The new and much-ballyhooed Netflix film The Two Popes should, by rights, be called The One Pope, for it presents a fairly nuanced, textured, and sympathetic portrait of Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) and a complete caricature of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). This imbalance fatally undermines the movie, whose purpose, it seems, is to show that old grumpy, legalistic Benedict finds his spiritual bearings through the ministrations of friendly, forward-looking Francis. But such a thematic trajectory ultimately does violence to both figures, and turns what could have been a supremely interesting character study into a predictable and tedious apologia for the filmmaker’s preferred version of Catholicism. 

That we are dealing with a caricature of Ratzinger becomes clear when, in the opening minutes of the film, the Bavarian Cardinal is presented as ambitiously plotting to secure his election as Pope in 2005. On at least three occasions, the real Cardinal Ratzinger begged John Paul II to allow him to retire from his position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to take up a life of study and prayer. He stayed on only because John Paul adamantly refused the requests. And in 2005, upon the death of John Paul, even Ratzinger’s ideological opponents admitted that the now seventy-eight-year-old Cardinal wanted nothing more than to return to Bavaria and write his Christology. The ambitious plotting fits, of course, the caricature of the “conservative” churchman, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the flesh-and-blood Joseph Ratzinger. Furthermore, in the scene depicting an imagined meeting between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Bergoglio in the gardens at Castel Gandolfo, the aged Pope frowningly lashes out at his Argentinian colleague, bitterly criticizing the Cardinal’s theology. Once again, even Joseph Ratzinger’s detractors admit that “God’s Rottweiler” is in fact invariably kind, soft-spoken, and gentle in his dealings with others. The barking ideologue is, again, a convenient caricature but not even close to the real Ratzinger.

But the most serious mischaracterization occurs toward the end of the film when a dispirited Benedict, resolved to resign the papacy, admits that he had stopped hearing the voice of God and that he had begun to hear it again only through his newfound friendship with Cardinal Bergoglio! Mind you, in saying the following I mean not an ounce of disrespect to the real Pope Francis, but that one of the most intelligent and spiritually alert Catholics of the last one hundred years would require the intervention of Cardinal Bergoglio in order to hear the voice of God is beyond absurd. From beginning to end of his career, Ratzinger/Benedict has produced some of the most spiritually luminous theology in the great tradition. That he was, by 2012, tired and physically ill, and that he felt incapable of governing the great apparatus of the Catholic Church—yes, of course. But that he was spiritually lost – no way. Again, it might be a fantasy of some on the left that “conservatives” hide their spiritual bankruptcy behind a veneer of rules and authoritarianism, but one would be hard pressed indeed to apply this hermeneutic to Joseph Ratzinger….

The above comes from a Jan. 21 story by Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles which appeared in OC Catholic.