Written By: Lawrence Lam
Pope Pius XIII awakens from his daydream one evening in the dining room of his papal apartments to find himself in a privileged audience among John XXIII and all his predecessors standing around him. He asks “confide in me the wisest thing you’ve ever learned.” One camaroed bearded man answers “it is necessary to believe in yourself”. Pius seems quite disappointed by this surprisingly banal and superficial advice more fitting for a fortune cookie than a successor of Peter.
This viewer and many friends that I consulted with felt the same way about this HBO series in general. Ads for The Young Pope promised many things – to enthrall, to captivate, to challenge, to offend. The marvelous recreations of the cosmetic grandeur of the Vatican were surely present. Kudos to the production team for attention to detail and ambition. However, unlike truly good art, there was not much substance beneath the patina. Any hope for transcendence was lost to an essentially secular political drama set against the backdrop of an institution whose power brokerage process is by secret conclave.
Yet another story of fallen leaders in the Church, released adjacent to Silence, this show depicts Cardinals primarily pursuing power rather than love of God, and concern for the Church’s worldly power as a secular institution rather than her evangelical and spiritual mission. Pope Pius XIII, played by Jude Law, says and does things that many conservatives and traditionalists may perceive to be positive, but lacking in depth. I might suggest that any pleasure derived from his decisions may actually be an occasion of sin as there is a denial of love and mercy in his many pronouncements that lead the faithful astray. The producers of the show wish to parody the conservative bent of many in the Church and they do such a good job that conservatives don’t realize it. Pius XIII is no more substantive than his Cardinals as he uses his office to wield political power within the Vatican and with other leaders. His negotiations with the liberal Italian Prime Minister leverage only power and he never takes any time to defend the Church teaching using scripture, tradition or the Natural Law. This is a Pope that may result when the entire church is so badly catechized that even its leaders lack the depth and joy necessary to carry on the faith . You might say this is what has happened to much of the secular world already.
If you do feel the need from an artistic standpoint to take in the images of The Young Pope, watch the episodes in random order and on mute (and please skip Episode 6). Thus not letting yourself be tempted to get drawn into the story. Let me spoil it by letting you know that it will scandalize and offend and let you down at the season’s conclusion.
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