An unsigned Tuesday article on Yahoo! News could have been mistaken as a press release for PBS's latest TV production attacking the Catholic Church. The unknown author hyped the Church's "horrible year" in 2012 "on many fronts, not just with mounting evidence of financial impropriety at the Vatican bank, but also with incidents of sexual abuse by clergy spreading to more than 20 countries and, further, exposure of church hypocrisy about homosexuality."
The public television channel's Frontline series turned to numerous journalists and activists who have axes to grind against the Catholic Church's moral teachings, and played up hearsay accusing unnamed Vatican clerics of conducting same-sex relationships in secret. The episode also falsely indicated that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI invented the Church's doctrine labeling homosexual inclinations as "objectively disordered."
Yahoo! News's anonymous writer first touted in the item, "'Secrets of the Vatican' exposes moral crises facing Catholic Church's new pope," that the Church is "enjoying some of its best press in decades, and hundreds of thousands of alienated Catholics are returning, thanks in large part to the new, and in some cases revolutionary, leadership of Pope Francis." The journalist quickly added, however, that according to "a new documentary by PBS' 'Frontline,' 'Secrets of the Vatican,' the morally wrenching controversies that threatened to destroy the church's credibility, starting about the time Pope John Paul II died in 2005, have not fully subsided. Further, the success of Francis' papacy will depend on how quickly and thoroughly he addresses them."
The unnamed writer continued with a quote from the producer of the hour-plus long documentary, Antony Thomas, who contended that "2012 was an annus horribilis for [Benedict]...Everything was exploding. He wanted to clean up the Vatican bank. He was in a very difficult predicament all the way through."
Thomas, through the assistance of many of his talking heads, did his best to cast the papacy of Benedict XVI, and his prior legacy as head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, in a negative light. One of the more prominent ones was Robert Mickens, a former seminarian who now writes for The Tablet, a Catholic publication in the U.K. with a reputation for dissenting from Church teaching. Mickens acknowledged that Benedict XVI was a "kind man," but asserted that he "should never, ever have been a bishop. He just didn't have the gifts, the charism."
The British producer, who previously directed a documentary critical of the Catholic Church's clerical discipline of celibacy for HBO in 2004, and released a program the following year titled "Middle Sexes: Redefining He and She" (narrated by William F. Buckley's infamous adversary, Gore Vidal), named author Jason Berry a co-producer. Back in 2011, as the Church beatified Pope John Paul II, the writer blasted the Polish pontiff during a segment for NPR: "Someone who was so fearless in his confrontation with the communist empire, I for one do not understand how he could not have engaged in the same fearless introspection about the church internal."
Berry, with the assistance of the Los Angeles Times, also falsely asserted in a November 2007 opinion piece that the U.S. bishops "had identified about 4,400 abusive U.S. priests," when that figure is actually the number of priests who faced allegations.
Besides Mickens and Berry, Thomas featured Rev. Thomas Doyle, a notorious dissenting priest; Jeff Anderson, an attorney who had filed numerous lawsuits alleging malfeasance by the Vatican in their handling of the priest sex abuse cases; Simone Alfieri, who left the Catholic priesthood, alongside his girlfriend; Francesco Cacace, a former seminarian from Italy who alleged a "widespread culture" of homosexual behavior by clerics in Rome; Philip Pullella of Reuters, who has a record of slanted reporting about the Church; and The Daily Beast's Barbie Nadeau, who asserted that Pope Francis has a "woman problem" in his opposition to the ordination of women. Despite her contention Nadeau hyped the new pontiff as "already the best pope anyone can remember" during the documentary.
This stacked lineup against the Church, plus the multiple sound bites from several people who suffered abuse at the hands of priests, overwhelmed the scant 38 seconds of clips from three seminarians from the North American College in Rome, who spoke positively about the clerical discipline of celibacy. Thomas also included excerpts from his interviews of Cardinals Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Oscar Maradiaga, but they spoke almost exclusively about the transition from Benedict XVI to Francis.
Later in the Yahoo! News article, the unnamed journalist asserted that "two of Benedict's most significant moves were to publicly re-frame the Catholic catechism — in effect, its rules of practice — to emphasize its reference to homosexuality as an 'objective disorder,' laying groundwork to, among other things, remove gay clergy."
It should be pointed out that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not a compilation of its "rules of practice," but a summary/explanation of teachings. Thomas was more explicit about this spin, when his narrator, Will Lyman, stated that "he [then-Cardinal Ratzinger] changed the Catechism to say that homosexuality was 'an objective disorder.'" Later in the documentary, Lyman also contended that "Cardinal Ratzinger changed the Catechism to say that homosexuality was an objective disorder," and that the "Benedict doctrine on homosexuality was deeply hurtful to those in the Vatican who were trying to lead celibate lives."
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the German-born theologian didn't come up with this Catholic teaching. It originates in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and was reenforced by the early Church Fathers and later saints and popes. The same Catechism lists "the sin of the Sodomites" as part of the "catechetical [teaching] tradition...that there are 'sins that cry to heaven'" for vengeance.
A 1998 article in Communio, a publication that was co-founded by Ratzinger, also gave the background of the change, which the documentary misrepresented as a "Benedict doctrine:"
...One of the most significant changes made...in the official Latin edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church with respect to the 1992 vernacular version concerns the Catechism's treatment of homosexuality....Paragraph 2358 of the original text spoke of "innate homosexual tendencies' in a considerable number of men and women, who, it said, had not "chosen" this condition. The revised text, by contrast, limits itself to calling these tendencies "deep-seated," without saying that they are innate or that they are not chosen. It does, on the other hand, state that "this inclination is objectively disordered." The Catechism thereby better harmonizes its formulations with the "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons"...published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 1 October 1986....
From the moral point of view, Catholic doctrine defines homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered, inasmuch as they activate the sexual dynamism of persons without (1) that unitive meaning of total self-gift to the other which can be realized only in the matrimonial union of man and woman and (2) openness to the procreative meaning whereby human sexuality is further ordered to the good of the child. But the criteria for ethical evaluation are rooted in a theological anthropology of human sexuality. It is only in the light of this anthropology that we can see, by way of contrast, the disorder inherent in homosexual inclination.