Quiet Storm by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, 23 December 2019
As early as Friday night after my second Simbang Gabi Mass at 8:30, I have been wanting to react on social media against Netflix’s “The Two Popes”.
But I tried to control my self because I have only seen its first 30 minutes – and besides, it is a fiction story. So, in the spirit of fairness, I tried to finish the movie in three installments until Saturday afternoon before making any comments.
And I felt sad in having seen it at all.
“The Two Popes” is not entertaining. It is misleading without any strong elements to build on our faith and appreciate our religion. At its worst, despite its claim of being inspired by true events, the movie is unCatholic and unChristian.
UnCatholic and UnChristian
Movies about religions and religious figures and personalities are always controversial by nature. But for as long as they follow the paths of honesty, sincerity, and truth, these movies eventually emerge as true expressions of art that can truly deepen one’s faith.
But “The Two Popes” at its opening scene is already disturbing and objectionable when it portrayed the Cardinals at the 2005 conclave as having animosity and rivalry among themselves in electing Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Yes, we priests including bishops and Cardinals are all humans like anybody else but no one among us would ever dare to aspire for the papacy. While it is true there are some priests who are into “careerism” in the diocesan level, everything changes starting with the episcopacy or the office of the bishop.
In fact, part of the problem why we have so many vacant dioceses in the country and the whole world is that many priests refuse to accept their appointment as bishops because of many fears that are so real that come with the immense responsibilities of the position. According to the Vatican, three out of every ten priests offered to become bishops decline the offer personally made by the Pope through his Papal Nuncio in every country.
How much more with the Papacy?!
In the movie, Pope Benedict toured Cardinal Bergoglio inside the Sistine Chapel and showed him the “crying room” where the newly elected Pope may stay and cry – yes – before finally accepting his election as Pope.
That alone is true but not the movie portrayal during the conclave that claim Cardinals aspiring to become the Pope. It is something preposterous and totally untrue.
What is very disturbing in “The Two Popes” is how it presented Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Bergoglio like “lowlife” lawmakers of congress gunning for the top post for prestige and power with their respective bloc members going around in hushed conversations with matching dagger looks at each other.
This is the movie’s weakest point: rather than being seen as something about deepening our faith in God and the institutional Church or any established religion for that matter, it played on “politics” in the guise of showing the flaws and frailties of two popes competing for position and fame.
You might say “it is just a movie” but, not everyone can rightly see whatever good intentions – if it really has – that the movie is trying to present.
Instead of enlightening the viewers in their faith to the Church in general, there was something sinister in the way it presented almost everyone except Cardinal Bergoglio.
Behind the movie’s beautiful cinematography and studio sets are “subliminal messages” as if inciting viewers to dismiss the Catholic Church and other religions because they are all the same – run by egoistic, power hungry people enjoying so many luxuries in life that the common masses could not even imagine to exist.
We priests are sinners and though there are some of us who have sold Jesus like Judas Iscariot for the price of wealth and fame, there are much too many who still work in silence and hiddenness and holiness bringing Christ to the people.
The Catholic Church has continued to exist since Christ’s ascension because the good shepherds like Jesus have always far outnumbered the rotten ones. Hence, those scenes repeated twice or thrice of Pope Benedict worried with his “popularity” are outrageously absurd!
Bias against Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
The movie is supposed to show us how two great men of God, of divergent backgrounds and worlds apart, resolved their many conflicts within themselves and with others regarding their faith and ministry and mission in leading the Catholic Church.
Both actors, especially Anthony Hopkins did superb jobs in playing their roles.
The movie tried to show the triumph of the Divine in mysterious ways we can never explain nor understand using men of limitations and weaknesses.
What makes “The Two Popes” so unkind and unchristian is the fact that it is more about Pope Francis as the vida and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as contravida. It could have been better if the producers just centered on the present Holy Father as basis of their film and called it “The Pope”. Period.
How can it be a film about faith and religion when the plot itself is unfair and grossly biased against the supposed co-star who is also a Pope?
The movie is also unfair to Pope Francis who would surely never allow himself to be praised and exalted at the expense of the Pope Emeritus or any other person, whether in real life or fiction.
This for me is the most unkindest cut of all in this Netflix movie that fans the many wrong impressions fed on by media against Cardinal Josef Ratzinger since his being the Prefect of Sacred Congregation of Doctrine and Faith during the time of St. John Paul II.
Throughout the film, it is very evident at how the Pope Emeritus is put on the bad light as if he never cared at all about actual situations in the Church and in the world, from the sex scandals to issues on celibacy among other things because he is so absorbed in his intellectual pursuits in the world of books and the academe.
We are of Christ
In 1963, the American film “The Cardinal” was released, earning six Academy Awards and very positive reviews for excellently portraying Catholic religion amid issues of interfaith marriage, sex outside marriage, abortion, racism, and dictatorships set during the Second World War.
It was also inspired by true events based on the life of the late Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.
Its music theme has become a classic piece too that we have all learned by heart while still in high school seminary.
I can still remember the film that showed in a very positive light the main character with all his flaws and shortcomings as a person, as a priest. No need to put other characters down just to underscore his goodness.
The film had a Vatican liaison officer in the person of the young German priest Fr. Dr. Josef Ratzinger who, after that movie, would be attending Vatican II as a periter or consultant to join the efforts in reforming the Church and make it more responsive to modern time.
Yes, the very same Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI portrayed in the Netflix movie as “ignorant” of the Beatles and of tango and of many other things of the modern world.
“The Two Popes” ended positively with the “unlikely friendships” of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bergoglio but still with its askewed presentation of the two holy men, of the people in Vatican, and of the Church’s members and leaders.
So unlike the classic “The Cardinal”, “The Two Popes” missed the essence of the papacy and of the Church as an institution and a body of believers – that Christianity is not about categories or labels as conservatives, progressives, or liberals: it is about our being of Jesus Christ alone.
It is deceivingly appealing to the senses but nothing really so profound about faith and Jesus Christ and his Church. With hindsight, though, after seeing the movie, the more I have come to love and admire Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for his love and faith in Jesus and the Church.
And Jesus told his disciples… “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me” (Mt.5:11).
Have a blessed Christmas!