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on 19 August 2013
Untying the Knots is an exemplary work of biography and journalism. Rather than rush to print with Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election as pope Paul Vallely, the author, spent some considerable time travelling to Rome and Buenos Aires to meet friends and enemies of the new pope.

Despite being a relatively short book it is teeming with detail, including sketches of Argentinian politics, the origins and conduct of the "Dirty War", and the machinations of two papal elections, as well as the origins and career of the new pope, Francis.

The central issues of the book relate to Bergoglio's personal conduct during the Dirty War and what sort of a pope he will be. In relation to the first question Vallely explores in some depth the key question relating to Bergoglio's role in the kidnapping and torture of two Jesuit priests by the military junta when he was Provincial of that order.

The answer to that first question is fundamental in Vallely's assessment of the second. In the end Vallely paints a convincing picture of a man who was politically conservative and personally authoritarian in his youth, making some dreadful mistakes as a result. But while remaining quite conservative Bergoglio appear to be someone who, as a result of deep shame at past misconduct and misjudgement, has grown into a generous and courageous figure.

It will be interesting to see the sort of pope that Bergoglio becomes as Francis but Vallely presents considerable evidence to suggest a hopeful prospect based on his radical conduct in the first months of his pontificate.
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on 3 September 2013
When he was in charge of the Jesuits in Argentina during the 1976-1983 military junta, Jorge Mario Bergoglio put the lives of two of his priests in mortal danger by not letting them say mass. This was taken as a signal by the junta that the two could be tortured (which they were) and killed (which they managed to avoid after five horrible months in captivity). It is Paul Vallely's thesis that recognising his terrible errors here helped make a humble, more compassionate man out of Bergoglio. It is a moving tale, and very convincing. Church leaders, including the last two Popes, can be off-putting to ordinary people because they appear as if they were born good. But one of the reasons that Bergoglio is so appealing is that he seems like us. He can do ordinary things like sing some risky Genovese songs which his uncle taught him or follow football or become obsessed temporarily by a woman, as he did many years ago...just like we might have done in his position. Reading this book made me happy, and I learnt a lot from it. Just to pick two ideas. Pope Francis is quoted as saying: "Guilt, without atonement, does not allow us to grow." And, in his last sermon in Buenos Aires before becoming Pope, he said that morality is not "a never falling down" but an "always getting up again". The last chapter of this book was clearly produced in a bit of a rush and, I guess, will be properly sub-edited when it is reprinted. But Paul Vallely has produced a great introduction to a wonderful man - and also given some fascinating insights into the discipline and determination of the mighty Jesuit order. It only takes one Jesuit to change a school or a country or a world, it seems.
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on 8 August 2013
A well written book which reads like a detective story piecing together the jigsaw of Bergoglio's past. Tells the truth about the Pope's murky past but ends with a powerful affirmation of him which suggests he is going to be a great Pope. Unputdownable and uplifting in the end.

