese for ten years and worked with 25 creditably accused priests. These priests knew me by sight and name and and I knew them.

Just personal evidence I guess.... but compelling to me. .


I, too did not learn anything new from "Secrets of the Vatican."   I learned almost everything that it presented in my long and unsuccessful struggle to help save Our Lady of Vilnius on Broome Street in Manhattan.  In the 7 years since the locking of the church I have been bringing the issues presented by the Frontline show to friends, acquaintances and anyone else who would listen, no matter how reluctantly.  In real time I was met with outright denial, skepticism and a "Say it isn't so" avoidance.  The Frontline presentation gave credence to what I had been telling them and made them more willing to take a second look.  From sexual assaults to church closings what has really been abused is power.  Most lamentable is abuse of the power of being Christ's vicar on earth.  I agree with Grant about the shortcomings of this production, but I think that it was, overall, beneficial.  Now if they would only produce an ongoing series callled "Secrets of the Archdiocese."  

I like that title..maybe it'll apear with re-runs of the much panned "Nothing Sacred" taht I still really enjoyed for the issues it brought forth...

The cameo of Cardinal Dolan and that $57 million ot the cemetery fund never really made sense, yet it looks like he skated by that one....

Maybe your series will review it!

Most of what Frontline documented in this video, Jason Berry has reported in even more detail. A picture/video is better than millions of words. Hopefully someone can do it better. But for now this video has to rate at the top. We heard about Bertone as a scoundrel. But the graphics get him. He appears to be a modern day Robespiere. Franis "damns Bertone with faint praise as he leaves: "I would like to thank you for the courage and the patience with which you have lived through all the adversities you have faced. And they are many." Here are Jason Berry's three articles if you want facts and thorough reserarch.

There are comparatively few allegations of child sexual abuse by ministers of religion in other churches. There are some, as there are in all other organizations involved in work with children and young people. With colleagues I have done a study of the prevalence of abuse in the Anglican Church across Australia. I have some knowledge also of what has happened in other churches. Reliable statistics are not available, but in my opinion, and based on the available data, there has been around six times as much child sexual abuse by clergy and religious in the Catholic Church as there is by ministers of religion in all the other churches in Australia combined - and I would regard that as a conservative figure.


Well, well, well ... ["That's absurd"]!  Really?  We'll see who's being absurd ... To paraphrase Forrest Gump's mother:  [Absurdity is as absurdity does.] 

Mary Anne Thompson's reaction above is essentially the same one that I received today from the architect  who owns the building where I have my consultation office here in Berkeley - not a churchy person by any means, but certainly morally aware.  

BJ, the architect, is not really that informed of all the nitty-gritty of the issues roiling the Catholic Church in recent years - like most people he is focused on his very busy life and that of his family, doing other things.  But, from our infrequent conversations over the years BJ was aware of my own limited role locally in these issues, and of my work and advocacy with survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation.  

The Frontline piece was an eye-opener for BJ and his wife.  BJ reported to me that he and his wife had no idea of how pervasive and endemic the corruption was among Catholic hierarchy - as depicted in the Frontline piece.  Apparently the Frontline piece achieved in part its purpose of educating the public.  BTW, BJ didn't say anything about the "atmospherics" of the program's production, such as the background music or narration.

I did learn something new professionally from the Frontline program:  The research of Martin Kafka, MD of the Harvard Medical School regarding the constellation of factors underlying the choice/preference of victims by Catholic priest predators.  I have spent most of this morning online reviewing the published writings of Kafka - very enlightening!

Kafka's research begins to decifer and decode why Catholic priests overwhelmingly choose post-pubescent boys to assault.  Kafka's data suggests that men who abuse children are equally likely to be heterosexual or homosexual in their adult orientation. But people who abuse adolescents, post-pubescent children, are more like to reflect their own adult sexuality in those whom they victimize.  I hope that Kafka and others continue this important line of inquiry - there is more research to be done.

Kafka also drops the hammer on the US bishops silly contention that they concocted from their dubious John Jay Study that celibacy IS NOT a factor in the abuse:  

"The number of Catholic clergy who are accused and prosecuted for child and adolescent sex abuse vastly outnumber the number of Protestant clergy. One of those factors is this issue of suppresing sexuality in order to serve God."   

The implications are huge - in this I'll go further than Kafka does:  Until the Catholic Church acts in a determined and focused way to dismantle the all-male celibate clerical sub-culture of the priesthood, they are just whistling past the graveyard.  No amount of apologies from hierarchs, even Papa Francesco, will stem the tide and judgement of history.

