The Ambiguous Tension of the Papacy in The Young Pope

By  · Published on September 7th, 2016

Jude Law has no sins to confess.

The Office of the Papacy has captivated the attention of us fallible mortals since its inception. The clandestine operations of the Vatican have been and are still fodder for fiction as much in antiquity as in modernity. The Showtime favorite The Borgias is just one example of this collective fascination, as is everything Dan Brown has ever gotten his mitts on.

The current state of the Papacy, as unprecedented as it has been of late, has no doubt stirred a renewed interested with the internal operations of that micro-nation inside the walls of Rome. After the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, the College of Cardinals elected Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. After only eight years as pope, Benedict did something that no pope has ever done in Catholicism’s long and storied history; he resigned. The Vatican then elected Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis, to replace him. It is in the selection of Pope Francis that we see the influence of modern Catholicism in the upcoming Sky Atlantic/HBO miniseries, The Young Pope.

From Academy-Award winning writer and director Paolo Sorrentino, The Young Pope is a ten-part miniseries that will air first in the UK under the banner of Sky Atlantic before being released in the United States by HBO. The series stars Jude Law as Lenny Belardo, the young Pope Pius XIII. Law’s character is the youngest and first American man elected to the office.

The series’ trailer begins with the pope sitting in a confessional. His confessor asks for his sins, but he replies simply that he “has no sins to confess.” For any good Catholic, this is quite provocative. What does he mean by this? Does he literally believe himself to be infallible or is he making some larger, reformative statement about the path of the church? We see the pope in a variety of locations throughout the Vatican, more often than not smoking cigarettes. We catch glimpses of Cardinals plotting against him. Words like radical and revolutionary are thrown about. The trailer is extremely well edited. It gives the viewers more questions than it answers. It practically compels them, by the power of Christ, to watch this series.

One of the many questions this trailer brings to mind, for me, anyway, is the type of revolutionary Pope Pius is supposed to be in this series. Is he the tried and true radical pope who disregards church teaching for the pursuit of hedonism, as the medieval popes have done? Or, is he a reformative figure? A modern-day Martin Luther, the way that detractors have chosen to paint Pope Francis? How much of this American pope is based on the first South American pope? I am extremely interested to see the way the Catholic Church is portrayed in this film. For many decades, the Church has been depicted overwhelmingly negatively with the rare exception of an exorcism-based film.

The series’ supporting cast looks extremely promising as well. Diane Keaton plays Sister Mary, a nun who helped raise the new Pope from infancy after he was abandoned by his mother. Silvio Orlando plays Cardinal Vioello who believes that he can control the young pontiff.

The first episode of the series premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 3rd. As a Catholic, I am very much looking forward to this series and from what angle it was approached. I’m honestly annoyed that I do not live in the UK and have to wait even longer for the series to get an American release date.

The Young Pope premieres in the UK on Sky Atlantic on October 21st. It will premiere on HBO at some time after that.

Related Topics: