Bernardo M. Villegas
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Profiles of Two Saintly Pontiff (Part 3)

          It is unfortunate that such a technically excellent film is marred by an obvious bias against Pope Benedict who is depicted as a conservative trying to suppress the “liberal” Cardinal Bergoglio.  In another film review by Juan Enrique Novo in Mercatornet, the dialectic is well described: “Although both popes are treated with sympathy, the film reduces their relationship to a debate between a conservative and a progressive—to a power struggle.  It is not a very novel approach.  In the movie, Benedict tells Bergoglio: ‘You have been one of my toughest critics.’  It is inspired by real events,’ but, as Christopher Altieri, of the Catholic Herald (UK), comments: ‘The impression one garners is of a story inspired by headlines and mainstream narrative.’  McCarten’s book, for example, is advertised on Amazon thus: ‘If, as the Church teaches, the pope is infallible, how can two living popes who disagree on almost everything both be right.?’”  “Disagree on almost everything” is the greatest hyperbole of media.   For example, the truth of the matter is that on February 28, 2013, a few days before the election of Pope Francis, Benedict XVI told the cardinals in Rome:  “Among you, among the College of Cardinals, sits the future Pope, and I already promise him my unconditional reverence and obedience.”  A few years later, Pope Francis recalled that moment in a press conference, affirming that Benedict promised to obey, and he did: “He is man of his word, an upright, a completely upright man!”

         Pope Francis is very explicit about his close ties with the Pope Emeritus.  In a flight back to Rome from Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis declared: “There is a special quality about my relationship with Benedict. I really love him.  I have always loved him.  For me, he is a man of God, a humble man, a man who prays.  I was so happy when he was elected Pope.  Also, when he announced his resignation it was an example of greatness for me.  A great man.  Only a great man can do this!  A man of God and a man of prayer.  He himself lives in the Vatican and some say to me, but how can this be?  Two Popes in the Vatican!  But doesn’t he weigh you down?    But doesn’t he make a revolution against you?  All of these things are said, right?

         “I found a phrase to explain this, ‘It’s like having a grandfather at home,’ but a wise grandfather. When the grandfather is at home in a family, he is venerated, he is loved, he is listened to.  He is a man of prudence!  He isn’t muscling in.”  In both words and deeds, Pope Francis has spared no effort to emphasize that he and Benedict have the closest personal and intimate relationship.  Congratulations on important liturgical feasts have been constant and frequent.  In the summer of 2015, for example, Francis went to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery where Benedict is residing, and they had a long meeting before Benedict went to rest at Castel Gandolfo.  On the eve of the canonization of Paul VI and Archbishop Oscar Romero, Francis also went to be with him.  After the 2019 Consistory in which Francis created new cardinals, everyone went to Benedict.  The Pope emeritus spoke of fidelity to the Pope.  Occasion like these have happened many times.  The so-called conflict of personalities and ideologies is purely in the imagination of some media people who are active in promoting their respective liberal agenda.

         This is not to deny that these two close friends have very different personalities.  The film Two Popes did us a great service by showing us at close range how human these two very top officials of the Catholic church really are.  I belong to the same generation as the two Popes.   I can identify with the need to work 10,000 steps every day (don’t stop now, keep moving, keep moving!); with finding my shoe laces untied  frequently; with relishing some tasty pizza pies coupled with a favorite soft drink like  Fanta; with  unconsciously whistling the tune of Dancing Queen of the ABBA singers; with enjoying a moment of relaxation by playing a lullaby; with watching with great  excitement a football game, especially if my favorite player Messi is playing, etc. etc.  It is reassuring to us ordinary mortals to see the human side of our highest Church officials.

         Humanity, however, can be manifested in many diverse ways.  In a book entitled The Other Francis, Archbishop Georg Ganswein describes the differences between the personalities of the two Popes. The Archbishop is eminently qualified to talk about the two Popes because he has been personally close to them.  He has served as the Personal Secretary of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and until very recently was the Prefect of the Papal Household under Pope Francis.  When asked about the most obvious difference, Ganswein replies: “Pope Francis establishes a direct relationship with people.  Benedict is a person who approaches others with reserve.  The different approaches are not the result of deliberations but are part of the personalities of both Popes.”

         In the same interview, the journalist points out to Archbishop Ganswein that there may be another obvious difference:  how the media treat them.  Ganswein’s response is realistic: “The media is not a metric for evaluating the work of Peter’s successor.   I think that this phenomenon is the result, also, of the way that each of them communicates.  Pope Francis is a media man, who knows how to communicate by making unexpected and surprising gestures that capture the attention of the media; Benedict does not have this quality; his gift is to explain things clearly.  But beyond the obvious differences, he defends the notion that there is a persistent and essential continuity between the teaching of Benedict XVI and that of Francis…I do not see differences, I see only aspects that are more enhanced and a different style, but the substance has not changed.”  Practising Catholics believe that the Successor of Peter, the Pope, is infallible when he teaches on matters of faith and morals.  Therefore, there can only be continuity between one Pope and another when it comes to defining dogma and morals.  (To be continued).