Jim J. --

Does Kafka's contend that straight priests choose adolescent boys *because* they're straight?  If so, it makes no sense to me at all on the face of it.  How would this work psychologically?  Why wouldn't a straight male choose a female?

I still wonder just how much wore the RC Church is compared to  other organizations oriented towards children.  Do we really know how much molestation there is in the schools and other churches? I suspect there isi a lot more going on in them than meets the eye, though the opportunity to cover-up might not be so great in those organizations.

That great era of the 60's which was later panned by Catholic and other leaders because of a few abuses, brought so much good. Above all, Catholics realized that they could actually use reason and that they need not be bamboozled by a dogmatic hierarchy. There were big changes in the world at large. The civil rights era women's rights. Among others. Silence was no longer an option. The restorationists changed that and the prophets were persecuted while monarchy retook in the church. 

Now with Francis silence is no longer an option. Princes have to take responsibility in the spirit.  The "Sounds of Silence" by Paul Simon captured the change that needed to come.

           "And the people bowed and prayed 

To the neon god they made.

And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the signs said, 'The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whisper'd in the sounds of silence."

The entire song is here with all its beauty.




Does Kafka's contend that straight priests choose adolescent boys *because* they're straight? 

The other way around. Men who abuse children are equally likely to be hetero - or homo- sexual in their adult sexuality but those who abuse adolescents, post puberty are more likely to reflect their adult sexuality. So if it is adolescent boys, then most likely, they are homosexual in their orientation.

He suggests that reduction of risk should be more mature men ordained to priesthood and more explicity discussion of sexuality.

George D. =

I know that the John Jay report concluded that the perps were mainly straight priests who chose boys because 1) they were simpy more available than girls and because 2) they were "immatute", whatever that meant.  So how does Kafka show that their motivation was actually simply homosexual inclination?  Or does Kafka say it's a result of *immature* homosexual inclination?  And how does he claim to establish this?  (I missed the program and can't get the tape on my computer.  Sigh.)

The program wasn't perfect. For non-insiders, it was pretty good. In depth reporting could produce a miniseries' worth of material. I would love to see what they dig up on the butler cover-up.

Maybe Grant and Commonweal could get into film production.


Veracity and accuracy are important not only because exaggerations, such as the propaganda that led a huge number in one polls to imagine 70% of priests are child abusers, or that recycles the meme "serial rapists and sodomists", which applies only to a small number of child abusers.  and not only because a witch hunt is damaging to all, not least children, but also because veracity and accuracy are of value in themselves.

In the interest of veracity and accuracy, I would ask people to not that I never said "what about abuse in Anglican and Orthodox circles?" as someone claims above. As an opponent of Sinn Fein/IRA propaganda for the last 45 years, I am well aware of how despicable and meretricious whataboutery is. 

I referred to campy clerics in Anglicanism and Orthodoxy (some of whom are my good friends) NOT as an example of abuse but as a jolly good thing that should be tolerated.

For the record, I believe that clerics sexual abuse of minors has been more common by far in the Roman Catholic Church than in the Anglican Communion. I suppose it would be useless to ask "ed gleason" for an apology?

"I know that the John Jay report concluded that the perps were mainly straight priests who chose boys because 1) they were simply more available than girls and because 2) they were "immature", whatever that meant."

I am not sure if that is quite what the Jay report meant. If 67% of priests ar gay is it highly unlikely that the majority of the abusing minority were straight. In any case, if Jay thinks that straight men would be tempted to abuse teenage boys or gay men to abuse teenage girts he is surely talking through his hat. (The case may be different with pedophilia.)

George D. is of course correct. But politically correct folk object to any link between sexual abuse of minors and the gaying of the priesthood. I think that there is a link, and it lies in the following fact:

Very many RC clergy put their (homo)sexuality on hold in the seminary. Some time after ordination they began to act out their sexuality -- at first perhaps in what they thought an innocent "touchy-feely" way and then explicitly, perhaps caught up in the tide of gay liberation. At that time, say the 1970s and 1980s, the gay world was much less oriented to adult, mature, partnered sexuality than now, much more youth-focused, and much less concerned about age of consent (in some countries homosexuality itself was illegal so the age of consent did not stand out as as a supreme barrier). That is why, as I think Jay reported, some 50% of abuse cases concern clerics who were involved with older minors in a temporary, non-recidival way, perhaps in part because their own undeveloped sexuality was itself adolescent. Gay clergy in other denomination were less likely to be in such abusive situations because of the normal rhythm of their sexual development and also possibly because in some cases their churches were more gay-friendly and more approving of stable relationships.