A real page turner that keeps you reading right till the end.
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on 6 August 2013
Excellent!!. This is a well researched and well written text. The analysis of Fr Jorge's journey is perceptive and asks the questions we all want answered.The passage being undertaken by the Pontiff is explored,critiqued and described in a manner that reflects the journey itself.
" Four years of Bergoglio would be enough to changes things" Cardinal Cormac O'Connor Murphy page 187
I await Vallely's 2017 edition !!!!!
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on 2 August 2013
Just finished this book. It is superb. An excellent text, immensely readable, and in fact 'unputdownable'. It's Vallely at his very best. He throws light on the shadow years of the 1970s and asks all the right questions. He recognizes and seeks to explain the man who changed (and allowed himself to change) and who has now become Bishop of Rome - making a clear option, to the astonishment of many, of a church for the poor, in the style of Oscar Romero, Helder Camara and the 'Pact of the Catacombs'.
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on 16 August 2013
This book is very informative and a great read. It is no quickly cobbled together biography garnered from the cuttings library but a carefully researched study of people who know the man, first hand sources in Rome and Argentina. It sets the tumultuos affairs and damascene rebirth of the new Pope in a concise review of the recent history of his country. It is at times enthralling and always interesting. A deep analysis in a readable and gripping style. Even to me as a non-Catholic it unpacks the intricacies of this Church and of a man who could change it all.
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on 30 September 2013
Paul Vallely is always worth reading and this biography of Pope Francis is no exception. It has to be read in full because, by half-way through, Fr. Bergoglio looks like a rabid traditionalist but the transformation into a humble servant of the poor is beautifully sketched and described.
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on 27 August 2013
This is far from a hagiography but its analytical, balanced approach reveals a complex man who does not conform to the usual liberal/conservative fault line. Vallely pulls no punches in examining critically the questionable role played by the then Father Bergoglio in Argentina's Dirty War but also shows a man who underwent a spiritual conversion and who to a large extent has embraced much of the Liberation Theology he previously denounced. In his analysis of the style and approach of the new pope, Vallely gives a renewed sense of hope about the future of the Catholic Church.
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on 21 October 2013
For anyone who wants to understand this man, this is the book for you. There is no doubt that this new Pope has made an unexpected impact on the world. His behaviour is different than that of his predecessors. He comes across as more human, more at ease with himself and more prepared to divest himself of that which he deems unnecessary or that which inhibits his simple message of love for all regardless of religion, beliefs, authority or power. Is his behaviour a public relations exercise or does it come from something deep inside that has been cultivated over many years? Paul Vallely traces Francis's life, the son of an immigrant from Italy to his ordination as Jesuit priest and his rapid promotion as Jesuit Provincial at a time when Argentina was in the throes of a vicious military dictatorship that still leaves it mark on that country today. Francis candidly admits that he made many mistakes at that time that profoundly impacted on the lives of some of his fellow Jesuits. Yet as Vallely points out this 'bad' start began a process of reflection over many years which has resulted in the man we see today. While Francis has held positions of power within the Church, first a Jesuit Provincial and later as Archbishop of Buenas Aires and now as 'Bishop of Rome' (he does not like the word Pope) his lifestyle is simple. Rather than move into the papal apartments (while the apartment was huge the door was too narrow he noted) he remained in the hostel where he was billeted for the conclave that elected him. His openness to people of all faiths and none reflects his belief that if the Church is to be relevant it must get out into the world and engage with it in a different way. This openness has not been welcomed by some and there is opposition to both his lifestyle and in the direction he wants to take the Church. Throughout the book the humanity of Francis is evident. I was particularly moved by the account of him going to see a former bishop in Argentina who left and married and was dying. No other member of the hierarchy went near him but Francis did. Since his death Francis continues to keep contact with his widow. This illustrates what is most important to Francis and that is people. This is a book for anyone interested in religion, in the Catholic Church in particular and in the man who now leads it. The book is delightfully written, easy to read and full of funny and sometimes moving stories of a man, now in his mid 70's, determined to embrace the world in a different, more profound and loving way.
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on 14 December 2014
A fascinating and very readable account of how a person can learn and adapt from an iconoclast theoretical early formation to a practical application of those principles. Vallely has produced an outstanding work about a man much over promoted in his earlier days as a Jesuit leader in Argentina. He had to face the conflicting forces of harsh and cruel dictatorships from Peron to Galtieri, (which latterly included throwing living people out of aircraft) against the forces of Liberation Theology. Initially he followed the Vatican line of rigidly opposing anything which hints at 'Marxism', much to the cost of two Jesuits who refused to stop siding with the poor. They were captured and tortured by the regime. On his subsequent and eventual appointments to Bishop and Archbishop, changes happened and he lost the cloistered view of a purely Religious.
The interesting accounts of a failed and successful elections are given and his humble but strong approach on election, wherein
his thoughtful approach and steely determination, augers more for people than the vested interests and corruption within the vatican.
Perhaps this is as much a blueprint for leaders in secular society as much as for those in the Church.
A very big Well Done to Paul Vallely.
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