Vatican conspiracies are a little outside my usual range, but it’s a slow season. Besides, I’d rather be bemused by the awfulness of a low-rated TV show than try to contain my outrage that podcaster Joe Rogan signed a $100 million contract with Spotify to spread his pseudoscience and conspiracy theory beliefs to an even larger global audience. If ever there were proof of the money to be made from selling false narratives and paranoid delusions, this was it.
Anyway, back to the Vatican conspiracies. The show starts by emphasizing the “lucrative” nature of the Catholic Church. Hey, the Church and the show have something in common! They peddle myths and legends for cash!
The episode opens with the Vatican Secret Archives, recapping much of the material covered in the “Vatican’s Book of Secrets” episode. Lynn Picknett calls the Vatican full of “nasty little secrets” and the show complains that papal documents can’t be viewed until 75 years after a pope dies. The talking heads then speculate, without facts, about whether the Pius XII collaborated with Nazis or helped save Jews during World War II. Lacking evidence, the segment provides nothing but rhetorical questions and hints that the Vatican is hiding the truth behind library doors. The story of a bishop who helped Nazi officials escape at the end of World War II is related at length, though no connection to Pius XII is established, rendering the segment pointless.
The next segment—scored with utterly bizarre upbeat incidental music—focuses on still more Nazi-Catholic connections, with the uncomfortable implication that Catholicism is Nazism by other means. “The Vatican are the most powerful and secretive country on the planet,” gonzo pseudohistorical gadfly Andrew Gough lies. I needn’t remind you that the Vatican controls less than one square mile of territory, and its cultural capital has been in eclipse for a century. Its power cannot compare to the great powers like the United States, the E.U., or China. Its secretive nature hardly draws comparisons to the state secrets of major world powers, or even tinpot dictatorships like North Korea. Gough then adds that the Vatican “peddles fairy tales” and alleges that it is concealing artifacts that would rewrite history. The clip has nothing to do with the segment, and it is unclear that the producers had a point in including it except to ramp up the implications of the sinister.
The segment reviews the history of the Vatican Bank and offers a conspiracy theory that its $5 billion in estimated assets wield enormous power in global finance. It’s less money than Harvard University’s $40.9 billion endowment, so unless you imagine Harvard controlling international finance, the Vatican’s bank is a minor trickle in the $300 trillion of global financial assets.
The show alleges that the Mafia assassinated Pope John Paul I to keep corrupt money flowing through the bank and to prevent the pope from reforming the bank. A few suggestive anecdotes take the place of evidence, but not much more happens than the asking of a few rhetorical connections.
“But the conspiracies don’t end there!” the narrator breathlessly claims. Points for honesty, I guess?
Sadly, the conspiracies aren’t very interesting. The show covers the 1982 death of banker Roberto Calvi, which was originally considered a suicide but was later ruled a murder. He was allegedly murdered by the Mafia (though the accused were acquitted), but conspiracy theorists think the Vatican was behind it; however, no one on the show can really say why. Calvi had ties to the Vatican, but there is no evidence that he held Vatican secrets worth killing over. All of them had already begun to come out in the 1981 investigation and trial of Calvi for financial crimes, something the show glosses over. Calvi died after fleeing Italy under a false passport, just before $1.2 billion was found missing from his bank. It’s strange that Forbidden History uses its usual gallery of talking heads to discuss it while leaving out so much relevant information. I find it hard to believe that anthropologist Karen Bellinger, for example, is a Calvi truther, or that she is an expert in 1980s Mafia murders. She seems to be repeating a script someone gave her.
Another segment continues the Calvi story, with speculation that Calvi helped kill John Paul I only to have the other assassins turn on him. The show can make these claims because Calvi and John Paul I, along with Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the onetime head of the Vatican bank, are all dead, so they can’t be libeled. It goes without saying that the show does not name any living person, who would therefore have standing to sue.
Marcinkus had long been embroiled in scandal, both due to his connections to organized crime and due to the financial scandals of Calvi’s bank, on whose board he served. He was implicated in the bank’s failure and crimes one month after Calvi’s death, which is a strange way of trying to hide his crimes. He was apparently both omnipotently evil and utterly incompetent. The show tactfully omits that Marcinkus’s and Calvi’s corruption was in large measure part of an effort to aid the United States in funneling cash to Solidarity in Poland to fight communism and to the Contras in Nicaragua.
