Gender & Sexuality

Half a Century of Vatican Scandals

Last night, PBS's Frontline aired “Secrets of the Vatican,” a documentary co-produced by Investigative Fund reporter Jason Berry:

The documentary investigates corruption in the contemporary Catholic Church, detailing the scandals and cover-ups that marred the tenures of the last two popes and present a challenge to their successor.

One of the central narratives of the documentary builds on Berry's previous work, including four Investigative Fund reports for the National Catholic Reporter on the scandals surrounding the late Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the “Legion of Christ,” and his decades of sexual abuse of children, among other crimes. Berry reported on Maciel's half-century-overdue fall from grace in 2006; his rise to a position of immense wealth and power as leader of a “cult-like” organization within the Catholic Church; the abuse detailed by his own secretly-fathered children and others; and, most recently, the widespread financial corruption that helped fund his more lurid crimes. Berry has also authored several other major investigations into related topics, including Lead us Not into Temptation, Vows of Silence, and Render Unto Rome.

In “Secrets of the Vatican, Frontline investigates not only Maciel and other perpetrators of child abuse but also some of the other major issues the church is presently facing, including the issues of gay and sexually active clergy in the Vatican and widespread corruption in its financial and legal system. The documentary leaves it an open question whether the Vatican's new leadership will be able to deal with all of these issues in good faith.

“All efforts to reform the curia over the last century enacted by all the popes have failed,” says “VatiLeaks” journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi, at the end of the documentary. “Will it succeed with Pope Francis? I don't know.”

“The real question,” Berry told the Times-Picayune last week, “is whether [Pope Francis] can forge a new system of justice for the Vatican. The canon law tribunals run by cardinals, always forgiving cardinals, are archaic and unable to prosecute bishops or religious superiors for negligence. Changing that ancient system is the pope's challenge.”

About the reporter

Laura Cremer

Laura Cremer

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