The trouble with being a writer is that sometimes I can see exactly where a story is going.

The story in question is “Holy Father,” a drama broadcast on BBC Radio 4 this week, starring Nick Dunning (The Tudors) as an English Roman Catholic Cardinal during a papal conclave in the year 2020:

It is the near future in the Vatican. A charismatic Pope has died with his radical reforming mission incomplete. As the Cardinals gather in the Vatican for the late pontiff’s funeral and then the secret conclave that will elect his successor, two men are considered the most likely papabili. One — Cardinal Brendan Faber — would become the first English Pope since Nicolas Brakespeare; the other — Cardinal Dieudonne Simouri — would be the first African pontiff. Faber represents the liberal reformist wing of the Catholic Church; Simouri the conservative, counter-reformist section. They have become symbolic of a struggle for the soul of the church. However, on the eve of the conclave, Faber receives an unexpected visitor in Rome.

Mark Lawson’s play touches on the conflict between Europe and the Global South for cultural and religious dominance, a conflict that is playing out now in the Anglican Church where the European and Western churches are moving in a more liberal direction while the African churches are culturally resistant and conservative. Pope Francis’ work is unfinished, and the Catholic Church stands at a crossroads. Faber belives the Catholic Church needs to abandon celebacy, be more tolerant of divorce, embrace married priests, and admit women to the priesthood. Simouri, a Cardinal from Madagascar, believes those sorts of changes would be contrary to God and destroy the church. The question for the cardinals at the conclave is — Do you embrace the world as it is or do you ignore the cultural shifting sands and stay firmly in the past?

I’m not going to spoil the play at all but, as I said in my tweet, I had a pretty good idea at 10 minutes how the play was going to go, and it didn’t disappoint me in that respect. Everything I expected to happen did. Every plot twist unfolded like I thought it would.

This doesn’t make “Holy Father” devoid of interest. I always liked Dunning on The Tudors, and here he delivers an interesting and faceted performance as Cardinal Faber that seemed very — odd as this sounds — Tom Baker-like. It’s an interesting little play about a thoughtful man who doesn’t want to be Pope but might be the best hope for the Catholic Church’s future. Despite seeing where it was going from early on, it held my attention throughout.

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