THE TWO POPES
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BY ANTHONY McCARTEN
On February 11th 2020, the Catholic Church will have been functioning under two living Popes for eight years, the first time since 1415 and a situation which goes against the infallibility of the position. Anthony McCarten, himself brought up in an unquestioning strong Catholic family, scrutinises the premise for this unique situation with a fascinating and compelling voice as author. The Netflix feature film of the same name with Sir Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce accompanies the publication of this book - enrichening the experience and making this a great choice for book clubbers.
In the book, McCarten presents the 'back stories' to both Popes with an enthralling and finely researched understanding. He explores how Pope Francis walks the tightrope of establishing his mark under the shadows of another living Pope, considering the legacy of his predecessor. The former pope, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) was a highly traditional theologian who was tasked to reform the Church with a strict conservative doctrine whilst retaining and enjoying the papal pomp of Rome. McCarten presents the stark contrast of both Popes, Ratzinger a talented German academic and Pope Francis a liberal down-to-earth Jesuit reformer from Argentina who prefers simpler pleasures and less ceremony. Both are highly intelligent men but with totally opposing views and styles of leadership. The story of their co-existence is riveting and brilliantly told.
Central to the book, is the culture of the Catholic Church and dealing with (or not dealing with) the unforgivable acts of crime. The most significant of these being the question of sexual abuse by priests preying on young children, which the Church had kept secret and hidden. Another being the allegations of corruption and money laundering inside the Vatican. Both Popes had widely differing perspectives on these crucial issues. Alongside this, is the revealing background of the two Popes’ history under authoritarian regimes, questioning their involvement or cover up of something they knew was wrong in their respective countries. Although very different men, both could be deemed hypocrites as they evaded the issues or certainly 'turned a blind eye' to the atrocities experienced in their homelands.
McCarten seems to conclude that time after time, the Church is incapable of learning from its past mistakes and by giving false accounts, only damages its very existence, resulting in thousands of people leaving the faith every year. Rather dramatically, McCarten remarks ‘Were we able to look far into the future of the Catholic church and learn that its fate was to become nothing more than a sacred book club, where fans gathered once a week to discuss their favourite characters and chapters, debate passionately the themes, and draw real-life lessons from shared readings, it could do a lot worse.’
The Den would argue - what better place to start your book club discussion!
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