TITLE: The Chinese Pope
AUTHOR: Alan Nafzger (firstname.lastname@example.org)
TV PILOT: 144 pages
COPYRIGHT: USA & Philippines, 2020
SETTING: Rome and Hong Kong
- Stanley Prison — maximum security facilities in Hong Kong
- The new Vatican — Hong Kong’s Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
- The Vatican – Rome
LOCATIONS: the Philippines and/or Taiwan
GENRE: Political and religious drama with a human-rights theme
DEMOGRAPHICS: There are 900 million Catholics worldwide. There are countless members of the attentive public who are interested the global human rights.
When the Pope dies, the Papal Conclave bypasses the logical choice and chose as the new Pope the only Cardinal who can’t attend. The Cardinal of Hong Kong has been arrested for refusing to fly the Chinese Communist flag. He’s been sentenced to five years in prison.
Religious repression has intensified across China since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. The brutal crackdown on minority Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang — where mosques and madrasas are being demolished and more than 1 million Uighurs have been detained in re-education camps — has sparked international outrage. But the Communist Party’s assault on faith is not limited to Islam. Authorities have used the world’s distraction over the coronavirus pandemic to accelerate an ongoing campaign against Christianity.
Officially atheist, the party sees adherence to any faith, particularly those with foreign origins such as Christianity and Islam, as a threat to its dominance. So Xi has embarked on the “sinicization” of religious practice, ordering Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian leaders to integrate Chinese communist thought into their belief systems.
Officially the party wants people “to love the motherland and their faith.” However, if you don’t love China first, the religious person will be brutalized. Sinicization has resulted in thousands of churches and mosques being shuttered and razed; those that remain fly Chinese flags.
Chinese President Han – Operates solely to maximize state power.
Cardinal Joseph Zen – The newly elected Pope. Aspires to be like Christ but loves Thomas Jefferson.
Cardinal Barberini – Italian who claims eight members of his family have been Pope. Feels entitled. Reactionary and antagonistic to gays and especially opposed to foreigners being Pope. Italian and even jingoistic about it. His mother taught him, “the Pope must always be Italian.” He will not bend.
Cardinal Ramos – Filipino who leaves Manila, without Vatican orders, to head up the Hong Kong Vatican (HKV). Pious moderate who must try to control the four rogue bishops who zealously (maybe too zealously) work in the interest of the new Pope. He becomes the Secretary of State for the HKV.
Father Mathew Anansi – Nigerian priest sent to HK to work for the Pope. He is pious but a hacker.
Father Mark Kirchhof – A Texas priest send to HK. He is pious but his first inclination is bribery.
Father Luke Swales – Australian priest send to HK. He is pious but his first inclination is blackmailing his adversary.
Father John O’Rorke – Irish priest send to HK. He is pious but his first inclination is to cajole and get his adversary drunk.
Sister Maria – Filipina nun who works to free Joseph Zen, the Pope, from imprisonment.
Sister Kathrine – American nun who works to free Joseph Zen. Surfer girl.
Prison Warden Xi – Wishy-washy Charlie Brown. He’s only trying to survive this political situation. Hates politics. He is a simple jailer thrown into a huge global crisis. Like electricity, he operates in the direction of the least resistance.
Evil guard – Sinister and an outspoken Marxist and atheist.
Compassionate guard – Friendly to Christian values. She has a large family to support and is a secret Christian.
Villainous prisoners – There are two types of prisoners the Pope interacts with. One type is the truly criminal villains who see undermining and possibly eliminating the Pope as a way of earning the favor of the Chinese government. If they harm Pope Zen they hope to gain early release.
Political and religious prisoners – The other type of prisoner the Pope interacts with are the other political prisoners. They bond with him as their minister, even though they might not be Catholic, they form a protection unit.
SCENES FROM THE PILOT:
- Across China, churches and mosques are burned or bulldozed; they are allowed to exist only if they fly Chinese flags.
- Cardinal Joseph Zen is emprisoned for refusing to fly the Chinese flag above the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A lengthy sentence for what the government calls “subversion of state power.”
- The Chinese government doesn’t know, but we learn that Cardinal Zen has been promoting resistance in Hong Kong. Zen has secretly been working for a free-market and limited government for years.
- Flashback: Zen grew up in British Hong Kong and prefers those liberties and religious freedom.
- The Chinese government announced that Zen will be released when the Catholic Church in China hoists the flag.
- They allow one visitor per week and THEY chose the guest. Four priests and a bishop line up and a small boy with a toy. The Chinese guards allow the boy to visit.
- Cardinal Zen converses with the boy but, in the end, plays tick-tack-toe with the boy.
- The previous Pope in Rome dies. His dying words to his Secretary of State were, “avoid persecution.” Presumably, Cardinal Barberini will be the next Pope.
- A conclave is called. Election looms.
- The flawed Italian frontrunner, Barberini, is introduced. He’s something like the historical Cardinal Richelieu. Politically manipulative, cunning, and sly. For him, being Pope is personal!
