Did Penn & Teller Set a World Record For Most Falsehoods in One Show? (Full Version)

Dr. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has said, "Penn & Teller's Nazi-like assault on Catholicism that took place on August 27 will go down in history as one of the most vile, obscene programs ever aired in any nation." However, will the show also go down in history for airing the most number of lies, falsehoods, and misleading statements in a single half-hour show?

Not counting credits, the guilty episode runs less than 26 minutes. Here's a lie-by-lie list of the falsehoods that Penn Jillette and his guests aired in that time:

1. Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, in 2001, issued a "confidential order to every bishop" and "ordered the cover-up" of sex abuse.

As canon lawyer Ed Peters wrote years ago, the Vatican published Ratzinger's document in its official journal when it was first issued. Catholic press reported on the document in early 2002. The Vatican also posted the document on its web site.

In other words, nothing was ever "confidential." Not … even … close. As far as Jillette's wild charges of a "cover-up," keep reading.

2. "[Cardinal Ratzinger's 2001 document ordered] that sex abuse investigations were to be kept secret for up to 10 years after the victim reached adulthood, upon penalty of ex-communication. You heard right."

Jillette's claim is wild, to say the least. The document simply gave new authority to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in handling accusations against priests, including those allegations involving child sex abuse.

Again, this document was already discussed years ago. Ed Peters' 2005 post (scroll down to April 27) is very helpful on this topic (bold mine):

[I]n extending jurisdiction over these cases to 10 years past the alleged victim’s 18th birthday, CDF actually increased the amount of time that Church officials (whether diocesan or Roman) had to prosecute these offenses. Before CDF’s letter, canonical prosecutions were complicated by unduly short statutes of limitations—the very same problem, by the way, that state prosecutions encountered in many pedophilia cases. CDF was hardly obstructing justice; it was trying to make justice more available.

[K]eep in mind that most ecclesiastical crimes are not crimes under civil law, and that the Church obviously legislates for the majority of cases she encounters. For most canonical offenses, then, secrecy in criminal matters (1983 CIC 1455, 1717) accomplishes several goods: 1) protecting the integrity of the investigation; 2) shielding victims from untimely or unwanted exposure; 3) protecting accused, especially the wrongly accused, from devastating publicity; and so on. Need I say that numerous civil authorities conduct secret investigations for exactly the same kinds of reasons? More importantly, though, nothing whatsoever in CDF’s letter prevents or discourages victims (or their parents) from going to the police, private attorneys, or even the press with their stories. CDF, it seems, has a lot to learn about how to obstruct justice.

Again, a little bit of research by Jillette would have uncovered the truth about Ratzinger's 2001 document.

3. Sabina Guzzanti, a self-described "political satirist" from Italy, "got in serious trouble with the Vatican when she told a joke about the pope in the middle of Rome." "[P]ressured intensely by the Vatican," the Italian courts threatened to charge her with slander and "throw her sexy a** in jail." (A lot of time in the episode was spent on this story.)

Stop and think for a moment how ridiculous this claim is. People say crude and awful things about the pope and the Vatican all the time. Does anyone really think that the Pope actually cares about what some two-bit entertainer says about him? C'mon.

The truth is that Guzzanti was never "in serious trouble with the Vatican." Neither did the Vatican "pressure" anyone to charge Guzzanti.

In her various routines, Guzzanti's "No. 1 target" has long been Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. And when Guzzanti publicly attacked the pope, an overzealous prosecutor in the Italian government sought to charge Guzzanti under an obscure 1929 agreement. Within a week of the story breaking, Italy's Minister of Justice denied the prosecutor's request. The Vatican had nothing to do at all with this episode.

Penn and Teller's claims are simply bogus.

4. Because it opposed a U.N. resolution "that would de-criminalize people for being gay in countries," the Vatican "seems to be O.K." with gays being violently persecuted in many countries in the world.

Penn and Teller conveniently left out the fact that it is already part of official Catholic teaching that gays be treated respectfully. Look at paragraph 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[Those with homosexual inclinations] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

There's also the 1986 document, "Letter to the Bishops of The Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." It says,

It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.

And who wrote this document? Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was Prefect to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith!

Why didn't the Vatican support the resolution? Well, like a lot of people, it smelled a hidden political agenda. (Gay marriage, anyone?) But within days of opposing the U.N. resolution, the Vatican re-issued its call to eliminate criminal penalties against homosexuals.

The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges States to do away with criminal penalties against them.

Penn and Teller conveniently left out these important facts while making their smear.

Honesty? Not from Penn and Teller.

5. The Vatican "stands in the way" of preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa by opposing the use of condoms.

NewsBusters already reported on this issue earlier this year. After the pope was criticized in Africa for reinforcing the Church's position against condom use, Christianity Today interviewed Edward C. Green, a self-professed liberal, a leading HIV researcher, and director of Harvard's AIDS Prevention Research Project.

INTERVIEWER: Is Pope Benedict being criticized unfairly for his comments about HIV and condoms?

