Unsealed: Alien Files is a syndicated television show that, so far as I can tell, never aired in my local market during its first run last year. Earlier this year, Destination America purchased the rights to the show and now broadcasts its UFO and ancient astronaut conspiracies amidst its other programs aimed primarily at men 25-54. I’ve never seen the show, so I thought I’d given an episode a try to see this program’s take on the ancient astronaut idea.
(Full disclosure: Destination America once interviewed me for a position hosting an America Unearthed-style program, but after determining that I wasn’t willing to claim aliens were responsible for Native American artifacts and constructions, the project was discontinued for being too similar to America Unearthed.)
The episode I selected for today is “Alien and the Vatican” since religion seems to be a running theme in the ancient alien idea. The show opens by telling us that the Catholic Church is one of the most powerful organizations on earth, representing one out of every six human beings. The show uses the “what if” format to claim without really claiming that the Vatican has been covering up proof of ancient astronauts for “centuries.”
The opening credits for the show confuse me. They assert that “every” government file about UFOs and aliens has now been declassified, but also assert that the government “doesn’t want you to know” what’s in those files. That, I guess, is why they were declassified? The loud music and baritone narrator elide this contradiction and order us to just accept it.
After the credits, we turn to the death of John Paul II in 2005 and an alleged UFO seen over St. Peters, which the show misidentifies as taking place in “Vatican City, Rome, Italy.” The Vatican is a separate country and, while within Rome, is not part of it. The show tells us that it is “more likely than you think” that the UFO came to pay its respects to the late pope. What exactly does that mean? It’s another weasel-like nonsense phrase meant to sound like the show said something it can’t actually be held accountable for.
Bill Birnes, the onetime host of UFO Hunters, offers commentary via webcam because the show is too cheap to actually film all of its interviewees in person. Some guy named John Greenewald, Jr. of TheBlackVault.com, a UFO and conspiracy site focusing on FOIA requests, then opines on Giordano Bruno, recounting Bruno’s execution, which the show attributes to his belief in aliens. The show claims the Church executed Bruno, though technically the Church remanded Bruno for execution to secular authorities, having no right to kill on its own. Bruno was condemned for a variety of teachings, but yes among the charges was a belief in extraterrestrial life.
“Was Bruno sacrificed to cover up a secret that the Church has allegedly hidden for the past 1500 years?” asks the narrator.
To support this pseudo-claim framed as a question about an allegation, the show brings up the “UFOs” in medieval and Renaissance art, which has been debunked more than once. In fact, Greenewald makes a UFO claim for a particular painting, the Madonna con Bambino e San Giovanni that Massimo Polidoro debunked in 2005. The show then shows the same Baptism of Christ painting from 1710 I debunked when Ancient Aliens examined it in 2012. It’s a nimbus around the Holy Dove, clearly visible at the center of the disk. Greenewalde says we cannot know what the objects seen in painting like these are just seconds after asserting that “I’m sorry but” they can’t be angels or other religious symbols. He isn’t able to maintain consistency for even a single sentence.
Steve Bassett, the “disclosure” advocate, shows up next to declare it likely that many religious experiences are in fact unrecognized contact with extraterrestrials.
After the commercial, we get a discussion of the October 13, 1917 Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, when a crowd of people, after hearing from the children who had claimed to see the Virgin Mary in 1916 that something miraculous would happen, claimed to witness a the sun grow dull zigzag around the sky and shoot out multicolored rays. Greenewalde simply declares it a “mass UFO sighting.” Skeptics, whom we do not hear from, believe that the effects are optical illusions caused by prolonged staring directly into the sun. Greenewalde simply lies in declaring that witnesses described a “saucer-shaped craft” landing before them. That does not appear in the eyewitness accounts.
The show conflates the Miracle of the Sun with the prophecies of Fatima, which had been delivered to three children in a previous apparition of the Virgin Mary, according to the children. The show also claims that the children were three girls; they were really two girls and a boy.
I am also unduly annoyed that the show keeps using footage of St. Paul’s Basilica in London—a Protestant church—to illustrate the Vatican, apparently unable to distinguish between the two buildings not-very-similar domes.
Greenewalde seems to recognize, unlike Ancient Aliens, that the mysterious Third Prophecy of Fatima was released in 2000 and was nothing like the alien apocalypse conspiracy theorists were expecting. Therefore, he revises the claim and now asserts that “some”—though certainly not him!—believe the Vatican suppressed parts of the prophecy, so therefore we should be prepared for an imminent alien invasion.
Dear Lord, we’re only halfway through?! For being only half an hour, this show packs in more falsehoods per minute than Ancient Aliens.
The Catholic Church, we learn, is a “global network of 1.2 billion eyes and ears” looking for supernatural and extraterrestrial menaces. The show asserts that mass UFO sightings by large numbers of these 1.2 billion have convinced the Vatican hierarchy to admit aliens are real.
After the break we go to Castle Gandolfo, the papal summer retreat, which houses the Vatican’s astronomical observatory. Weirdly, the show chooses to interview a Lutheran theologian rather than any Catholics about why the Vatican is interested in the stars. A Vatican official, the director of the observatory, appears only in grainy, uncredited stock footage to present the modern consensus scientific view that there are many planets in our universe, and many of them could have developed intelligent life. As Bill Birnes marvels that the Vatican would admit what science suggests (as though faith were simply the denial of science), the show uses St. Paul’s for the Vatican again, and the show freaks out that the Vatican held a conference on whether aliens existed in 2009. “This dramatic reversal of Vatican policy demands an explanation,” the narrator says. Well, as with Galileo and evolution, the Church is slowly—centuries after science—deciding to get with the times. According to Catholic doctrine, the physical world is part of God’s creation so therefore science can only reveal God’s truth. In theory, it is only human error that prevented the Church from recognizing the facts. (Is theory not grand?) If aliens exist, then they are part of God’s plan. It is only a minority of evangelical fundamentalist Christians who worry that aliens would make their faith fall apart if humans were only one of many creations on many worlds. Mark Twain wrote a funny piece called “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” where the angels explained which planet Jesus was busy saving at any given time.
After the next break—and there sure are a lot of them!—we get some claims about the Vatican Archives, which the narrator tells us are jam-packed with UFO sighting reports. The show tells us that the 52 miles of shelving at the Vatican are longer than the U.S. National Archives, which is a lie since the National Archives has, as of today, at least 545 miles of shelving, which grows by miles each year.
The show claims that Jimmy Carter had the Library of Congress reach out to the Vatican to ask for its secret UFO files and the Vatican refused. Like any sovereign state, the Vatican doesn’t release its files on any topic willy-nilly, and this is hardly a conspiracy.
Instead, the show claims that the Vatican is hiding alien skulls. The “hidden skulls” were supposedly uncovered beneath the Vatican Library during excavations in 1998 and have elongation and “narrow” and “angled” eye sockets. Bill Birnes says they look like “grey alien” skulls, being of course that he is very familiar with alien species’ physiognomy. The photographs of the skulls floating around the internet are, frankly, fakes, and the story doesn’t hold water: Alien believers claim the “Vatican military” closed off access to the excavation site, but the Vatican doesn’t have a military; it has a Swiss guard. The alleged excavation site, the Vatican Necropolis, was and remains open to the public.
And we end without a single piece of original location footage, or a single fact not taken directly from an ancient astronaut website. This show is so cheap it makes Ancient Aliens look like Nova.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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