- A letter from China is delivered to the Vatican mailroom. It’s from a prison in Hong Kong.
- The letter doesn’t go to the Secretary of State’s office, by mistake.
- The letter from Cardinal Zen is translated by an energetic but troubled translator.
- Largely on the weight of the letter, the Cardinals elect Zen the new Pope.
- But there is a stipulation. Zen must agree to his selection in the next month.
- Barberini, in private, throws a fit and a porcelain vase against the wall.
- Barberini tells his secretary to send the most incompetent of the bishops to HK to address the issue.
- The secretary doesn’t follow instructions. First, the secretary doesn’t like Barberini’s heavy-handed politics, and who knows him better than the secretary.
- Second, the secretary doesn’t follow instructions because four bishops have “extraordinary” sway over him. An Irish bishop has gotten him drunk on some very fine Irish whiskey. A Texas bishop has brought him a BMW motorcycle. The Australian bishop has photos of the secretary with a rather famous Italian celebrity hooker. And the secretary is frightened out of his wits by the appearance of a mysterious African bishop, who the secretary appears to know all about.
- Barberini’s secretary informed him that all the incompetent bishops are on the way to HK.
- Barberini tries to reverse the choice of the Chinese Pope.
- Privately, Barberini makes an issue of the translation. Introduces a less flamboyant (less inspiring) phrasing. Doesn’t work.
- Privately, Barberini makes an issue of the translation. Introduces a less flamboyant (less inspiring) phrasing. Doesn’t work.
- A Pope must agree to the selection, but the Chinese government cuts off all communication.
- Father O’Rorke gets the entire prison staff drunk but it doesn’t work. They are too drunk.
- Father Kirchhof tries to bribe the prison warden with a nice new Ford -F-350 but the warden confiscates it and pulls inside the prison to be used as a personal concert hall. It has such nice speakers, the guards are allowed to use it to unwind after a long day. The bribery fails.
- Father Swales takes advantage of the prison officers and hires prostitutes to pose for pictures with them, but the next day the officers are proud of their supposed “conquest” and show the photos around bragging. No shame. The blackmail fails.
- Four priests line up to be chosen. They expect to receive the word from Zen that he accepts the office of Pope. The same child from before is there to visit his friend, Cardinal Zen.
- Father Anansi tries to hack the Chinese prison system.
- However, Sister Maria has smuggled a knockout California “surfer girl” nun into the line-up. She’s wearing a sexy bikini and carrying a surf-board. It’s so bizarre something must be up.
- The prison warden sees an opportunity to create a scandal, so he agrees to allow the surfer girl to visit Zen. The surfer girl and the board are searched. They don’t find the hidden camera in the board.
- Cardinal Zen accepts the role of Pope, on tape.
- The Pope wants to take the name of “Thomas Jefferson,” but the surfer nun persuades him to take just Thomas.
- The prison warden leaks the security tape the media hoping to embarrass the church. Chinese tabloids, “Zen has Love Child with Hermosa Beach Surfer.”
- But the Western press broadcasts the tape of Zen accepting the papacy. It’s official.
- Barberini is reluctant but is forced into hastily announcing the selection.
- Barberini is depressed.
- Barberini goes on television and admits the impracticability of the choice.
- Barberini tries to argue that the tape was edited. It was the four bishops took out the part about “Thomas Jefferson”
- Barberini argues that maybe the Chinese edited the tape and they WANT Zen to become Pope, so they can control him.
- Barberini is on tape, historically, with “render unto Caesar” about the flag, but now reverses course and is obstinate about it. If the church flies the flag, then Zen will leave China and become the reigning Pope, destroying Barberini’s chances.
- Barberini takes over day-to-day operations of the Church but secretly works to keep Zen emprisoned.
- A large number of Vatican officials (mostly Africans, Latinos, and Anglos) defect to Hong Kong and set up a new church government near the elected Pope, and Eastern Vatican.
- In Rome, Barberini fills the defector’s positions with a loyal group of Italians (and other Europeans) who side with him.
- There is a dual administration. Each traditional position in the church is filled by two individuals, one in HK and the other in Rome. They try to avoid a schism, but things are tenuous.
- World-wide media fire-storm and controversy. “Imprisoned Cardinal Zen Named Pope!”
- Separate from Vatican politics; Barberini The Italian Navy is ordered to set sail to the South China Sea.
- S. President says “Article 4” of the NATO agreement might be invoked if the Italian Navy is attacked. It’s hardly territorial integrity or national security issue but the POTUS doesn’t care!!! He wants a fight with China for his own political reasons.
- Because of the controversy, Chinese priests are now listened to and come to represent change.
- Tens of millions of Chinese attend services and then confirmation classes and the entire arrest of Zen has been counterproductive.
- Chaos, inside and outside the Vatican. Plotting and backstabbing. Not only in Rome, but in China also.
