Just recently Netflix released the movie, “The Two Popes.” This film depicts a fictional meeting between then Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinal Bergoglio. The movie frames the meeting, and the relationship between the two pontiffs, as a confrontation between the conservative Benedict and the liberal Francis. This mischaracterizes their relationship and misunderstands the purpose of the papacy. Yet, such a characterization dominates the narrative regarding the recent release of the book, “From the Depths of our Hearts,” by Cardinal Robert Sarah. This book garnered controversy in news headlines due to the contributions of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI concerning priestly celibacy. In the book, Benedict praises the value of priestly celibacy and advocates for its continued practice in the Church. At its initial announcement the book was framed by popular media as a rebuke to Pope Francis. Here we see the fiction of “The Two Popes” become the interpretative key of the papacy.
On January 14, Benedict’s private secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein said the former pontiff wanted his name to be removed from the cover. While some want to sensationalize the controversy by characterizing the incident as the manipulation of Benedict, Gänswein was quick to dispel such thoughts. “It is a misunderstanding that does not raise questions about Cardinal Sarah’s good faith.”
Such an outcome dispels the erroneous narrative of “The Two Popes.” Benedict’s request for the removal of his name indicates his wish not to present himself as the “conservative” rebuke to “liberal” Pope Francis. By this act Benedict displays his humility and teaches us the purpose of the papacy. Characterizing one pope as liberal or conservative fundamentally misunderstands the purpose of the papacy. The pope is not a politician, nor is the papacy an institution that changes Church teaching based on the political leanings of the party in power. Our Lord founded the papacy as the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity for the Church, meant to safeguard and preserve the teachings of Christ from error. Christ promises to preserve the papacy. The gates of hell and the errors and disunity of various political positions will not prevail against it. We would be wise not to let the fictions of Hollywood characterize our views of reality.