- Paperback: 392 pages
- Publisher: Random House Inc; Reprint edition (1 Jan. 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385509677
- ISBN-13: 978-0385509671
- Product Dimensions: 14.2 x 2.3 x 20.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,059,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
All the Pope's Men Paperback – 1 Jan 2006
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Top Customer Reviews
The only problem with this book is that some details can become long-winded. Great if you're an academic, a journalist or someone with a keen interest in how the Vatican works. Less so if you're looking for an easy, thrill-per-page read like some other books about the Vatican, for example Paul L. Williams' The Vatican Exposed.
At times All The Pope's Men reads like you ARE in the Vatican. Thus you can almost feel the slow moving machinery of how the Vatican works. It's more like John le Carre and less like Ian Fleming, which is what real life is like. More about the exact devil in the details and less about the exotic adventures of the saints! You find that Angels and Demons have a very cosy relationship inside the Vatican, and it's often hard to spot which are which!
The main flaw with much of John Allen's work (because he is a Catholic?) is that he does not question Catholic THEOLOGY in enough detail, or from a greater distance. He is not a theologian. Having said that, he remains both detached and objective as much as possible. He does the best that he can to look at the Vatican from both sides of the borderline, which few people try and do.
However, Allen's greatest flaw is that he not only often Catholic-centric, but also US-centric in his views. He believes that the Catholic Church has more influence than it has (only 15% of the world's population is Catholic) and that the impact of US policies are as important as they once were.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
All the Pope's Men isn't much of a whodunnit but it is a very interesting examination of the psychology and the workings of the Vatican. It is a bureaucracy, of sorts, but I found it's workings fascinating nonetheless.
For Catholics and others in the United States, the decisions of the Pope and the Curia appear to be out of touch with contemporary society - particularly American culture. Of course, that is precisely the point! The Vatican is characterized by a centuries-old, traditional European, yet increasingly global world view where issues are considered and decisions are made within the uniquely long-term Catholic concepts of scripture, tradition and faithfulness to the Magisterium (the official teaching authority of the Church). Developed in response to such burning issues as the recent sex scandals and the Vatican's opposition to the war in Iraq, Mr. Allen explores the culture and context of the Vatican from psychological, sociological and theological perspectives. Recognizing the spiritual underpinnings of the institution, Mr. Allen examines the individuals and myriad offices which collectively form the Vatican. He does so from a distinctly human standpoint, weaving a rich tapestry of collegial, dynastic, ecclesiastical, cultural and contextual characteristics. He analyzes personal motivation and formal and informal spheres of influence, carefully connecting the dots of human frailty with the overriding mission of Church stewardship. Through faithful adherence to journalistic principles, critical respect and objectivity, Mr. Allen provided an illuminating overview of the Vatican response to today's tumultuous issues.
If there can be any criticism of the book - and it is only a minor criticism - it is with respect to the lengthy and detailed chronology of the Vatican's response to the sex-scandal and Iraq War. Yet even in this, the accompanying analysis leaves the reader with a greater comprehension of the motives and thought process of the Vatican in dealing globally with events seen as more localized flashpoints. The myths of the Vatican section is particularly fascinating in debunking popular, yet unsubstantiated legends.
There are some who would dismiss Mr. Allen due to the perceived liberal leanings of the "National Catholic Reporter." However, unlike other recent books from those with particular axes to grind, the author offers concise reporting, balanced analysis, and well-reasoned conclusions. The book is clearly worth the reader's time and attention, rewarding those who seek understanding of things as they are, not merely reaffirmations of preconceived opinions. For those who wish to hear more from Mr. Allen, his weekly Internet column, "The Word from Rome," offers additional insight in an engaging format.
The first is as a handy gazetteer to the Curia, the Roman Catholic Church's organizational structure in Rome. Though it's an easy journalistic shorthand, saying "the Vatican decided..." is ultimately no more accurate than saying "the Administration announced today." The Curia is made up of individuals with a wide variety of backgrounds, experiences, and (to a degree) motivations. Allen probably knows the ins and outs of the Holy See better than any working American journalist, and is an excellent, and sympathetic, guide.
