Why Netflix’s The Two Popes Is ImportantRoundup
tags: religious history, Netflix, The Two Popes
Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University a Contributing Editor of HNN. For a list of his recent books and online publications click here. His most recent book is In the Face of Fear: Laughing All the Way to Wisdom (2019), which treats humor from a historical perspective.
Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, playing respectively Pope Benedict XVI and his successor, the present Pope Francis, are terrific in Netflix’s The Two Popes. The activities of these two popes should be of interest to not only Catholics, but to many others concerned with our world today. For example, the non-Catholic Bill McKibben, one of the world’s most influential environmental activists, lavishly praised Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical, stating that “this marks the first time that a person of great authority in our global culture has fully recognized the scale and depth of our crisis, and the consequent necessary rethinking of what it means to be human.” In addition, Francis has also written on the flaws of capitalism and condemned Trump’s “cruel” immigration policies and indifference to the poor.
At the core of the film are the differences between Benedict and Francis, especially before Benedict retired and Francis took his place. (Although the man who became Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, did not adopt the name Francis until he became pope in 2013, for the sake of convenience he will be referred to as Francis throughout the rest of this essay.)
Most crucial is about a seven-minute film sequence set in 2012 in the beautiful gardens of the pope’s summer residence at Castle Gandolfo. It occurs about a half hour into the film. Benedict and Francis voice differences regarding the church’s stand on married priests, celibacy, homosexuality, the reception of communion, and relations with other religions. (See here for the film script, from which all the film quotes are taken.)
But even more significant are the men’s mindsets and the way they live their lives. Benedict is a German- born introverted scholar who while pope wrote the three-volume Jesus of Nazareth. Earlier, under Pope John Paul II, he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, established in the sixteenth century “to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith and to examine and proscribe errors and false doctrines.” He is a traditionalist and, compared to Francis, more unbending and uncompromising. He believes clear lines need to be drawn and doctrinal walls maintained to protect the Catholic faith. Francis is an extrovert a “people person,” born of Italian immigrants in Argentina. He is an ardent soccer fan and even sometimes tangos. Unlike most bishops and popes, he shuns luxurious surroundings. Benedict says to him, “By living so simply you imply that the rest of us are not living simply enough.”He also says to Francis, “So what matters is what YOU believe, not what the Church has taught for hundreds of years.” Francis responds that Jesus was more concerned with mercy than building walls.
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