Yes, the progressives can point to this scene, and probably are, saying "See, that is the traditional version of the pope! A fascist tyrant!"
Yet, some traditionalists hail this scene, while over-the-top, ironically very much articulating the traditional Catholic view of the papacy and Church.
This video has 271,000 views on Youtube, with several hundred thousand views combined of other parts of the scene, which suggests it's somewhat popular and widespread.
Watching it the first time, it put a smile on my face. Frankly, I loved it. I did think the writers probably tried in part to paint the traditional papacy in a negative light; however, in my view their probable bad intention backfired.
The themes and purpose of this TV series are, in my observation, ambiguous. The "young pope" seems crazed, at times unfaithful, and scandalous; at other times he is a sympathetic figure, conservative, sincere, seeking God.
So I will go out on a limb, despite some of my fellow trads boycotting this series, and suggest this scene itself (not the series as a whole) is splendid, both from a theological and cinematic point of view. And so I offer my own review and analysis.
Of first note is the fact the character of "Pope Pius XIII" is wearing the papal tiara, the three-tiered crown. The suppression by the post-Vatican II popes of this papal custom, which began in the 8th century, has been significant. The pope in fact is the spiritual head of both the visible Church, and also Christendom as a whole, signified in the various levels of the crown.
Yet, the conciliar popes have effectively disconnected the papacy from the temporal power of rule, as if the Church is merely a spiritual system with no temporal authority. The Church by design is not over in the protected corner, hovering effeminately up in the clouds; it is by its nature in the very center of society, though distinct from it, and on ground level saving souls.
"Pius XIII" is saying "No" to this dislocation of the Church, that the Pope in fact has sovereignty in both ecclesial and temporal matters. And it took Cable TV to inadvertently illustrate that point.
The pope in this scene makes some very stark comments, but taken in context of the fact he was found fit for office by the Cardinals who elected him, who later continue to tolerate his reign, and by his otherwise tempered rhetoric in other scenes, it is quite clear his invectives are hyperbole to make his main point. And, that main point is this: the Church's embrace of progressive openness has left Her in ruins.
His task was to undo progressive openness, and restore the proper relation of the Church to the secular world. The Church follows the teachings of its Savior, which are clear. Narrow is the path to salvation. Sin, the devil, and the City of Man (vs. the City of God, as St. Augustine says), cannot be tolerated by the Church, otherwise She leads souls to hell. The viewer acutely senses those realities from the forcefulness of the speech.
The message conveyed is the point of view of many traditionalist Catholics who want the pope to again embrace the Church's tradition, in particular in governing the Church. What makes the scene so comically inspiring for us traditionalists who appreciate it, is that I think many of us have imagined ourselves, what we would say and do if we were pope, i.e. what should be done.
And here is this young conservative bishop elected pope, grabbing the bull by the horns and telling it like it is. Looking at the face of the Cardinals sitting in the Sistine Chapel, their blank stares say "Is this man crazy?" but the stares also imply "What he is saying is true."
As crazy as this character comes across, if you consult a Catholic catechism, it is plain he is saying what the Catholic Church has always taught, that the road to heaven is narrow, that salvation does in fact require turning away from the wide, permissive road of the world.
Using more hyberbole as a rhetorical device, as did many saints in the past by the way, he illustrates this reality by showing the Cardinals a small, golden door. It is also a brilliant device for the show.
The Pope goes on to be frank with his Cardinals, that despite them disagreeing with him, he expects complete obedience. And this is exactly what is missing in the conciliar papacy today. It sets aside its authority to command and prohibit, yet retains its collegial role of permitting.
Pius XIII is basically saying "No, that is not how Christ set up the Office of St. Peter." Even if the authors of this scene are godless unbelievers, the narrative ironically serves the purpose of showing the traditional, bimillennial authority of the Pope, vs. its downfall since Vatican Council II in the 1960s.
He goes on to say "better to have a few that are reliable than a great many who are distractable and indifferent." While he says this with a kind of sneer, is the statement not true? And, if it is true most Mass-attendees are indifferent, isn't that grounds for a sneer?
Another question, is Pius XIII being literal, that it is better to have a few actual fanatics than churches full of heretical worldlings? I don't intepret it that way. This character happens to say what all sober historical critics of the current life of Catholic churches are thinking, that there is something phony and inauthentic about mainstream parishes, and the claim of the many to be practicing, believing Catholics, while church statistics prove otherwise.
"The public squares have been jam-packed, but the hearts have been emptied of God," he continues. And here it takes an HBO TV series, as objectionable as the series later is, to more fully articulate what most get, yet few except us "nutty traditionalists" are bold enough to say out loud.
Perhaps it takes a "mature audience" to appreciate this satirical message, but to me this scene could almost be a resource for teenage traditional Catholics to reflect on the current battle over Catholic tradition, or to send a secularist friend before they come over for dinner and discussion.
At Time 4:45, the Pope points at a Cardinal, who we learn later is a liberal, who unsuccessfully tries to frame him as a fornicator in order to remove him from Office. We know this in fact represents the state of those who run the Vatican, as if they are the papacy, a la conciliar collegiality.
"The liturgy will become hard work, and sin will no longer be forgiven at will," he states. Again hard truth. The traditional liturgy of the Church is challenging, and not by design easy. The priest cannot absolve the penitent unless they are contrite and firmly resolve to amend their life, i.e. stop the sinning. Few understand this, including the current authorities, generally speaking.
I don't think Pope Francis himself would be caught dead saying anything remotely akin to this speech; frankly, he doesn't. But this fictional Pius XIII, the "Young Pope," happens to be the one to tell the 21st century world absolute Catholic truths. I want to shake my head at HBO, because I doubt they had any plan of exposing liberal Catholicism; but I also have to shake my head that it takes the likes of an HBO TV show to accidentally teach traditional Catholicism in one of its scenes.
A final observation, the Cardinals in this scene show different facial expressions of dismay and disbelief. But what can be gleaned from their reaction, apart from them thinking the new pope is bananas, is that they are frightened to the core by the veracity of his words.
As a traditionalist Catholic, I could watch this scene over and over again. It is so truthful and relevant. It even suggests from its view count and popularity, that there is some subconscious awareness at least that something is very askew in the post-conciliar Church.