Two Views of John Paul II Reflected in New Films

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Two TV networks are preparing films about Pope John Paul II. ABC's stars a German; CBS's features Jon Voight. As it happens, two American television networks - ABC and CBS - had the same idea about the same time. Both movies are planned for this season, although no broadcast dates have yet been announced. ABC's "Have No Fear: The Life of John Paul II" will run two hours; CBS's mini-series version, with Mr. Voight, has the working title of "Pope John Paul II" and will run four hours over two evenings.

Inevitably, the road for both productions led to Rome, where ABC recently completed shooting, and CBS is working through mid-October. And before Rome, while ABC did much of its filming in Vilnius, Lithuania, CBS covered a good part of John Paul's pre-Vatican life in Krakow, Poland, the city where he was archbishop before becoming pope in 1978.

For drama, of course, the films need look no further than John Paul's extraordinary life. The real question is how to shape this material.

Neither network made its script available, but both disclosed that they had opted to tell the story largely as a flashback: ABC opens with John Paul praying at the Western Wall during a visit to Jerusalem in 2000; CBS looks backward and forward from his wounding by a Turkish gunman in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.

Still, while both movies appear to approach John Paul with due reverence, there is one fundamental difference.

"Ours does not avoid controversy," said Lorenzo Minoli, one of the executive producers of ABC's "Have No Fear." "We show the pope's confrontation with Romero over liberation theology. We deal with the sex scandals in the American church. We depict his youthful friendship with several young women and even show an innocent kiss while he is acting in a play. We show 'the human man' behind the pope."

And he added: "We are not making an Opus Dei movie. Others are."

Certainly, Opus Dei, the deeply conservative Catholic order, is deeply involved in the CBS film.

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