I read somewhere that the two television series "The young pope" and "The new pope" were favoured viewing by the residents of the Vatican. The simple attraction: it was all about them. While The New Pope contains enough interest to watch in its entirety (streaming on SBS), there is in the last episode a speech from the Pope acted by John Malkovich, speaking into a packed St Peter's square that is breathtaking. It is so because if it were actually spoken by a pope it would transform the Church from its present obsession with the juridical to being the true body of Christ. I watched it again with a priest friend and he remarked that it had a similar flavour to the sermon on the mount. It is not the rich and powerful who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who grieve, the persecuted, the meek, the pure in heart etc. The speech addresses those members of society who have been rejected. The following is a transcript of the speech; however, I would urge you to watch Malkovich's delivery.
The girls who snubbed us, the boys who deserted us, the strangers who ignored us, the parents who misunderstood us, the employers who rejected us, the mentors who doubted us, the bullies who beat us, the siblings who mocked us, the friends who abandoned us, the conformists who excluded us, the kisses we were denied because no one saw us.
They were all too busy turning their gaze elsewhere while I was directing my gaze at you. Only at you. Because I am one of you.
Sorrow has no hierarchy, suffering is not a sport, there is no final ranking.
Tormented by acne and shyness, stretch marks and discomfort and baldness and insecurity, bulimia and obesity and diversity. Reviled for the colour of our skin, our sexual orientation, our empty wallets, our physical impairments, our arguments with our elders, our inconsolable weeping, the abyss of our insignificance, the caverns of our loss, the emptiness inside us, the recurring incurable thought of ending it all, nowhere to rest nowhere to stand , nothing to belong to, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Yes, that is how we felt and just like you I remember it all, but it no longer matters that the world took issue with us, now it is us who will take issue with the world. We will no longer tolerate being named as the problem because in point of fact they are the problem, we are the solution We have been betrayed, abandoned and rejected and miss-understood, put aside and diminished. There is no place for you here, they told us with their silence, then where is our place we implored them with our silence. We never received that reply.
But now we know, yes, we know our place, our place is here, our place is the church, Cardinal Biffi said it first and in an astonishing simply way: "we are all miserable wretches whom God brought together to form a glorious church." Yes, we are all miserable wretches, yes, we are all the same, and yes, we are the forgotten ones but no longer, from this day forth we shall no longer be forgotten, I assure you, they will remember us because we are the church.
This speech is a direct challenge to the Church to repent of its exclusion of those it deems sinful, and to embrace them as the very ones who are at the centre of the Kingdom of God. Such a change could change the church from being a moral arbiter to assuming its real role as pastor to the sheep.
The theology that underlies such a move has been well established in the Church from the beginning. It affirms the doctrine of universal depravity so ably supported by Augustine and the Reformers: "we are all miserable wretches". The church, being included, does not have all the answers and are at one with all of humanity. The fictional pope in the speech affirms that he is one with the crowd before him.
As in Christos Tsiolkas' novel Damascus we are dealing here with the power of art in articulating what theologians have known all along, not a new thing, because the gospels themselves are art forms. They are not a series of propositions but are woven narratives that insert themselves into our minds with irony, pathos, and the revealing of things unseen. The gospels are acts, events that change the way we see ourselves and the world. Once released into the world they continue to transform us. I wonder how The New Pope has affected those in the Vatican who are drawn to watch it. Will it hit them as gospel? Will they suddenly understand that the Church has been on the wrong path for so long that it is almost inconceivable that it may change?
The Church has done us a disservice by not differentiating behaviour that is rightly illegal in common society, based on harm done to others, from loving acts between same sex attracted couples. It has alienated those who have experienced genuine marital breakdown and who want to make a new life. It has done so because it professes to know God's plan for humanity. Those gathered in St Peter's square for the fictional pope's Angelus are those alienated by the Church, a great raft of people.
During the speech we see the weeping faces of cardinals who own their own alienation. They know that there is no way back, that the speech must result in the transformation of the Church into an all-inclusive community like the one Jesus created in his many feasts with the outsiders.
It is impossible for the Church to maintain its position on sexual acts now that the sexual activities of priests towards minors and the concentration of same sex attracted men at the highest offices of the Vatican has been revealed. It has been caught out denying its own impossible precepts. The speech at the end of The New Pope shows us the way forward. It involves a complete rethinking of how the Church conceives of itself, not as the accuser that points its finger at those who do not fit into "God's Plan" but as the loving father who receives the prodigal into loving arms.
We could say that The New Pope is just a piece of extravagant television that tries to deal with things its makers do not comprehend. I don't think so. This is art that reveals the truth and changes how we act and think.
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