More than halfway through the show, we finally get to space aliens.
We visit the Catholic Church’s observatory in Arizona, and the show asks why the Vatican needs a telescope. “Could it be that the Vatican observatory has a secret agenda?” the show asks. We hear claims that the Catholics are looking for aliens “according to conspiracy theorists.” Conspiracy theorist Josh Peck (not to be confused with the actor of the same name) alleges that Jesus will return as a space alien in a UFO, so the telescope is needed to watch for Jesus’s return. In a dark and sinister turn, the Church takes Forbidden History into the observatory to show them the telescope and explain that they love science and are interested in meteors and other astronomical phenomena. Sinister!
Lynn Picknett takes issue with this and asserts that the Church is “looking out for ETs.” I’m not sure how that is problematic, even if it were true, but the show seems to think that the existence of space aliens would undermine Catholicism and therefore the truth needs to be suppressed. Ugh. We went through that argument in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with speculative discussion of whether aliens were also created by God and whether Jesus visited them. Mark Twain even wrote a story about it. The Vatican Observatory itself has an FAQ about the potential effect of space aliens on theology. Yet somehow our pseudohistorians are still trapped in a Victorian mindset with blinkered conspiracy theorists raging with more mental rigidity than Victorians.
The show ends with questions about whether the Church has a “secret” protocol explaining what the pope will do when Space Jesus flies in on his UFO. More rhetorical questions about the topics of the preceding hour are repeated. But that’s it, just questions. No one even tries to suggest evidence toward answers. Speculative, leading questions stand in for content in a particularly vacuous episode of Forbidden History.
Maybe I should write my next review entirely in the form of questions. Could this show get stupider? Is Andrew Gough actually a mildly sentient mutant block of Camembert? Does the narrator understand how to match tone of voice to the material? Who picks the weird music? Perhaps someday these and other answers might escape the pages of Forbidden History.
5/26/2020 10:51:59 am
"I’d rather be bemused by the awfulness of a low-rated TV show than try to contain my outrage that podcaster Joe Rogan signed a $100 million contract with Spotify to spread his pseudoscience and conspiracy theory beliefs to an even larger global audience. "
5/26/2020 12:25:28 pm
"And what is wrong with free speech?"
5/27/2020 08:39:20 am
Rogan gives a voice to frauds like Hancock, Schoch and the rest without inviting accredited experts the chance to refute their nonsense. In the latest hancock 3 hour book plug JR sat there like a tree stump while Hancock talked nothing but pseudoscientific garbage, interjecting only infrequently with a whispered "wooooooow" at some particularly fatuous claim.
5/27/2020 09:43:12 am
"Would Joe dare to invite jason on?"
5/27/2020 10:28:46 am
He doesn't seem keen to speak to archaeologists or Egyptologists, the two disciplines which seem to antagonise Schoch and Hancock the most. Surely he could find one of them who would be willing to give the 'mainstream' viewpoint. Yo, just in the interest of balance.
5/27/2020 11:29:31 am
"Rogan gives a voice to frauds like Hancock, Schoch and the rest without inviting accredited experts the chance to refute their nonsense."
5/30/2020 10:49:10 am
Expressing wishful thinking about offering alternative viewpoints to pseudoscience is seeking to ban free speech? Mmmmkay.
5/30/2020 05:04:43 pm
So according to you, wishful thinking about someone wishful thinking about something is like Hitler. Dude! Okay, I'll roll with that.
5/30/2020 07:29:43 pm
Kent or American Negro depending on one's perspective is the one who thinks that someone has to look like an extra from a 1935 Tarzan movie to suffer from Sickle Cell Anemia and thinks that Vikings were nomads. Did you really expect intelligent commentary from him here? Ignore him. He brings up Stalin then whines when someone uses the same logic to bring up Hitler. Ignore him!
An Anonymous Nerd
5/26/2020 12:11:54 pm
Depressing, to be sure, but it's hardly new information that the Fringe/Right is a proven business model.
5/26/2020 12:46:40 pm
I make really good iced tea but I'm outraged by Coca-Cola's sales figures.
