The last time a pope of Rome died: fifteen years ago today.
Netflix made a movie about the two popes we have had since 2005. Highly fictionalized. I wrote a little essay about it, back when the movie came out. From Mr. Bates’ mailbag…
Seven years ago today [February 11], Pope Benedict XVI announced his intention to abdicate.
Taking into consideration absolutely everything that we have all endured this past half-century, I continue to regard that as the worst day of my life. Nothing worse has happened during my lifetime. [Might have to revise that opinion now, dear sheltering-in-place reader. Anyway…]
Eight years earlier, when Pope Benedict took the throne of Peter, he preached:
We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.
I still believe that with all my heart. That thought, which the new pope expressed on April 24, 2005, still animates me completely, gets me out of bed every day. Keeps my heart beating, really.
…The best scene of the “Two Popes” movie:
When the future-Francis flips. Benedict has just informed Bergoglio that he intends to resign. “You can’t! Jesus did not come down off the cross! You will damage the papacy forever!”
All pure fiction, of course. No such conversation ever took place.
The movie has a shallow, dumb premise: Let’s imagine the thoughtful-but-hidebound old pope “dialoguing” with the nifty future pope “of the people.” Let’s have them discuss “issues” in a way that only fallen-away German Catholics could find even remotely interesting.
A lame premise produces an crushingly boring movie. Do not bother, dear reader. Seriously.
But the most-painful fiction of the movie is this:
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce (the actors) cannot help but come off as basically forthright men. They radiate a normal level of manliness and internal consistency. You feel like you could have a conversation with either Hopkins’ Benedict or Pryce’s Francis, and walk away having learned something about the man. Something you could count on in future dealings with him. You might disagree with his principles. But you know what the man stands for. You would walk away from the conversation impressed. This man knows himself. He knows what he thinks and why.
Seems to this lowly scribe: Many years have passed since we had a pope who was actually like that, Hopkins’ and Pryce’s performances notwithstanding.