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Farewell, Pope Benedict: Soledad O'Brien Promotes 'Riveting' Anti-Catholic Documentary

Only an hour after Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the papacy, and not ten minutes into Monday's Starting Point, CNN's Soledad O'Brien hosted the director of an anti-Catholic documentary who has called Pope Benedict a "criminal" and a "deeply flawed human being."

Director Alex Gibney was O'Brien's first guest on her show. His new film on the clerical sex abuse scandal has been criticized as distorted and misleading and "an anti-Catholic broadside masquerading as a documentary." O'Brien praised it as "riveting, absolutely riveting," however, and let him criticize Pope Benedict. 

[Video below. Audio here.]

Gibney opined that "Pope Benedict's reign, if you can call it that, has been defined by the clerical sex abuse scandal." He also took a shot at Pope Benedict's handling of "dissenters":

"The other part that Benedict has played here is as a man who has gone very hard after dissenters in the church. He's tried very hard to uphold purity of doctrine. So a lot of people have been drummed out of positions only for questioning things like forced celibacy or gay marriage, or the role of women in the church. So, you know, that's the other aspect of Benedict's role that can't be overlooked. But that also was one which was coming under harsher and harsher criticism."

Meanwhile, O'Brien could only speculate about the cause behind the Pope's resignation, but she did so anyway, wondering if it was the "pressure and impact" of the clerical sex scandals.

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Gibney called Pope Benedict a "criminal":

"I don’t see Ratzinger as a monster. I see him as a deeply flawed human being who aided and abetted criminality....But he lives within this institution, with this group of men who exist between mortals and the angels, and he favors protecting the institution to protecting the children. That to me is his great crime. It makes him weak, and, ultimately, I think it makes him a criminal."

He also ripped into the church discipline of priestly celibacy as a "lie" enabling predators within the church:

"What’s peculiar about the Roman Catholic Church is that at the heart of its doctrine is a lie—the lie of forced celibacy. One of the former priests ... did a study for the church to try to understand the sex lives of priests and found that over 50 percent of priests, that he could ascertain, were not observing celibacy. So that leads to a system of secrecy and blackmail, a kind of protective quality, with anything that has to do with sexuality. So as a result, I think that predators intuitively or instinctively sought out an environment like that."

He added that forced celibacy is "idiotic." Yet Gibney was O'Brien's first guest to talk about Pope Benedict's resignation.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on Starting Point on February 11 at 7:07 a.m. EST:

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: A bunch of the questioning about the why behind why the Pope would be stepping down would be questions about the impact that the sex scandal that has enveloped the Catholic Church would be having on the Pope. Let's talk a little bit more – of course, Mr. Gibney did the documentary about the Pope for HBO called "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God." He joins us by phone. Alex, thanks for talking to us.

Lots of questions right now are about the why behind. And the news we're getting from the Vatican seems to be that the Pope is old, frail, exhausted physically, emotionally, and that these are the reasons behind why the news that he would be stepping down on February 28th. That's incredibly unusual, of course. There also has to be some pressure and impact from what you really talked about in your documentary about the sex scandal that has been a huge problem and enveloped much of the Catholic Church over the last decade.

ALEX GIBNEY: Yes, there has. I think in a way, Pope Benedict's reign, if you can call it that, has been defined by the clerical sex abuse scandal. This is a man, after all, who as cardinal, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was the office which was uniquely charged with overseeing this scandal. And so he's the most knowledgeable person in the world when it comes to clerical sex abuse. So I think his time as pope has been defined by this issue.

O'BRIEN: We were talking to Nic Robertson just a moment ago about what would happen once a pope resigned. The last pope resigning happened back in, 600 and some odd years ago. So what would be the guess on your part about what possibly could happen, especially in light of this ongoing investigation into some of these scandals? What happens when a Pope resigns?

GIBNEY: You know, I'm not the person to ask about that. You'd have to go back 600 years to get somebody to figure that one out. I do though wonder whether or not it's in response to growing clamor over this crisis, because in the wake of new revelations with Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles, and the growing international flavor of the discoveries over sex abuse crisis, it does seem this papacy is more and more embattled.

O'BRIEN: Well, that's interesting, right? Because one of the things that Nic was just saying to us a moment ago was the job of the Pope, of course, was to have a aggressive and an intense travel schedule in order to help invigorate the Catholic Church overall and also fight against the erosion of the Church. How much of a role has some of the scandal played in that?

GIBNEY: That's a good question. The other part that Benedict has played here is as a man who has gone very hard after dissenters in the church. He's tried very hard to uphold purity of doctrine. So a lot of people have been drummed out of positions only for questioning things like forced celibacy or gay marriage, or the role of women in the church. So, you know, that's the other aspect of Benedict's role that can't be overlooked. But that also was one which was coming under harsher and harsher criticism.

O'BRIEN: Lots of questions why this morning. Alex Gibney is a documentarian whose documentary about the sex scandal, clerical sex scandal in the church, riveting, absolutely riveting.

-- Matt Hadro is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center