5/26/2020 01:38:04 pm
Rogan's primary issues are that he is not a smart person and he is high much of the time. He thinks that he is asking hard-hitting questions of marginal guests but much of the time he really isn't. Not a good format for really drilling down on various topics. His interview with the Prof who denies the existence of HIV/AIDS was cringeworthy in that regard. Some halfway decent entertainment value from time to time. I enjoyed the spoofs of him on Mad TV more, though.
5/26/2020 02:20:56 pm
Not having seen it I'm uninformed, but if it was Peter Duesberg the denial was not of existence of either HIV or AIDS but the etiology of HIV CAUSING AIDS.
5/26/2020 09:25:14 pm
"Not having seen it I'm uninformed..."
5/26/2020 01:43:25 pm
It certainly becomes tiresome reading the comments when they are full of people trying to fluff themselves of denigrating the author rather making any salient point about the subject matter.
5/26/2020 03:44:50 pm
Oftentimes one of the author's thrusts is arguably "bad fringe ideas inevitably lead to or are caused by or are in some way connected with rightwingedness and vice-versa, or the Russians trying to mess us up." You prefer that people not comment on that. It's good, really huge actually, the best, that readers here have your benevolent guidance.
5/30/2020 04:20:59 pm
Analogies for grade schoolers:
5/30/2020 04:29:04 pm
5/26/2020 02:39:29 pm
I'm not entirely convinced that Forbidden History isn't in fact a comedy show.
5/26/2020 02:57:26 pm
Oh, the old Roberto Calvi chestnut! Again!
5/26/2020 03:05:05 pm
Is it just me, or is Lynn Picknett going bald? Slow poisoning from shadowy government operatives who don't want you to know the Truth about Christianity or too many chemicals from the hair dyes and electric blue manicures?
5/26/2020 10:28:28 pm
Not sure as I tend to avoid having to look at her :)
5/26/2020 10:27:35 pm
Jason, you really should have put "Vatican Secret Archives" in quotes as otherwise you perpetuate the false story. As even the guy from Most Haunted pointed out at the beginning of the show, it is NOT what the archive is called. It just looks that way if you don't understand the language. The correct translation is the personal or private archive and nothing " secret" is actually implied in the name.
5/27/2020 12:53:19 am
There are only 2 actual conspiracies in the world. The conspiracy of greed and the conspiracy of dumb. They are not mutually exclusive.
5/27/2020 12:00:00 pm
Sometimes, when the moon is in the right alinement, they align themselves within one person, such as the currant occupant of the oval office.
5/27/2020 11:38:41 pm
Jr. Time Lord
5/30/2020 03:51:48 pm
Several History Channel shows have claimed this archive was moved to British Columbia, Canada. The timing of which depends upon which show you watch. Numerous programs have detailed the Catholic Church's help in smuggling Nazis to South America.
Jr. Time Lord
5/30/2020 07:21:04 pm
"The show covers the 1982 death of banker Roberto Calvi, which was originally considered a suicide but was later ruled a murder. He was allegedly murdered by the Mafia (though the accused were acquitted), but conspiracy theorists think the Vatican was behind it; however, no one on the show can really say why. Calvi had ties to the Vatican, but there is no evidence that he held Vatican secrets worth killing over."
5/30/2020 11:08:57 pm
The P2 lodge was irregular and not freemasonic
Jr. Time Lord
6/1/2020 04:52:38 am
6/1/2020 07:24:36 pm
On this occasion Mr. Bezalel is correct and Mr. Lord is talking nonsense.
5/31/2020 09:13:02 am
Where to start with the stupidity? The "Nazi salute" which comes from Rome, was common in grade schools in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s.
6/8/2020 07:44:39 pm
Jason: regardless of your impressive vast storehouse of knowledge, when it comes to common sense, you don't exhibit much. How can you make the statement, below, and not realize that it's not the amount of real estate that the Vatican owns in its headquarters but the amount of worldwide real estate holdings PLUS it owns at least 1.2 billion minds! The Vatican is the largest and most successful business in history. Unbelievable that at least 1.2 billion slaves believe that there is a Jewish god and a Jewish savior. The catholic slaves and all of the other religious slaves are what keeps the human race from progressing to a favorable religion-free race. As long as religions exist, the human race will always be subservient to bullshit. Thank god I'm an atheist!
6/9/2020 04:12:51 pm
As Stalin is reputed to have said "How many divisions has the Pope?"
6/17/2020 02:26:48 am
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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