The Two Popes


Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam  (I announce to you with great joy: we have a pope)  is proclaimed from the balcony of St.Peters following a papal conclave.

The  film  – “The Two Popes”-  chronicles their relationship prior to Pope Benedict’s resignation. Born ten years apart, these two churchmen have come to symbolize for Vatican watchers, the right and left factions of present day Catholicism.

Early in the movie Pope Benedict is portrayed snubbing the presence of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio at his meeting with cardinals arriving for the funeral of Pope John Paul 2. From a theatrical viewpoint this works because it creates tension.

Josef Ratzinger in real life is clearly on the traditional side of theological developments. While  Prefect of the “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” Cardinal Ratzinger had a reputation of being friendly with bishops on their “ad limina” visits. So early on the movie, I knew his portrayal was not authentic.

As much as one can find fault with Pope Benedict’s neglect in dealing with child sexual abusers, and his harsh treatment of  some liberal theologians he didn’t agree with, it is unlikely that he would have deliberately  shunned Cardinal Bergoglio in a social situation.

It is easy for movies to create fictional conversations in the mouths of real people. This film amuses by doing just that.

As much as I felt the dispassionate abstract  conceptual framework of Josef Ratzinger when he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, I found myself having mercy for him in the scene where he asks the Argentinian colleague to hear his confession.

Here is Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio hearing the confession of Pope Benedict before his resignation confessing that he ignored evidence about Father Maciel who was found guilty of sexually abusing not only young seminarians, but his own son.

I have often thought that Josef Ratzinger is a man trapped in the mind of an abstract thinking scholar, who was raised in the thirties, and forced to join Hitler’s nazi youth program. I remember when he was first elected pope, I saw an article in the New Yorker with a photo of him as a teenager in the Nazi youth uniform. In fairness to him, he left this as soon as he was able.

This film uses the popularity of both popes to create a fictional account of the polarization that currently exists internationally within the Catholic believing community.

The Argentinian political struggle of the mid 1970’s to free itself from dictatorship resulted in the murder of priests, nuns, and laity involved in social justice.

As Provincial Bergoglio ordered Jesuits to close down their ministry to the poor for fear they would be killed. The regret he experienced after the government fell is portrayed, when he  explains to Pope Benedict why he still carries guilt.

For all his failures to not deal effectively with the Roman Curia and Vatican bank officials, Pope Benedict is presented as a sympathetic figure who deserves forgiveness. Pope Francis is portrayed for what he is, a man in touch with ordinary people on their pilgrim journey.

What I think the film shows is the rift that exists in the Catholic community between those who see a need to hold those in positions of authority accountable including  bishops, and those who long to return to the fifties when the reputation of the church took precedence over the suffering abused victims.

Our current reality recognizes  that protecting the church’s reputation has backfired especially in respect to clerical sexual abuse, and financial corruption within the Vatican.

I came out of this film feeling sympathetic towards Benedict who was hopelessly out of touch with average people, including priests who were trying to communicate the abuses that needed arresting.

I also felt compassion and respect for Pope Francis who endeavours to this day to reform the Curia and develop authentic synod listening envisioned by Vatican 2.

The movie reminded me that the Catholic Church despite the pain it has caused to abused children,  women, and LGBT people, was founded by the second person of the Blessed Trinity.

The Keys of the Kingdom given to Peter, are currently in the hands of a Jesuit who is discerning the signs of the times.


The Two Popes is now playing in major Canadian cities and opens wide on December 27.  The film will be available on Netflix as of December 20.


John Montague earned his Master of Divinity from Regis College, University of Toronto. He is an active member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He has a Master of Social Work, and, until his retirement, provided counselling to individuals, couples, and families. For the past seventeen years he has organized a Day of Reflection for Catholic parents of lesbian daughters, gay sons, and transgendered children.

  • Philip Shano
    Posted at 10:06h, 07 December Reply

    Thanks John. I’ll watch for it when it comes to Netflix. The two men have become so representative of the tension in the church.

  • Peter Larisey
    Posted at 19:59h, 07 December Reply

    Hi John,

    I found your blog very interesting. Your writing gives us an example of someone actively discerning this film as a sign of the times. So thank you very much,


  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 23:11h, 07 December Reply

    Thank you John!

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