When people react defensively to any attempt to relate clerical abuse of minors with homosexuality, in defiance of the clear evidence that 80% of the reported abuse concerns boys not girls,they are blocking one of the paths to insight. Of course this is not to say that gays as such are more prone to abuse of minors, as some homophobic commentators have tried to claim.

I tuned in half way through and was riveted.I realized quickly enough I was watching a hatchet job on the Vatican.It had every propaganda tool in the book,especially the narrator's voice.[Frontine itself are propaganda pieces]. It dealth with all manner of sins ,crimes and hypocrisy; clerical sexual abuse ,clerical gay subculture, financial corruptions and I forget what else was thrown in. It certainly aroused my pruient interest.That scene with the gay priests dancing together was well,something. That a closed 2000+ year old  hierarchal institution,on  earth, contains sins and crimes is not surprising.And it is good that the crimes and sins get exposed and that with new insights into pychology and sexuality, the church revises long held positions on celibacy and  homosexuality and the role of women.Some housecleaning and revisions of  entrenched hypocritical norms  is always approppriate.And it's is happening.If  the message is that the Vatican should be disolved eventually,I think that would do a disservice to the Church .Over time the tenets of the faith ,of our creed needs to be propagated to future generations. A centralized theocratic institution preserves the tenets of the faith and keeps the church Universal.Horizontal input from the laity is one thing;abolishing a heirarchy is a recipe for a haphazard ,individual or localized hodge podge of creeds.


@ Rose-Ellen Caminer:  "Hatchet job"???  Really?  However, I am glad to see that you and I agree that "the church [needs to revise] long held positions on celibacy and  homosexuality and the role of women."  For the record, I certainly don't want a Catholicism without priesthood.  

The critical reform for me would be that the PEOPLE actually call and choose whomever they want to be their priests and/or bishops.  For me, the priesthood must spring from the local church, and not somekind of self-perpetuating feudal oligarchy.  Hence, LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

@ Ann Olivier:  The operative words in Kafka's postulation are ["One of those factors ..."].  There are other factors besides celibacy for sure - that is why I hope that Kafka and others continue down this line of inquiry.  Remember, we are dealing with a human phenomenon that is both multi-factorial and multi-variate in nature.  Nothing in humans is uncomplicated.  

I believe that one of those other factors in a perpetrators choice of victim is the nexus of the complete concentration of political power in a sub-culture of the church community AND essentially unaccountable access by priests and bishops to mountains of money to finance both the abuse and its cover-up.  How you operationalize those factors in order to study and test for them is what researchers like Kafka do for a living.  We'll just have to wait and see where this line of inquiry leads.

I do believe that Kafka does address your issue about the prevalence of child abuse in "other organizations" as opposed to what we find among Catholic clergy.  While I agree with you that child sexual abuse occurs in the general population mostly within family relationships, the rate of abusive Catholic clergy dwarfs other clergy from other denominations.  That begs the obvious question of why?  What are the differences between these different strains of clergy?  Well, celibacy kind of leaps out as a major differing factor that needs to be examined.

Another factor to consider:  Andrew Greely, a respected sociologist besides being a priest, theorized that after the exodus of thousands of priests from the priesthood in the 60s, 70s, and 80s the overwhelming majority of priests remaining in the priesthood [including hierarchs] were homosexual in orientation - both sexually active and chaste.  The predominance of homosexuals in the priesthood - for whatever the historic reasons - needs to be part of the mix when considering the factors that contributed to priests' sexual predation of mostly adolescent boys.  

[Personally, I think that in this area the factor of availability - that is, the choice of victim in sexual abuse is also related to what victims are available with impunity to the perpetrators - is certainly operative in this study and discussion.]

Remember:  Multi-factorial and Multi-variate.  Let's keep our eye on the ball. 

Why all the bold type, capitals and italics?  Have more faith in the strength of your words. 

Thanks, Mr. Jenkins - well written; good analysis and excellent points.  Please ignore the *swipe* by Mr. Ryder.

Dave P:  thanks for remembering "Nothing Sacred."  When it was unceremoniously cancelled I wrote to ABC and begged them to put out a VHS (it was that long ago) containing the 15 released and 5 unreleased but "canned" episodes.

They, of course, did not respond.

Yes, it was very much ahead of its time (1997-98) with treatment of the topics it touched. For those who know not of what we speak:

And you'll be glad to know how good it was .....  

“The Catholic League and Alan Keyes on its board of advisors, specifically, declared the show in 1997 a "sacrilege" according to one commentator, who also quoted Keyes as calling it "propaganda dressed up as entertainment[, infused with] belief that there are no moral absolutes.” "

So you know that it HAD to be good!