But it's the book's second purpose that makes this especially valuable. Allen argues that on issues like the sex-abuse scandal and the Holy See's opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Vatican and American Catholics were by-and-large speaking past, not to, one another. This is because the two sides have some fundamental misunderstandings about the other, and are driven as much, or more, by their own mistaken assumptions than by a true understanding of with whom they are dealing. In this volume, Allen tries to explain why the Vatican thinks the way it does (or more correctly, why the people in the Vatican think they way they do), and what influences and assumptions are brought to bear when addressing issues relevant to the future of the Church.
Allen's goal is not to convert the reader to a particular conclusion, or to convince anyone that one position or the other is "right" on any particular dispute. Though Allen is often classified as on the moderate-to-liberal side of Church politics and issues, I found little to suggest he was pushing any agenda of his own here. His focus is on placing the Vatican and its people in social, political, theological, and even geographical contexts. It made for fascinating and enlightening reading, personally, and I believe any reader who approaches this book with a desire to learn and understand may come away with the same reaction.
Allen sees this better than nearly anyone. As an American reporter from the liberal National Catholic Reporter, whose full time beat is the Vatican and who knows the Vatican far, far better than nearly any English speaking lay person, he has done something truly wonderful and desperately needed here.
Not only is there great journalism in this book - there is also a noble, inspired attempt to create fairness and justice, listening and understanding, appreciation of different perspectives and mindsets, amidst the psychic warfare that characterises not only the tragic divisions within the Church, but also between the religion of the Church and the ideology of secular media - ism that washes over our world .
That is to say, there is something profoundly sane and uplifting as Allen cuts through layer upon layer upon layer of prejudice, misperception and mythology to simply render how people in the Vatican really think and how their thinking is necessarily shaped by very different concerns from modern secularism.
I have seen traditional Catholics suspicious of Allen's liberal background and I wish they wouldn't be. Yes, I share certain concerns with them about Allen's previous book on the former Cardinal Ratzinger, but this book is different. A maturing into greater appreciation of the traditional perspective is very evident and beautiful. I count myself as pretty traditional and feel Allen has done both liberals and conservatives a tremendous service ... by reporting their views fairly and without bias ... so that they can simply be heard. Simply be *heard* - for God's sake. This is what is needed. Allen knows it, and is evidently a man who has tried very hard to simply listen himself.
As I say, my enthusiasm is almost boundless. There are many passages in this book whose inspiration seems to me near angelic. To suggest these, I offer some scant sentences drawn from longer, more powerful passages - which represent both sides of the spectrum and may open both traditionals and progressives to listen to Allen ...
`Vatican personnel by and large do not see themselves as imperialists imposing their will on the rest of the Catholic Church. In many instances ... they see themselves defending the people against elites running roughshod over their rights, [protecting] the simple faithful against avant-garde theologians who would betray the faith, against experimental liturgists who risk transforming the Mass into something profane or banal, or against ecclesiastical bureaucrats' Writing as an American himself, Allen can say `Americans often want to do things their own way, and if Rome puts on the brakes, it's a form of oppression. From Rome's point of view, however sometimes its precisely the reverse - they're saving the rest of the Church from being involuntarily `Americanised' ... `exchanges between Rome and America would be more constructive if both sides were to drop the pretense that they know the real motives of the other, and consider instead their actual aims and fears.'
The book is also no less timely for the recent passing of our beloved John Paul II. Maybe it's even more timely ...
If you care about the Catholic Church, if you care about its mission in the world, I can think of few better things to do than read this book and then recommend it to as many of your friends as possible. Widely circulated, the kind of material in this book, so lovingly, fairly and articulately expressed, could do both Church and world an enormous power of good. `Blessed are the peacemakers ...'. Blessed be John L. Allen.