Wednesday, April 20, 2011

If Easter is Coming, It's Time to Get a Persecution Complex...

Fr. Z has been warning a lot these past few weeks that, "if Easter is near, it's the season to bash the Catholic Church." Of course, he and his ilk serve up stories whining about "anti-Catholic bigotry" all year round. So I think what this really means is that, around Easter, conservative Catholics start getting more uppity about it.

Now comes this ridiculous story about the new movie "Habemus Papam" which, from what I've heard, is a benign little film of "good clean fun." The premise, at least, doesn't seem intrinsically offensive just because it happens to involve hierarchs (who are often great subjects for parody...)

However, oversensitive identity-politics Catholics are, apparently, not so good-humored about these things:
A Vatican reporter for the Italian news agency AGI, Salvatore Izzo, called for a boycott of the box-office hit and Cannes Palme D'Or contender “Habemus Papam” [...] Writing in the Italian bishop’s newspaper Avvenire, he said, “You don't touch the Pope: he is the Christ's vicar, the rock upon which Jesus founded his Church.”
Is he effing serious?!? As far as I can tell, this film is neither explicitly attacking the individual mortal man who current holds the papacy (whom I've critiqued and poked fun at myself here several times, sometimes with a harshness I regret, even with my great affection for him). And it doesn't seem to critique the office of the papacy itself as a constitutional feature of the Church. It sounds like a comedy about a man who happens to be Pope. Why should that be off-limits in literature or film? It sounds like an awfully good plot-device to me.

Oh, but Fr. Z is gushing over a Telegraph article about how "offensive" this all is:

Traditionalists say that the film, by the acclaimed Italian director Nanni Moretti, is “an instrument of Satan” and is particularly offensive as it has been released in the approach to Easter.

Bruno Volpe, the Catholic lawyer, has launched suit for defamation against Moretti and the producers under the terms of the Lateran Pact, which extends the same protections to the prestige of the pope as to the Italian president. Mr Volpe said Habemus Papam (We Have a Pope), never mentioned the current Pope by name but it was nevertheless clear that it was a parody of Pope Benedict XVI and dishonoured the figure of the Pontiff in general. Salvatore Izzo, a Vatican expert, branded the work disrespectful and boring in an open letter to Avvenire, the Catholic bishops’ newspaper.

He said Catholics should boycott the film, which opened in Italy on Friday and will be in competition at Cannes.

Why should we support financially that which offends our religion?” he asked, admitting he had not seen the film.

Antonio Vacca, the bishop of Alghero, described Moretti as “an instrument of Satan for separating man from God”.

Gerardo Pierro, archbishop of Salerno, said the launch of a similar film in an Islamic country would have led to the burning of cinemas and attempts to kill the director for blasphemy. “I think many people take advantage of the traditional meekness of Catholics, which is often confused with foolishness or resignation,” Archbishop Pierro said.

Seriously terrifying. And just what did he mean with that comparison to cinemas being burnt and directors being killed in Islamic countries anyway? That this is justified or that Catholics should start doing that in our areas??? If not, then what was the point of pointing that out?

And launching a defamation suit under the terms of the Lateran Pact for dishonoring the figure of the Pontiff?? (To which Fr. Z said "Good for him!") Just what sort of theocratic regime do these people want to live under? That Catholics are expressing support for that sort of censorship in our modern world just scares the shit out of me. Whatever may have been justified or necessary in that regard in a Christian society, the idea of imposing that today is insane.

God save us from conservative Catholics!!


Thom, sfo said...

"Just what sort of theocratic regime do these people want to live under?"

Best not to ask. You don't want to know the answer.

Blayne Riley said...

I think it is heartening to see people defending their Pope and wanting the dignity of his person to be intact. We shouldn't be suing these guys over this film though, and I doubt Christ would either. I do feel you are taking His Grace's comments at the end out of context in terms of his meaning. Catholics often do get mud slinged at them and don't respond very often in a loud fashion. He was making a comparison to the two types of responses and lamented the fact this film he found offensive was being made, nothing more.

A Sinner said...

First, there is no reason to defend a man just because he's Pope. He's a human with potential character flaws like anyone else. He should be defended no more nor less than anyone else in this regard.

Second, there is reason to defend the papacy as an institution, the Pope as an abstract Ikon within the Church in his capacity as its visible head on earth, but the Pope-as-Public-Figure and Pope-as-Private-Man must be maintained as separate ideas in our head. This movie doesn't seem to attack the abstract idea of the papacy.

Third, contrary to what the article says, I don't think this is a movie about Benedict himself really. It's just a movie about the election of a Pope in the early 21st-century. That's how fiction works. If fictionalizations can no longer involve popes, where do we stop? Can they involve bishops? Can they involve kings and queens? There's nothing wrong with using the character of a Pope in a fictionalized account. It's not wrong (ala The Borgias) when it is "historical fiction" and its especially not wrong when its pure hypothetical.

As for the Islam comments, they ARE disturbing because there really is a question of just what he meant by saying them. Is the comparison he's making positive or negative? Is he saying the Muslim model is better, or saying the Catholic way is better? If the former, that's incredibly disturbing. If the latter, than there is a real hypocrisy in saying, "We're turning the other cheek by not, you know, stringing you up and killing you. BUT we're still going to make a huge fuss and complain and whine about it."

I'm reminded of this post on another blog ( An implication that can be read from the comment is something like, "You're lucky that Catholics don't have balls like those Muslims, because you deserve what their blasphemers get." There is an implication here that what happens to these directors in Muslim countries is a sort of "immanent justice" which he then "disavows" by saying "But, we Catholics don't do that."

In reality, sometimes good actions bring us good consequences, sometimes bad. Sometimes bad actions bring us bad consequences, sometimes good. Rather than trying to read some sort of divine justice into the situation when the two "match" (while invoking the mystery of iniquity when they don't) I think it's not our place to make such judgments.

Katherine said...

I guess they are not watching the Borgia series on HBO.

Blayne Riley said...

If I'd seen the film(which I haven't, nor have you), and I felt after a good amount of considering the film and its merits, that it was literally attacking a man without cause, I would stick up for him. Not just because he's an innocent guy, but because his election was guided by the Holy Spirit, I do believe the Pope is special, he's the Vicar of Christ and my shepherd. I would fight for him if it came down to it.
You could also ask His Grace's office for a clarification as to what he meant instead of blanket speculation. I certainly won't say you're wrong, but I read nothing in it to say he was advocating anything offensive.

A Sinner said...

Ratzinger himself on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Pope's election:

"I would not say…that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. …the Spirit’s role…[is not such] that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined."

That "only assurance" is a rather broad one. Really, papal elections are subject to the same Providence everything else is.

Anonymous said...

What sort of theocratic regime do I want to live under?

I world where the Pope is ABSOLUTE MONARCH!!! Please please please..(And I'm not even joking)