HBO’s unsettling Vatican satire asks what happens when spiritual leaders shirk their own faith.
I used to believe pastors were infallible. Then I became one.
Over the last decade, others have changed their minds about ministers, too. In fact, the general public’s trust in clergy currently sits at an all-time low. One could explain these numbers by rattling off the names of recently defrocked preachers, or noting our country’s swing from organized religion to self-autonomy, but the fact remains: pastors just aren’t trusted like they used to be, even if a majority do live with integrity.
If the role of spiritual shepherd has fallen on hard times, HBO’s new drama The Young Pope looks to drop the ball from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Created by Paolo Sorrentino, The Young Pope stars the striking, smooth-haired Jude Law as 47-year-old Lenny Belardo, the first American elected to the papacy. Bizarre, purposely disjointed, and irreverently humorous, Sorrentino’s dark religious satire won’t be for everyone. (It’s also an HBO production, which means viewers can expect the same level of sexual content that’s become the network’s prerequisite.) But for all its absurdity and occasional discomfort, The Young Pope’s look at religious leadership feels at once strangely relevant and candid in its exploration of how the quest for power and security often corrupts genuine faith.
Compact and patient, the first seven episodes of The Young Pope focus more on Lenny’s character than any strict plot arc. As Lenny, who now goes by Pope Pius XIII, grows acclimated to his new position, walks through the gardens within Vatican City, or meets papal staff about matters of faith and marketing, we begin to get a feel for his unpredictable personality—and while his face may …