I watched the episode online and agree that the interviews of sexual abuse survivors was the most memorable part. Monica Barrett said that she "didn't understand what was going on". I suppose that that inability to understand adult acts might protect children from being traumatized, but the context is as though calculated to make the rape as destructive as possible: the belief that the priest was the closest they could get to God, and the abuser threatening Monica Barrett afterwards. All that must have greatly magnified her trauma.

After watching the part about Maciel, it's hard to believe that John Paul II will be canonized next month!

The rest of the documentary was much less interesting. The transition from sex abuse to  homosexuality and back to sex abuse was quite awkward, the section on the laicized priest and his girlfriend was a bit strange and superficial, and I'm not so interested in money-laundering questions.

Well, I'll be darned .... youtube has the/some episodes:

Evidently these are bootlegged from the old TV show and, while far from up to excellent quality, still viewable.

Isn't life in the 21st century a hoot and a half!

Claire, about JPII's canonization, I must ignore it.

But I think Fr. O'Leary may be on to something here about JPII and Maciel: March 2, 2:04AM (an unusual occurrence for me)

"The person most damaged by the program was John Paul II -- himself the object of a mindless cult of personality (to which the majority of Catholics contributed). He loved his successful fellow cult-object -- a guy who got out the youth and excited crowds just as the pope himself did. There was a touch of the rogue about John Paul II -- and not just a "loveable rogue".

IOW, fellow cult objects related to each other on that score. 

As for a 'not loveaqble rogue,' here is an interview about JPII, the journalist specifying it not appear until after JPII's death: 

Australian radio 4-6-05, I believe the day after the pope died: original link inacrive now

Stephen Crittenden: You say that there’s actually a disconnect between the Pope’s collective achievement and what you call a blind spot that this Pope had at a personal level, and you talk about acts of personal cruelty.

William Johnston: Well I call it a blind spot; I think that’s a kind way, it may have been deliberate. The example I was told from an eye witness when the American bishops had one of their joint visits to the Pope in the early ‘90s, he greeted each of them individually as they stood in a circle.

Stephen Crittenden: By name?

William Johnston: By name, he knew their names, their diocese and something about them. He went around the circle and charmed all of them. There was one man he wished to punish and each of the three times he came to that man, he was overheard to lean into him and say, ‘And what’s your name? What’s your diocese?’ He did that three times. Now that kind of humiliation among one’s peers smacks of Soviet governmental technique, and I think it was obviously deliberate, it’s cruel, it’s even vindictive and it’s now coming to light.

Another one that I find troubling is there are 4,000 bishops, 3,000 have been appointed by the recent pontiff, and when one thinks that many of those 3,000 appointees involved passing over highly able priests who in the normal run of things would have become bishop. So I like to think that probably 2,500 more than capable potential bishops, who did not get the nod.

Stephen Crittenden: In other words there’s been a kind of cruelty to talented people who’ve been passed over.

William Johnston: Exactly. They’ve been excluded, they’re not acknowledged, we don’t know who they are, we can just imagine they’re there. Their careers have been blighted, if you will, and I regard that as a mistreatment as well as a dreadful personnel policy, it’s not the way to run an organisation.

Stephen Crittenden: And not blighted because of disloyalty, a lot of people have kind of put their heads down and remained silent and put up with it.

William Johnston: But you see, that again is the Eastern European technique, where, as Peter Hebblethwaite put it, you humiliate a few stars as a warning to the others, and the others then withdraw their dissent and go private. It’s a technique of achieving conformity by punishing only a few exemplary figures. It works extremely well, and I would suggest the Pope saw how well it worked in Poland, and he just borrowed the technique and used it in his organisation, because it’s an effective technique.

(Sorry, it this is a repeat to some)

Perhaps the most relevant measure is the impact of the program on the average viewer who does not read NCR or Commonweal or America? There was little that I was not already aware of, but it offered a review of the material that offered clarity and a couple of surprises. I teach adult education in a parish with highly motivated,  committed parishoners and the program was a revelation to most of them.   They were familiar with some of the generalities, but the specifics were shocking to many. These are people who love their faith and love the Church and are not about to leave. But the truth shall set us free, and on this level, I think  the documentary provided a great service, despite some of the shlock.  




Is it time to refocus on the issue of Christianity, as well as the other current religions and faiths in today’s world? I had to take a break from reading the ‘unending’ preoccupation with such news items as “Telling Vatican ‘Secrets’ ” much as I respect Frontline as a news source. That was dated Mar. 1, 2014 and today is August 26, 2014.  So in the next six months if we would read more from say The New York Times and other worthy sources on the state of America, the international news, the frightening state of planet Earth, for example the latest reports on our future, this would readily refocus us and how we must change if we are to have a viable future. This would be a functional Catholicism.

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