On most Wednesdays, the Pope gives a general audience, and this one was packed. It was a balmy October morning, and more than a hundred thousand pilgrims, tourists, and Romans had funnelled into St. Peter’s Square. It was the first of three large gatherings Pope Francis presided over that week for a celebration of the family during the Catholic Church’s “Year of Faith.”
Wooden railings imposed order in the square. I was about thirty yards from the Pope. In front of me were a pair of Vatican ushers in white tie and tails, several clergy, a short man in a yarmulke, and a handsome couple holding hands. Beyond them, Francis, seventy-six years old, in his stark-white cassock and skullcap, seemed energized by the festive crowd. A large man with a ready smile, he read from a brief text in Italian, but with fervor. “What kind of love do we bring to others? . . . Do we treat each other like brothers and sisters? Or do we judge one another?” The throng was silent, listening carefully.
How to describe the debut of Pope Francis and not immediately think of grace? For much of this new century, Christianity seemed to be in close to terminal crisis.
Among the fastest-growing groups in society were the nones – those indifferent to religion entirely. Especially among the young, Christians became increasingly identified with harsh judgments, acrid fundamentalism, the smug bromides of the Prosperity Gospel or, more trivially, neurotic cultural obsessions like the alleged “war on Christmas.”
Evangelical leaders often came and went in scandal, or intolerance or both. Obsessed with issues of sexual morality, mainstream evangelicalism and the Catholic hierarchy in America entered into an alliance with one major political party, the GOP, further weakening Christianity’s role in transcending politics, let alone partisanship.
Christian leaders seemed too often intent on denial of what intelligent people of good will saw simply as reality – of evolution, of science, of human diversity, of the actual lives of modern Christians themselves. Christian defensiveness was everywhere, as atheism grew in numbers and confidence and zeal.
Pope Francis has moved quickly to reform the scandal-ridden Vatican bank. The Swiss Guard and ATMs that give instructions in Latin, however, will remain unchanged.
It is a bank like no other.
Its entrance is watched over by pantaloon-wearing soldiers from the Swiss Guard, its cash-dispensing machines give instructions in Latin, and its headquarters are in a 15th-century tower that was once used as a papal prison.
But seven months into the papacy of Pope Francis, it is clear that the imposing stone walls of the Tower of Pope Nicholas V are no match for the South American pontiff’s determination to clear up the Vatican bank’s finances after years of scandal and allegations of impropriety.
The pope, who has criticized the iniquities of the international banking system since he was selected in March, has embarked on a campaign to dramatically improve the transparency and accountability of an institution that Forbes last year called “The Most Secret Bank in the World.” The bank manages funds and accounts held by the Holy See, as well as Catholic charities and orders around the world, and individual cardinals, priests, and nuns.
The story behind the man responsible for the biggest security breach in Vatican history.
The whole thing began, as many cryptic scandals do, with an apparently innocuous phone call. In the spring of 2011, a friend that Gianluigi Nuzzi hadn’t heard from in quite some time asked to meet for coffee in Milan. Nuzzi’s friend didn’t work in journalism, which is Nuzzi’s business, and he didn’t mention that he might have the seeds of a story.
Few things annoy Vatican officials more than lurid novels that depict the papacy as the secretive heart of a global conspiracy. Pope Benedict XVI’s most senior official, his secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, this month accused journalists of trying to imitate the American writer, Dan Brown, author of the preposterous—and bestselling—“The Da Vinci Code”. But it was not reporters who put the papal butler, Paolo Gabriele, in a four-by-four-metre cell, accused of leaking a stream of confidential letters.
Nor was it they who, the next day, fired the head of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, and published a blistering statement accusing him of failing to do his job. An Italian police investigation, in which documents were seized from Mr Gotti Tedeschi on June 5th, has stoked fears of more scandal. He has since been quoted as saying he fears for his life.
Behind the rows is an intense and vituperative power struggle to determine the nature of the next papacy. It is largely waged in and around the Vatican’s financial institutions.
Allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church began to emerge in 1985, in a parish in Louisiana. Berry’s two-part series tells that story.
Two days before Christmas, 1977, Gilbert Gauthe became pastor of St. John’s church in Henry, a tiny town in the rice belt of Vermilion Parish. The Catholic Church is bedrock here; for generations, farmers raised families in the faith of their forebears. And the 32-year-old priest seemed solidly one of theirs. He was a lean man with dark hair and two visible passions: the wilderness and children.
Flocks of youngsters followed him on outings to the marsh. His attentiveness to children impressed many mothers. Grown men respected his love of guns and laughed at the story of Father Gauthe, perched in the church belfry, shotgun in hand, blasting geese in low flight on foggy dawns.
He was popular for other reasons. In funeral sermons he could be positively spellbinding. After intercepting police messages on a high-powered radio, he would race to the scene of accidents offering help. Once he saved a man’s life by pulling him from an upended tractor.
And always there were the children, mostly boys, playing in the rectory or at a camp in the marsh as his weekend guests. He was chaplain of the diocesan Boy Scouts and the Biddy Basketball team in Abbeville. Wealthy women, he has said, routinely gave him money. Although his salary was little more than $7,000 a year, Gauthe claimed in sworn statements that he earned closer to $18,000 yearly because of parishioners’ generosity. Such was the surface of life and faith at St. John the Evangelist in the years of Fr. Gauthe.
The investigative team responsible for reporting on the broader scope of abuse in the church has compiled their stories online. Watch their overview of the crisis here and read their full database above.
John Geoghan stands out as one of the worst serial molesters in the recent history of the Catholic Church in America. For three decades, Geoghan preyed on young boys in a half-dozen parishes in the Boston area while church leaders looked the other way. Despite his disturbing pattern of abusive behavior, Geoghan was transferred from parish to parish for years before the church finally defrocked him in 1998.
After a January 2002 report on Geoghan by the Globe Spotlight Team, the case became a catalyst for revelations of other clergy abuse and church coverups. Dozens of priests were accused of abuse by hundreds of alleged victims who filed lawsuits, forcing the archdiocese to release damaging documents that showed the church’s obsession with avoiding scandal and protecting its reputation.
In the Geoghan case alone, some 150 people eventually came forward, claiming they were fondled or raped by the priest. In February 2002, Geoghan was sentenced to nine to 10 years in state prison for molesting a 10-year-old boy at a pool in Waltham.
How one of the largest bastions of Catholicism in the world has confronted the crisis at home.
Of the various crises the Catholic Church is facing around the world, the central one — wave after wave of accounts of systemic sexual abuse of children by priests and other church figures — has affected Ireland more strikingly than anywhere else. And no place has reacted so aggressively.
The Irish responded to the publication in 2009 of two lengthy, damning reports — detailing thousands of cases of rape, sexual molestation and lurid beatings, spanning Ireland’s entire history as an independent country, and the efforts of church officials to protect the abusers rather than the victims — with anger, disgust, vocal assaults on priests in public and demands that the government and society disentangle themselves from the church.
Photo: Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Major funding for FRONTLINE is provided by John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.