Press Release | “Secrets of the Vatican”: Inside the Scandals That Rocked Benedict’s Papacy

February 18, 2014
by Patrice Taddonio Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist

Secrets of the Vatican
Tuesday, February 25, 2014, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) | Twitter: @frontlinepbs #FrontlinePBS #VaticanSecrets | Instagram: @frontlinepbs

A year ago, after receiving a confidential dossier on troubles in the Catholic Church, Benedict XVI became the first Pope in nearly 600 years to resign.

In Secrets of the Vatican, FRONTLINE exposes the threats and scandals that rocked Benedict’s papacy: a far-reaching clergy sex abuse crisis; money laundering and corruption at the Vatican Bank; and Vatileaks—the release of internal documents revealing cronyism, power struggles, and allegations of blackmail within the Holy See.

From award-winning director Antony Thomas, this special, 90-minute FRONTLINE presentation tells the epic, inside story of the collapse of the Benedict Papacy—and illuminates the extraordinary challenges facing Pope Francis as he tries to reform the powerful Vatican bureaucracy, root out corruption, and chart a new course for the troubled Catholic Church and its 1.2 billion followers.

Using undercover footage and interviews with Vatican insiders, as well as abuse victims, whistleblowers, and journalists, Secrets of the Vatican shows the deep sexual hypocrisy within the Catholic Church and the long legacy of clergy sexual abuse of children.

Drawing on firsthand accounts, the film shows how for years the Vatican supported the head of the powerful Legionaries of Christ order, Marcial Maciel, despite accusations he’d been sexually abusing boys and misappropriating money. Secrets of the Vatican also tells the story of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where clergy sex abuse victims have accused the Church of covering up abusive priests and trying to shield millions of dollars from mounting legal claims. The archdiocese has filed for bankruptcy, but hundreds of victims are still seeking compensation.

Secrets of the Vatican also examines what is described as a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture within the Vatican when it comes to priests’ sexual orientation and finds that some priests are embarking on illicit relationships despite vows of celibacy.

“Unless you spend some time inside this kind of culture, it’s very hard to believe that it could be like this,” journalist Robert Mickens tells FRONTLINE.

“Here in Rome it’s very easy to meet a gay priest, on a bus, in a church, and in important churches like St. Peter’s,” one Vatican guide who says he has had relationships with several priests tells FRONTLINE. “It’s even easier when you go to gay clubs and gay bars.  You see them in the bars, and then at the altar the following Sunday.”

In the film, one gay priest who works in the Vatican responds to the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, saying, “It’s like a knife in your heart, because I believe in vocation.  I believe in the calling of God. I believe in Jesus. I believe He wants us to serve his people, and when a document says: oh, you are not able, that is … that is terrible. It’s painful. I hope that, one day, priests can be freely in a relationship, and be good priests. That celibacy in the Church will be optional.”

Nearly a year in the making, Secrets of the Vatican presents a stark picture of the Church Pope Francis inherited, and raises tough questions about whether he will be able to make meaningful headway on the many problems within the Vatican and the powerful Curia that runs the Vatican bureaucracy.

“It is necessary to open the windows of the Church because we need fresh air,” one of the Pope’s closest confidantes, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, tells FRONTLINE.

Cardinal Maradiaga says the Pope is determined to reform the Roman Curia and move beyond the scandals. “The credibility of the church is in terrible danger,” he says.

Secrets of the Vatican premieres Tuesday, February 25 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check local listings) and online at



Secrets of the Vatican is a Quicksilver Media production for WGBH/FRONTLINE and Channel 4. The writer, producer, and director is Antony Thomas. The co-producer is Jason Berry. The executive producer for Quicksilver Media is Eamonn Matthews. The deputy executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is David Fanning.


FRONTLINE, U.S. television’s longest running investigative documentary series, explores the issues of our times through powerful storytelling. The series has won every major journalism and broadcasting award, including 65 Emmy Awards and 14 Peabody Awards. More than 150 FRONTLINE films can be watched in full, for free, at

FRONTLINE is produced by WGBH Boston and is broadcast nationwide on PBS. 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 The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the Park Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation.

Press Contact

Patrice Taddonio, 617.300.5375,, @ptaddonio/@frontlinepress Download promotional photography from the PBS Pressroom.

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