10 Takes on the Pontiff in Pop Culture


You needn’t be Catholic to know a new Pope was elected earlier this week. The 266th pontiff is Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who has taken the name Francis and is best remembered for washing and kissing the feet of AIDS patients. Meanwhile, human rights activists (and the Internet) are criticizing Pope Francis for a possible link to Argentina’s Dirty War in 1976 and his stance on same-sex marriage. Yesterday, we also reported that Bruno Ganz has been cast in Showtime’s upcoming series The Vatican as the fictional Pope Sixtus VI. Inspired by the lingering white smoke, we wanted to look back at the hilarious and fascinating ways the Pope has been portrayed in pop culture. Head past the break for more guys in funny hats.

We saw Kevin Hart play Quevanzhané Wallis in this Situation Room skit on SNL a few weeks ago — and we’re still hoping the Vatican might reconsider electing the first child Pope.

Jeremy Irons is a playboy pope (Pope Alexander VI/Rodrigo Borgia) on Neil Jordan’s The Borgias. The actor talked to the Telegraph about his reasons for taking the role:

“There’s one book where the author lists the adjectives used to describe Rodrigo by all other writers. And it’s a rainbow. It starts with Great Church Reformer, Great Organiser, Great Military Leader, Wonderful Company… and it goes all the way down to Fornicator, Seducer, Murderer… You begin to see this very complicated and rather extraordinary man who isn’t at all what history has handed down to us… I’ve never had a character I can explore in so much depth… Not since Brideshead.”

Ken Russell’s bawdy 1975 film Lisztomania featured Beatles drummer Ringo Starr as a pope who forbids the marriage of 19th-century Hungarian composer Franz Liszt to one of his pupils, Caroline de Saint-Cricq — who had ties to Charles X of France. The film is based on the musician’s biography, which details that the breakup prompted a major life crisis for Liszt.

One of the highlights of Amy Heckerling’s wacky spoof on 1930’s gangster films, Johnny Dangerously, is the appearance of Dom DeLuise as the Pope. If we need to explain why the jovial comic made an awesome pontiff, turn on Blazing Saddles, Cannonball Run, or Spaceballs.

Nanni Moretti is one of the most interesting international directors working today, and the Woody Allen of Italian cinema created a subversive portrait of the Catholic church in his film We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam). The Holy Father is anxious about his new role, despite encouragement from a psychoanalyst. Moretti’s brand of wry comedy gives way to sympathetic, reflective moments in the 2011 film.

Global fashion brand Benetton created a controversial ad campaign that upset the Vatican — especially since a billboard featuring the image was erected near the city. The company’s UNHATE ads showed world leaders making out, including the vehemently anti-gay Pope Benedict XVI planting a kiss on the lips of high-ranking Egyptian Sunni imam Ahmed el-Tayeb. Sadly, the company pulled the image after complaints from the Vatican.

South Park‘s Da Vinci Code spoof uncovered the secrets behind the Catholic Church — namely that the first Pope was really a rabbit, which accounts for the height of his hat (the ears have to hide somewhere). The “Fantastic Easter Special” episode also boats the best name for a secret society, ever: The Hare Club for Men.

Peter O’Toole looked great in the papal robes for Showtime’s The Tudors, portraying a devious Pope Paul III. His scuffles with King Henry VIII made for great drama, even if the historical facts were sometimes skewed. “Peter O’Toole is the Holy Grail for The Tudors. We needed someone of enormous stature to play Pope Paul III, who faced off against Henry VIII in his bid to get his divorce from Katherine of Aragon,” said Showtime’s Robert Greenblatt. “Henry’s defiance of the pope and his break with the Roman Catholic Church is one of the great turning points in the history of the world.”

We have to hand it to 6 Dollar Shirts for coming up with this Pope Francis/Francis Buxton mashup tee so quickly. “Today’s my birthday and my father says I can have anything I want!” Sadly, the hilarious daily t-shirt design appears to gone. Never forget.

Award-winning English actor Rex Harrison played Pope Julius II opposite Charlton Heston as Michelangelo in Carol Reed’s 1965 adaptation of Irving Stone’s biographical novel, The Agony and the Ecstasy . The film follows the struggles of the Renaissance artist as he completes the painting of the Sistine Chapel. Apparently the actors were adversaries off-screen as well. Laurence Olivier was actually the first choice for the role of Pope, which may have had something to do with it.