Review: The Two Popes

By John Ruberry

“I’m not familiar with this part of the garden,” Pope Benedict XVI (Anthony Hopkins) tells Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Jonathan Pryce) as they enter an area overrun by brush and deadwood in The Two Popes. Benedict then asks the Argentinian, “Which way?”

That garden, at the Vatican’s Palace of Castel Gandolfo outside of Rome, could rightly be called Benedict’s garden, as he was the Pope. Yet Benedict asks the man who ends up as his successor, Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis in 2013, for direction. Oops, I mean directions.

Clearly the scriptwriters and the director of The Two Popes favor the liberal leadership under Francis–the garden scene neatly ties up that sentiment in a bow.

Later, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio decries inequality, repeated images of ugly walls are shown.

The Two Popes is largely fictionalized story centered on the theological divide between the 265th and the 266th pontiffs. After a limited theatrical release, including a showing at the Chicago International Film Festival, which was sold out, preventing Mrs. Marathon Pundit from seeing it, the film debuted Friday on Netflix. The Two Popes is worth seeing, whether you are a Catholic or not, or a believer or not. The Welshmen in the lead roles, Hopkins and Pryce, provide superb performances. Of course Hopkins’ career has been justifiably rewarded, including gaining four Academy Award nominations, and winning the Best Actor Oscar for his role as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Amazingly, despite stellar work in such movies as Something Wicked This Way Comes, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, Pryce has never been honored with an Academy Award nomination. He deserves it for his performance as Francis, but my guess is that the Academy will overlook Pryce again.

The interplay–and the arguing–is what keeps The Two Popes going.

As for the fiction, there is plenty of it here. There were no long meetings between Benedict and Bergoglio; the catalyst for their movie summit was an offer of resignation from the cardinal, which is harshly rejected as a challenge to Benedict’s authority. The future Pope Francis turned 75 in 2011, it is customary for archbishops to retire at that age. It can be assumed that the pair never discussed the Beatles or their Abbey Road album. And it’s quite likely that Benedict’s favorite television show is not Kommisar Rex, an Austrian detective program where a German shepherd solves crimes. This sidetrack is probably a sly reference to Cardinal Ratzinger’s long term as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican under John Paul II, where he picked up the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.”

There are numerous flashback scenes involving Francis, including his early romance, his call to the priesthood, his muddled legacy from Argentina’s “Dirty War,” his rise, then fall, and his rise again within the Argentine Catholic Church. 

In the garden walk scene, Bergoglio condemns Benedict’s handling of the pedophile crisis within the priesthood, which included confession of the guilty–he calls it “magic words.” Benedict’s retort is harsh and telling, “Magic words, is that how you describe the sacrament?”

The Two Popes gives viewers plenty to think about. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

The Fisherman

by baldilocks

No, not that Fisherman. The other one.

The power to tax is the power to destroy.

–Daniel Webster, et al.

The 36th president of the United States, Lyndon Baines Johnson, is infamous for many things.

Most domestically notable are two programs: the Great Society and Medicare. Both programs can arguably be viewed as bait to Americans. Bait for what? Luring the poor into government dependence, luring the elderly into the same, and luring the descendants of all into catastrophic debt. This debt applies both individually and nationally.

However, I was fascinated to discover that these programs were not LBJ’s first forays into hooking groups into government control. At The Federalist, Leslie Loftis notes that his first target was the church.

When the federal tax code was written, that the government couldn’t tax churches was assumed. For one, at the beginning of the union, only the federal government was prohibited from establishing a religion. The state governments could and did establish churches. They didn’t tax churches, but collected taxes for the church. This stopped after the Civil War and the ratification and subsequent case law of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the federal proscription against an established religion to the individual states.

[snip]

Essentially, churches have complied with the exemption requirements of the tax code rather than asserting the right to be free from taxation.

[snip]

To punish and prevent political opponents [including churches] from speaking out against him, [in 1954] then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson, who was in a contentious re-election campaign, pushed through an amendment to the tax code which prohibits “political activity” by 501(c)(3) entities. It is called the Johnson Amendment. Since the prohibition passed, it has only been lightly—and selectively—enforced.

Loftis points to bi-partisan examples of this selective enforcement, but notes that

[m]ost churches, however, tend to err on the side of caution lest the IRS decide to prosecute, either on a whim or as part of a larger political intimidation program much like the one they have run in the past few years against conservative secular organizations.

In other words, due to LBJ’s little trap, most churches yield to fear and/or love of money.

Oh and Loftis also notes that the IRS is the process of composing new guidelines for political activity by tax-exempt religious organizations and churches at the the legal behest of the Freedom From Religion Foundation(!) Aren’t all we Jesus freaks, Bible-thumpers and bitter-clingers looking forward to the passage of such regulations so that we can find out what’s in them?

Back to LBJ. We have had several problematic presidents and the current one seems like the biggest one. But he and his ideological siblings who sit in political office at all levels of government–like Houston Mayor Annise Parker–can look to the politicians of the past and thank them for laying the foundations of tyranny by luring an intentionally under-educated populace into assenting to it.

Politicians like LBJ: Dixiecrat, Reenslaver of black Americans, and Persecutor of the Church.

Quite a legacy, don’t you think?

Juliette Akinyi Ochieng has been blogging since 2003 as baldilocks. Her older blog is here.  She published her first novel, Tale of the Tigers: Love is Not a Game in 2012.

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