I'd like to bring to your attention a documentary that will air tomorrow evening on the Al Jazeera America network: "Holy Money," an investigation of the financial aspects of the worldwide Roman Catholic operation. The documentary will air at 9 P.M. ET (U.S. and Canada) and 6 P.M. PT, 30 March.
Al Jazeera kindly sent me a link last week to preview the documentary, and I can assure you that it's very much worth watching. In some ways, it's actually more probing than the recent PBS Frontline "Secrets of the Vatican" documentary--though the latter was very good, if, to my way of thinking, sloppy about permitting insinuations made by some of the experts on whom it relied that the crisis of clerical sexual abuse is to be blamed on gay priests.
"Holy Money" has succeeded in convincing me that Francis was made pope primarily to clean up the abysmal finances of the Vatican--or to provide us with the strong impression that he has made a significant dent in the financial corruption. The documentary reminds us of the disturbing fact that the Vatican's current financial ascendancy--it's economically on a par with some of the richest, most powerful corporations in the world--traces directly back to Mussolini's fascist government. And, as the documentary demonstrates, the Vatican is directly involved in major real-estate purchases in various parts of the world through shadow financial entities set up to conceal its direct ownership of these properties.
It also reminds us that the U.S. Catholic bishops are MAJOR political players, due to their $$$$. And that they do not hesitate to translate their financial clout into direct attempts to coerce the U.S. government to do their bidding about various issues.
It also reminds us of the deeply disturbing role the outgoing president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, played as archbishop of Milwaukee in moving around archdiocesan assets to place them out of the reach of abuse survivors--and it reminds us of how Dolan lied about all of this. Dolan's ethically deplorable shenanigans in Milwaukee have been in my mind in the past week as I read Cardinal Pell's recent testimony (pdf file) before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia.
Essentially, Pell seeks to exonerate himself as a pastoral leader for the atrocious way in which he and the national church in which he is a leader have dealt with survivors of childhood clerical sexual abuse by insisting that lawyers made him do it. He was misadvised by his lawyers, and in retrospect, he now sees that the hardball tactics he employed to try to break and humiliate survivors were unfitting for a pastoral leader.
Because the lawyers made him do it. They duped him.
However, as David Marr notes for The Guardian, in the case of survivor John Ellis, "But having decided to fight, the cardinal archbishop of Sydney was happy to let the contest be conducted according to the values of the law." And far from being removed from this legal fight, aloof from it, uninformed about what was going on in the legal fight, Pell was right in the thick of it, micromanaging the details of the legal defense:
Every step in the litigation was taken with the "knowledge and consent" of Cardinal Pell, Corrs partner Paul McCann told the commission.
When I look at George Cardinal Pell's face, as I've had to do this past week when that face has been prominently displayed on news sites around the world, I do not, God help me, see the face of a spiritual leader, a face that convinces me to walk with this pastoral leader in the footsteps of Christ. Ditto for the face of Timothy Cardinal Dolan, as I see it in documentaries like "Holy Money."
I see, instead, the faces of white men who own things. I see the faces of men for whom power and control over vast wealth are the air they breathe, the milieu in which they live and move and have their being--along with other white men who own things and who control secular corporations parallel to the corporation that the Roman Catholic church has become.
And I wonder why these powerful, wealthy men who own things, and who spend their days hobnobbing with other powerful, wealthy men who own things, even attempt to convince me and others that their reflex actions to turn to legal advisors when confronted with the appeals of hurting human beings for justice and mercy have been misguided actions on their parts. I wonder why they try to convince me that they have ever been first and foremost about justice and mercy, about the spiritual life, about walking in the footsteps of Jesus, when they spend such a huge amount of their time hobnobbing not with the poor, not with the outcast, but with other rich and powerful men who own things--and the lawyers who advise them about how to shield and maximize their institutional assets.