Friday, March 15, 2013

The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by John Thavis

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 14, 2013

For more than twenty-five years John Thavis held one of the most fascinating journalistic jobs in the world: reporting on the inner workings of the Vatican. His daily exposure to the power, politics, and personalities in the seat of Roman Catholicism gave him a unique, behind-the-scenes perspective on an institution that is far less monolithic and unified than it first appears. Thavis reveals Vatican City as a place where Curia cardinals fight private wars, scandals threaten to undermine papal authority, and reverence for the past is continually upended by the practical considerations of modern life. Thavis takes readers from a bell tower high above St. Peter’s to the depths of the basilica and the saint’s burial place, from the politicking surrounding the election of a new pope and the ever-growing sexual abuse scandals around the world to controversies about the Vatican’s stand on contraception, and more. Perceptive, sharply written, and witty, The Vatican Diaries will appeal not only to Catholics (lapsed as well as devout) but to any readers interested in international diplomacy and the role of religion in an increasingly secularized world.

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Image by Ricardo André Frantz
(CC-BY-SA-3.0) or GFDL), via Wikimedia Commons
Only two days ago people the world over waited for white smoke to appear above St. Peter's Square and it isn't hard to understand why. The Holy See is arguably the most influential organization in the entirety of human history, the power it wields is sacred to faithful, but equally impressive to those outside the Catholic church. 

In The Vatican Diaries, John Thavis lifts the veil of secrecy and sheds light on the politics that characterize life in Vatican City. Offering readers insight into the world he knew while working for the Catholic News Service. 

The thing I liked most about this book is that unlike some other titles I've sampled over the years, Thavis humanizes the Vatican. He talks about her quirks and idiosyncrasies, points to her character by examining her structure and inhabitants. Even in print the city seems more real as seen through the eyes of one who holds such obvious passion for her past, present and future. 

Thavis' writing isn't tinged with superiority either, its steady rhythm and light humor make The Vatican Diaries both easy to understand and delightfully entertaining. A great book for those looking for a more intimate look at the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. 

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The real Vatican is a place where cardinals crack jokes and lose their tempers, where each agency of the Roman Curia jealously guards its turf, where the little guys and big shots may work at cross-puposes, and where slipups and misunderstandings are common.
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