Secret Files of the Inquisition



9 p.m., Wednesday, May 9
KCET (Los Angeles)

Murder, betrayal, terror and torture. Flavor it with beheadings, burnings at the stake, witchcraft, pogroms, evil spells, pillaging and plundering, adultery and boiling people in a bubbly mix of oil, tar and turpentine. And there also are miscellaneous annoyances along the way to fill out the time.

It's certainly the stuff of television -- the stuff of "Secret Files of the Inquisition," running four hours on PBS, two tonight and two next Wednesday.

In effect it is a docudrama, and too terribly true. The Inquisition, the Catholic Church's persistent prosecution and persecution to protect its orthodoxy, took 600 years and change. Finally, in 1998, the church opened its dark archives. This, then, is an extended televersion with some excruciating re-enactments and actor readings from old-old-old transcripts and reflections by scholars, including a Vatican priest who didn't seem that happy to be there on camera.

This is not a blood-splattering series from executive-producer-director David Rabinovitch, unusual in an era of slicing and dicing. In fact, most of the early hours plod -- though, restrained or not, there's a lot of menace here.

This might not appeal to the faithful, who have had faith problems in recent years. This is not the church's finest hour, or, actually, finest 600 years. In the Vatican, the office for the Inquisition has been long since renamed. It's now the less-catchy Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger from 1981 until two years ago, when he moved up to become Pope Benedict XVI.