L'Osservatore Romano dedicated a two-page spread in Sunday's edition to the 10-episode series, which began airing in Italy in October 2016 and in North America earlier this year. The main essay was penned by Juan Manuel de Prada, a Spanish intellectual who explored the contradictions — in Sorrentino, in the character of Pope Pius XIII, played by Jude Law, and in the Vatican hierarchy — that were presented by the series.
"The Young Pope" opens with the improbable election of Lenny Belardo as history's first American pope. Despite his youth, Belardo charts a deeply conservative, controversial and at times vicious papacy, still haunted by the trauma of being abandoned by his parents and raised by a nun.
The series features Diane Keaton as the nun, Sister Mary, who is convinced Lenny is a saint, and Silvio Orlando as the scheming secretary of state who spars with him. Orlando's Cardinal Voiello, named for a popular brand of Italian pasta, is a perfect amalgam and caricature of real-life past Vatican secretaries of state in both his love of soccer and his devotion to a severely disabled child.
In his review, de Prada found that inside Sorrentino's anti-clerical rants there was also a "docile admiration for the church." Sorrentino doesn't manage to penetrate the church's mystery "but he manages to convey his own perplexity to the viewer, who will ask how it's possible that an institution run by ambitious, lascivious braggarts could survive all these shipwrecks," de Prada wrote.
The newspaper's silence during the Italian run was notable, since other Catholic media were almost unanimous in their criticism. L'Osservatore's editor-in-chief, Gian Maria Vian, said he specifically chose not to enter into the Catholic media debate while the show was airing.
"They wanted us to either bless it or excommunicate it, and I didn't want to play that game," Vian said in a telephone interview Saturday. "But we intervened now because it's an important television series, an important cultural phenomenon."
A top L'Osservatore columnist, Lucetta Scaraffia, looked at Sorrentino's screenplay, which she says has "criticism of the existing church, but in some way hope that something good might come from it."