DR. GREEN: This is hard for a liberal like me to admit, but yes, it's unfair because in fact, the best evidence we have supports his comments — at least his major comments, the ones I have seen

There's no evidence at all that condoms have worked as a public health intervention intended to reduce HIV infections at the "level of population." This is a bit difficult to understand. It may well make sense for an individual to use condoms every time, or as often as possible, and he may well decrease his chances of catching HIV. But we are talking about programs, large efforts that either work or fail at the level of countries, or, as we say in public health, the level of population. Major articles published in Science, The Lancet, British Medical Journal, and even Studies in Family Planning have reported this finding since 2004. I first wrote about putting emphasis on fidelity instead of condoms in Africa in 1988.

Again, if Penn and Teller want to look at truth, honesty, and facts, Pope Benedict's position of abstinence and fidelity saves lives.

6. The 1962 Vatican document, Crimen Sollicitationis, is "actual proof of an organized Vatican cover-up." Guest Patrick Wall claimed it's "an order to all archbishops, bishops, cardinals, and heads of religious orders on how to exactly deal with an accusation of childhood sexual abuse by a cleric."

Needless to say, the claims by the show and Wall are false. Hoopla erupted over the 1962 document when CBS first aired the exact same allegations in 2003.

The truth? As Catholic World News (CWNews.com) reported back then, CBS' (and Penn and Teller's) claims about the document are "a gross misinterpretation." (Emphasis mine:)

In fact the network's story misrepresented the Vatican document so thoroughly that it is difficult to attribute the inaccuracy to honest error …

That document sets forth the canonical procedures to be followed when a priest is charged with the ecclesiastical crime of "solicitation"– that is, using the confessional to tempt penitents to engage in sexual activity.

The Vatican document deals exclusively with solicitation: an offense which, by definition, occurs within the context of the Sacrament of Penance. And since that sacrament is protected by a shroud of absolute secrecy, the procedures for dealing with this ecclesiastical crime also invoke secrecy.

In short, by demanding secrecy in the treatment of these crimes, the Vatican was protecting the secrecy of the confessional. The policy outlined in that 1962 document is clearly not intended to protect predatory priests; on the contrary, the Vatican makes it clear that guilty priests should be severely punished and promptly removed from ministry.

It is important to keep in mind that the 1962 Vatican Instruction dealt exclusively with "solicitation" as that term is understood in ecclesiastical usage, under the terms of the Code of Canon Law. The policies set forth by Cardinal Ottaviani do not pertain to the sexual misdeeds of clerics, but to the efforts by priest to obtain sexual favors though the misuse of their confessional role.

It is also important to note that because solicitation takes place inside the confessional, only the accused priest and the penitent could possibly have direct evidence as to whether or not the crime took place. If the solicitation led to actual sexual activity, that misconduct could be the subject of an entirely separate investigation, not bound by the same rules of secrecy.

The crime of "solicitation" has always been viewed by the Catholic Church as an extremely serious offense, calling for the strongest available penalties.

In other words, the document in no way is an order "on how to exactly deal with an accusation of childhood sexual abuse by a cleric." Wall's claim is false … again. For the truth about the 1962 doc, see "CBS news story distorts 1962 Vatican document" (CWNews.com, 8/7/03) and "Explaining Crimen Sollicitationis" (John Allen, Jr. NCReporter, 8/15/03).

7. By the way … How did the obscure 1962 document surface publicly? The truth-challenged Patrick Wall made the following claim:

"There was a priest here on the west coast of California who was being accused of sexual abuse of a minor, and as a way to try to get back at the Church, he got one of his buddies who was in the Congregation in Rome to give him a copy of the document. And then he gave it to a lawyer, and from there it took off."

Wow! That sounds really conspiratorial, doesn't it? Well, here's a more believable explanation, from John Allen, Jr., in 2003, at the liberal-leaning National Catholic Reporter:

The document recently came to light because it was referenced in a footnote to a May 18, 2002, letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, to the bishops of the world regarding new procedures for sex abuse cases.

(I believe this is the same letter we've talked about already above. The letter was in 2001, not 2002 … but you get the point.) Wall's claim is simply wild.

8. Penn Jillette: "Wasn't it the Vatican who said the smallpox vaccine is the product of the devil?"

I have no idea where Jillette came up with this one. It goes without saying that the Vatican is not against vaccines. It does, however, object to "vaccines containing live viruses which have been prepared from human cell lines of fetal origin, using tissues from aborted human fetuses as a source of such cells." That's a problem.

Until 2003, the Vatican had no formal guidelines regarding vaccines, but the document, "Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared From Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses," gave Catholics some help.

In a nutshell, in the case where vaccines are derived from objectionable sources, a Catholic should seek an alternative. If there is no alternative, the Catholic should vocally protest. A parent can allow a child to be given the objectionable vaccine if it is to protect the child's health. (The document does the best explaining.)

9. A vapid guest claimed, "The almost ultimate irony is that I do not know of an organization anywhere that has such a high proportion of gay people in its employed." Jillette then cited "some studies [that] anywhere between 20 to 50 percent of all priests may be gay."

Without doing a formal poll (Q: Are you gay?), how on earth can anyone "estimate" how many people are gay in such a large organization? Wouldn't any such "estimate" be – well – bull***?

