A new CNN series on the papacy boasts star power and controversy in an attempt to retell the history of the Catholic Church.
On Sunday, CNN will debut a six-part series on the papacy: Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History. The docuseries stars actor Liam Neeson as the narrator.
Neeson expressed his excitement for the project.
“Ever since a man, claiming to be the Son of God, was nailed to a wooden cross over 2,000 years ago, the Catholic religion has had a huge and profound influence and impact on our society,” Neeson said in a press release. “As an amateur scholar myself, I was delighted to learn more about this by narrating a series that sheds a detailed light on how the popes, past and present, and the Catholic Church came to be a prevailing force through fair means and foul, and along the way inspired some of the world’s greatest works of art.”
But the docuseries from Glass Entertainment Group and Rearrange TV also boasts commentary from Catholics including Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., Bishop Paul Tighe, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Eamon Duffy, a Cambridge University Professor. Others, including Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry from Nebraska and veteran Vatican journalist John Thavis, also make appearances.
The docuseries examines the progression of the Church, from 12 apostles to today’s 1.2 billion Catholics. The first episode, The Rise of the Pope, begins with St. Peter and continues through the Crusades.
But the episode also referred to Pope Francis, as a contrast to the pope who began the Crusades.
“Pope Urban II called for violence in the name of one world under one Catholic Church and Pope Francis is still working to heal the wounds his predecessor inflicted almost 1,000 years earlier,” Neeson narrated at one point in the first episode.
In its coverage of the Crusades, the experts in the series stressed that, in 1187 A.D., Muslim leader Saladin refused to destory the Holy Sepulchre out of mercy after he took Jerusalem from the Crusaders.
"As a symbol of a new partnership between Christiainity and Islam, Saladin entrusts the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to a Muslim family," added Neeson.
But according to Reuters Jerusalem journalist Rinat Harash, "historians differ on the roots of the arrangement."
"Some researchers say Saladin most likely bestowed the guardianship upon the two families in order to assert Muslim dominance over Christianity in the city," she wrote in 2017. "It also had financial implications, with a tax from visitors collected at the door."
But for CNN, Saladin, not the pope, was the hero when it came to the Crusades.
When former Pope John Paul II apologized for the Crusades, Neeson added that, “modern popes choose to following the example of Saladin and preach coexistence, unlike Pope Urban II who chose war.”
But Neeson concluded that the papacy still commanded respect.
“Against all odds, in the face of all that has threatened his reign, 2,000 years after the death of St. Peter, the pope remains at the head of one of the most powerful institutions on earth.”
Raised an Irish Catholic, Neeson revealed to CNN in a recent interview that he toyed with the idea of becoming a priest. If he met with Pope Francis today, he says he would have a few questions: "What is God for him, truly?" and "When will Mary Magdalene be canonized and when can we have women priests?"
But one of those has already been answered. CNN inserted an editor's note admitting that "Mary Magdalene is already considered a saint by the Catholic Church."