“The Two Popes”

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

[written 2/11/20]

Two Popes Can't Resign Hopkins Pryce
“You can’t resign!” The fictional Cardinal Bergoglio pleads with fictional Benedict XVI.

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!”

(Amen, brother.)

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.


2 thoughts on ““The Two Popes”

  1. Lowly scribe seems correct to describe we who do not have the weight of the church on our shoulders and cannot begin to imagine what Popes think and why since we are not in those shoes. Sad that I see your post as contentious and condemning. Aren’t we called to believe that the Popes are elected under the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the signs of the times ?? .

  2. Read the post earlier; have read what Pope Benedict preached at the Inauguration Mass (several times). I was a Protestant then so much of this I learn belatedly. Still Protestant when Pope Francis became Pope, but I do remember that it seemed the world, whether Catholic or Protestant, saw this as a positive.
    (I converted to the Catholic faith–the true faith–in 2015, and never “looked back” as the saying goes.)
    My thoughts:
    One: I found Pope Benedict’s homily at the Inauguration Mass very interesting and inspiring. I, too, found a special phrase that spoke to me: “God’s will does not alienate us, it purifies us–even if this can be painful–and so it leads us to ourselves. In this way we serve not only him, but the salvation of the whole world, of all history.”
    Two: People change over time. Or maybe time simply reveals the truth of who people already were inside. What seemed so encouraging at the beginning can gradually take a turn downward. God’s power is still supreme over all and His will is revealed in His own time.
    May God be with us, protect us and have mercy upon us.

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