- The four bishops arrive in Hong Kong take over the entire cathedral, with actual Philippine Marines serving as the Swiss Guard would. The Filipinos were asked to put aside their lethal weapons.
- But because of public pressure, curiosity the cathedral might not work.
- Millions of new Catholics. Crowds outside the cathedral.
- And clashes between guards and People’s Armed Police Force (PAP) sent from Beijing. The marines still make use of bean bags fired at the privates of the of the PAP.
- In the news that the PAP agent shot in the testicles needed surgery to keep one of them.
- The Hong Kong Vatican moves into the smaller, loud, and crowded Caritas House (soup kitchen) but only on the condition that they help with the day-to-day work.
- The Pope is only allowed one visitor per week, and one letter per day.
- The four bishops work behind the scenes to help free the Pope. They make frequent trips to Beijing.
- Bishop O’Rorke hosts a party in a bar for a Politburo member. Large amounts of alcohol are consumed.
- The Politburo’s parking lot in Beijing is full of BMW automobiles and motorcycles, there are even three RVs and an AirStream travel trailer behind a Chevy Suburban.
- A member of the Politburo leaves a meeting and passes Bishop Kirchhof who gestures, “what is happening?” And the Politburo member shrugs back. They have taken the bribes; still the Pope is in prison.
- The internet is clogged with photos of the Chinese Politburo with compromising photos that Bishop Swales did not leak. The Politburo members themselves have leaked them.
- The Vatican secretary looks at the HK bills piling up but pays them.
- The only successful Bishop is Anansi who organizes a female (nun) beach volleyball game outside the prison fence. When the guards all watch Anansi flies a smartphone attached to a drone into the prison and it lands at Pope Thomas’ feet. He doesn’t know what to do with it but his followers quickly conceal it.
- The only guard to notice the cell phone being delivered is the compassionate guard. She is a secret believer and will not interfere.
- The Pope’s Caritas House staff publish his daily letters (which are sometimes confiscated by the Chinese) and a transcript of the conversations with the visitors. They act as public relations staff and interpreters for the media. And they minister and serve food to the homeless.
- The Roman (old) and Chinese (new) church leaders sometimes work out their differences via Skype.
- Another scene shows the church leaders in open hostile conflict. Like Paul and James (brother of Jesus) on the Temple steps, two officials (Paul and James) on a Vatican stairwell have a fistfight and one is pushed down the stairs and breaks his leg.
- A crazy and maniacal career prisoner shapes a prison-made knife.
- Security measures are taken, not by the guards, but by friendlies inside the prison.
- Pope Thomas’ followers present him with a new pair of prison shoes, dyed red.
- The debate over the first speech as new Pope.
- The first speech is scheduled to take place in the visitor’s area, but that is abandoned as too small and not good for photography.
- Then the first speech is scheduled to take place in the prison cafeteria, but opposition groups riot, and it is delayed.
- There is a great deal of maneuvering. The Chinese government is getting grief over it and agrees. Barberini works against it.
- Secretly, to avoid violence, the first speech takes place in the warden’s office.
- The prisoners make contraband wine and unleavened bread without the guard’s knowledge.
- Inside the prison, Pope Thomas gives Mass to the political prisoners. It is progress.
- He attempts to win the hearts of hardcore criminals. It is precarious.
- Pope Thomas also seeks to survive in a growingly violent situation.
- The guards are divided. The Pope reaches some guards but others are atheistic and sadistic.
- Coldwar inside the prison – spying, and plotting.
- The villainous prisoners seeking favor and early release collaborate and attempt an assassination.
- The assassination attempt fails but a Catholic follower of the Pope is killed.
- Pope Thomas is seriously impacted by the prison violence.
- The Italian Navy arrives in Hong Kong harbor. They simply anchor the ships and wait.
Pope Thomas escapes the prison in the dead of night to administer the last rites to the compassionate guard’s mother. The Pope has the ability to sneak off in the night (perhaps to Rome) but returns to the prison. There are rule of law issues, but also the Pope feels he has the most power if he can keep the Chinese religious oppression in the news.
The Chinese Navy blocks the harbor and won’t let resupplies in. After a time, the Italian Navy in the HK harbor begins to run low on food and water. A Philippine Navy submarine, in the cover of night, runs a resupply mission. Inside the prison, the Pope faces another assassination attempt.
Pope Thomas names Cardinal Ramos from the Philippines to be his Secretary of State and Barberini is named his “assistant” and “Secretary of State in Rome.” Barberini must be persuaded to remain in his position because of his ability and the trying times demand a “selfless man of reason” to keep things organized and together. A Cardinal who was exonerated of child-rape charges returns to the Vatican.
The pope is thrown into solitary confinement. But Sister Kathrine receives mysterious emails… from the Pope. She is accused of making up the letters. But she has a source… that would reveal their authenticity. In the end, she must divulge the identity of the compassionate prison guard, to Ramos. The prison guard wasn’t bribed she’s just come to Christianity.