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Profile of Pope Francis: Iffy Mix of White Smoke, Some Mirrors
September 5, 2015  | By Tom Brinkmoeller

Despite some pretty authoritative advice to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, for many people in the world today, religion is politics. This point of view is abundantly apparent in an upcoming public television documentary, Pope Francis -- The Sinner

This hour-long program, produced by the Irish network RTE about the Argentinian man who now leads the Roman Catholic Church from the small country of Vatican City, which is surrounded by the country of Italy, is almost as jumbled as its production lineage. This results in what amounts to two programs that hardly touch each other. The first focuses intently on whether the Jesuit priest who spent his life in Argentina until his 2013 election to lead the Roman Catholics of the world was popular with his fellow Jesuits and, more seriously, whether he cooperated with the regime that took control of the country in the '70s as he looked the other way while the strong-arm rule resulted in the disappearance of many civilians and the breakdown of rights.

Not surprisingly, some Jesuits who knew him liked him, while others who are interviewed thought otherwise. The more serious hinting of complicity between the pope-to-be and the rulers at the time is looked at but not even remotely resolved. It, too, relies on a few pro and con interviews to open a box and then walk away from it, leaving only unanswered questions.

That is the first half of the program: Did he or didn't he? Was he or wasn't he? It seems predicated on the newly elected Pope's characterization of himself as "a sinner" -- a rather common admission among people of faith.

It's an odd and inconclusive way to start the profile of a man whose new leadership has been a bright spot for people, Catholics and others, around the world for the past two years. The second half giant-steps from investigations of the past to a look at how well Pope Francis has performed as a leader of a religious body that has a troubled past and that is dealing with factions inside its group of leaders that are pronounced and not easily solved. Once again, interviewed answers are shared from two sides.

(An unexplained interview with former Irish President Mary McAleese is incongruously woven between Vatican watchers and clerics. If there is any relevance, it is hidden from viewers.)

Because this program is incomplete and loosely structured doesn't mean it is useless. Pope Francis has steered the church he leads in new and appealing (for many) directions. It would be difficult to question his motives now -- though the fuzzy message seems to be he's a prodigal who regrets a darker past. Whether the motives are tied to his past or not probably never will be answered. Still, the more one knows about a person, the better one can understand that person. "Pope Francis -- The Sinner" throws a wide-ranging bunch of information into the mix. It is mildly interesting and even a bit helpful. Conclusive, though, it's not.

Check your local listings.

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