Secrets of the Vatican: Screening and Director Q&A

This screening was the only UK screening of the director’s cut of Secrets of the Vatican. Although Channel 4 recently aired a shorter version of the film, Thomas told the audience that too much had been changed.

“I couldn’t identify with that film and, in the end, asked for my name to be removed.”

Many of the audience questions focused on possible difficulties or obstacles he faced when making the film. One audience member noted that the film had four legal advisers, and asked Thomas whether he had encountered many legal barriers?

Thomas admitted that the film did need extensive legal advice due to the nature of its subject and the power that the Vatican holds, but said that the role of the lawyers was mostly to ensure that the film was accurate and that there was nothing in the narration that could be misinterpreted.

Addressing questions about challenges faced, Thomas said that the biggest challenge was in finding witnesses and building their trust. There were many Vatican insiders who didn’t want to be misrepresented, and many victims who needed confidence in coming forward on film. Thomas said, though, that he had been “very well served by the people we interviewed”.

Many people in the audience had had direct experience of the Vatican, or had researched this topic deeply for their own projects, which provided many different angles on this issue to the Q&A.

One audience member had also made a documentary on this topic for the BBC which focused on Pope Benedict’s first year and looked at how the Vatican had responded to the sex abuse scandals. He told Thomas that he felt he had been “too soft” on Pope Benedict in the film, considering the role that he had played as cardinal, investigating the sex abuses, and his knowledge of the corruption and cronyism within the Vatican, and his central role in re-drafting a document prohibiting any bishop from disclosing knowledge of abuse outside the Vatican, before he became the pope. This audience member asked if this was because Pope Benedict had “come good” after he became pope, to which Thomas replied, “No.” He also agreed with several people in the film who had described Pope Benedict as a weak leader with an “inability to administrate”.

Another audience member commented that the Vatican had been behaving like governments or multinational corporations when confronted by accusations of corruption, in their refusal to fully address the scandal and provide justice for the victims. Thomas agreed and said that the words used by the Vatican when addressed the scandals has been “evasive, and the worst kind of corporate speak”.

When discussing Pope Francis, Thomas shared the widely-held optimism in his good intentions and ability to facilitate positive developments in improving the structure of the Vatican. He referred to a statement that Pope Francis had made regarding the place of celibacy in the Catholic priesthood, saying that:

“Pope Francis has said that he favours celibacy, but the door is open for change.”

However, he also discussed the growing opposition to Pope Francis’ approach, which is gradually building up within the Vatican, and pointed out that at 77 years old, he is not sure how much longer Pope Francis can maintain this strength in his determination to change the corrupt systems with the Catholic Church.

Secrets of the Vatican continues to play all over the world; it was screened last week in Germany. It was originally shown on PBS in America and is currently available to watch online. Note: it is not available to watch online from the UK.