Recently I decided to watch the movie The Two Popes on Netflix – following the movie being nominated for multiple awards and the premise of the interesting dynamic between the outgoing Pope Benedict and the incoming Pope Francis (Years ago, I had wrote about this moment here). I found that the movie was a beautiful and well made fictional imagination of the events surrounding the surprise abdication of the papacy by the former and latter’s ascension into the Chair of St. Peter.
Leaders are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by change.
If there is one thing I learnt from the movie about leadership is that leaders are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by change. When the movie starts we see the papal conclave convened following the death of Pope John Paul II, where the church decides to stick with tradition and elects the aging Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI over the radical Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. The conservative former is shown as being apathetic when compared to the more reform-minded latter. Seven year later, we see a church stuck in the Vatican Leaks scandal – a quagmire of corruption and abuse cases against the clergy that rocked the church to its core and tainted the papacy. Frustrated with these events, Bergoglio had submitted his resignation and since the Vatican never accepted it, he books the flight ticket personally to go and deliver his resignation note. At the same time he receives a personal invitation to visit Rome from the Pope. As the two meet, we see a beautiful and remarkable clash of personalities; divided by language, traditions and politics, yet united by their love to the church and what it means to them. There is a dialogue from the movie that basically explains these two leaders and what they stood for:
“- Pope Benedict: You talk about walls as if they are bad things. A house is built of walls. Strong walls.
– Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio: Ah… Did Jesus build walls? His face is a face of mercy. The bigger the sinner, the warmer the welcome. Mercy is the dynamite that blows down walls.”Anthony Hopkins – Pope Benedict, Jonathan Pryce – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
There are two leadership styles here – one that believes that tradition will hold its sway till the end and the other which believes in reform – real radical reform. Both styles are right and needs to be conducted with balance and foresight. A leader cannot go on blindly with the status quo yet cannot be delusional and creates radical changes too often. Both are needed within equal measure for the leadership to have any meaning or substance. This balance is often misunderstood as doing nothing and most leaders default to this position. In the movie, Bergoglio laments about the sway that traditional thinking had for too long and how it almost destroyed the church when he said the following:
“We have spent these last years disciplining anyone who disagrees with our line on divorce, on birth control, on being gay. While our planet was being destroyed, while inequality grew like a cancer. We worried whether it was alright to speak the Mass in Latin, whether girls should be allowed to be altar servers. We built walls around us, and all the time, all the time, the real danger was inside. Inside with us.”Jonathan Pryce – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
This lament is striking and one that yearns loudly for change – one could look back at those dark days and recollect the sheer horror at the descent of the church into infamy while all these scandals went on. Since the church stuck with tradition and allowed the scandals to rage on using outdated methods at enforcing the rule of law, frustration and despondence started setting in among the believers – the cry for change couldn’t have been more ferocious. It was amplified by the general feeling that justice was never served.
“Confession cleans the sinner’s soul, it doesn’t help the victim. Our whole church is in need of forgiveness. Where is our humility? Sin is a wound, not a stain. It needs to be treated, healed. Forgiveness is not enough.”Jonathan Pryce – Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio
It was this call for change that shook Pope Benedict XVI into resigning and allowing a reluctant Pope Francis to take over the reins of an embattled church.
The biggest insight that one has when watching the movie is that if leaders do not understand change or even realize that they are born into change, defined by change and needs to lead by change – they fail miserably.
Image Courtesy: Bing