10. In discussing Pope Benedict's visit to the United States in 2008, Joelle Casteix, a spokesperson for SNAP, said, "There were no answers to why priests who perpetrate are still being put in our schools."

This is not the first time that Casteix, a victim of awful abuse by a Catholic school teacher starting when she was 15, has made the unruly charge that abusive priests are still currently being put into churches and schools. In fact, she made the same charge less than two weeks ago in the Los Angeles Times. Her claim was so irresponsible that even the Times felt it had to issue a correction to its original article. Here's the correction:

Clergy abuse cases: A brief article in Monday's Section A about a group seeking information on possible victims of sex crimes at the former parish of defrocked priest Michael Stephen Baker failed to include the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' response to allegations by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests that Catholic officials weren't doing enough to find victims of clergy abuse. Attorney J. Michael Hennigan said: "The archdiocese aggressively investigates every allegation or suspected incident, and in those cases looks for other victims. If SNAP has other information, they should deliver it to us and we will pursue it as we have done in the past."

In other words, Casteix made her charge with nothing to back it up, and the archdiocese called her on it. Her charge on the show was simply a repeat.

11. The show claimed that "the Vatican wants to silence" victim Casteix. The show then quoted Casteix: "The number one goal of every bishop … is to protect the Church from scandal; and protecting the Church (from scandal) means documents, witnesses, and victims are kept quiet and shuffled away."

Again … people criticize and attack the Church all the time. Neither the show nor Casteix provided a shred of evidence that the Vatican has done anything to "silence" her, nor did they provide that any evidence that any "silencing" or "shuffling" is being done today.

12. Vatican opposes the use of condoms "in the face of overpopulation."

"Overpopulation"? Check out the facts from the Population Research Institute and this 2008 review in the Washington Examiner. You'll learn that overpopulation is a flat-out myth.

13. Penn Jillette claimed, "The pope and his crew can afford to dedicate every moment of every blessed day to making life hell for billions of the rest of us. From the Crusades to the Inquisition. From condoning slavery to denying the Holocaust. For nearly 2,000 years, Muslims, Jews, gays, women, Africans, children, the poor, [and] …non-believers have borne the brunt of the Vatican's irresponsible abuse of its powers."

The Catholic Church has certainly had its share of unflattering moments, but there's been a lot of misinformation and distortion about Church history.

For example,

… The Crusades: The truth is that the Crusades were largely a defensive action against the spread of Islam. Check out "The Truth About the Crusades" by Thomas E. Woods; The New Concise History of the Crusades by Thomas Madden (scroll down for relevant facts); and "Crusading for Truth" by Robert P. Lockwood.

… The Inquisition: Was the period that's often referred to as the Inquisition the Church's finest hour? Probably not. But the truth may surprise you. Read "An Inquisition Primer" by Robert P. Lockwood. ("There is perhaps no better trump card in the deck of anti-Catholic urban legends than 'The Inquisition.' … Many people know nothing about what inquisition courts were or what purpose they served within different societies and at different periods in history. The only thing they know about the Inquisition is the caricature in Catholic urban legends.")

… "Condoning slavery": The Church's record on slavery may not be perfect, indeed, but to say that the Church "condoned slavery" is simply unwarranted. Check out "The Truth About the Catholic Church and Slavery" by (non-Catholic) Rodney Stark, Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences at Baylor University. ("The problem wasn't that the leadership was silent. It was that almost nobody listened.")

… "Denying the Holocaust": This is a flat-out lie and smear by Penn & Teller. The Vatican has never denied the Holocaust. The truth:

14. Near the end of the show, Jillette opined, "The Vatican is a festering swamp of intolerance, greed, paranoia, hypocrisy, and callous disregard for human suffering." Patrick Wall claimed, "We know it's a business, and in order to keep that cash flow going, you have to keep that perfect ideal up there in order for people to contribute to it."

The Catholic Church is not an organization of perfect people, and Church teaching tells us so. From the catechism:

853 On her pilgrimage, the Church has [] experienced the "discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted." Only by taking the "way of penance and renewal," the "narrow way of the cross," can the People of God extend Christ's reign. For "just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and oppression, so the Church is called to follow the same path if she is to communicate the fruits of salvation to men."

Jesus Christ came to Earth for sinners, not the righteous (Matthew 9:12-13; Mark 2:16-17; Luke 5:30-32). (Are you reading this, Patrick Wall?) But despite its failings, the Catholic Church remains the largest charitable organization in the world – by far. Whoever is in second place isn't even close. CNEWA, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Catholic World Mission, CMMB, C-Fam, ICMC, Cross International Catholic Outreach, and the Bishop Gassis Fund are just a small sample of the many organizations who work on behalf of the Catholic Church to serve the neediest around us all. Unlike Hollywood celebrities, they don't have high-priced p.r. people to trumpet every good work they do. They just do it, because they're called to do it by Jesus.

The only "business" of the Catholic Church is to spread the Gospel and serve the Earth's poor, as Jesus himself instructed. It's not an easy job, but the Church will persevere in its mission.

And that's not bull***. (Note: The name of the actual show is "Bull****" (without the '****').)