The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church Paperback – 7 Mar 2013
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In this highly readable memoir of being a journalist at the Vatican, John Thavis follows the conclaves, sex scandals, internal backstabbing and olympian nature of the popes with a sense of comic relief at the caravan passing through his viewfinder (Jason Berry, author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church)
One closes John Thavis' perceptive study reflecting on the Vatican's challenge: to persist in a secularizing world sometimes fascinated by the pomp and pageantry of St. Peter's-but often hostile or increasingly indifferent to the Church's determined mission to harmonize warring factions and bickering enemies, even if both are on the same Catholic side (New York Journal of Books)
Not only provocative, this report is illuminating and fully accessible to members of the faith and doubters alike (Kirkus Reviews)
From the Back Cover
What exactly goes on inside the Vatican?
John Thavis describes in riveting detail the workings of a secretive and often chaotic culture which he has viewed as a journalist close up for thirty years.It's a place where cardinals fight private wars, scandals are constantly threatening to undermine Papal authority and reverence for the past comes up painfully against modern life.A place where careerism overshadows quiet dedication, where there are conflicting agendas and shifting alliances.
Who wins out when plans for a much-needed underground car park run up against the discovery of a Roman burial ground?
Why do the bells fail to ring when the new pope is elected?
What does George Bush bring to the Pontiff as a present?
And above all, what should we make of that most baffling of popes, Benedict XVI?
'A heroic and realistic and (yes) humorous picture of a mortal institution.To an old Prot like me, it's a tour of alien terrain and a bridge to old and dear friends' Garrison Keillor
'Highly readable.John Thavis follows the conclaves, sex scandals, internal backstabbing and Olympian nature of the popes with a sense of comic relief at the caravan passing through his viewfinder'Jason Berry, author of Render unto RomeSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
This work takes one from the whispers of Vatileaks to the thunder of pedophile priests, from what is going on in the crypt beneath St. Peter's to the politicking that goes on when a pope is elected in the Sistine Chapel, from the secrecy of the ballots to the color of the smoke, from the tiniest crack in the aging crust of St. Peter's to the most pristine diamond in a papal tiara, from the elevator operators - janitors - guards - bell ringers to the top brass involved in shady deals in the Vatican Museum and the Vatican Bank, from the Vatican flophouses to its palatial palaces, from the deafening clamor of ancient bells to the faint papal tapping on Twitter, from a common priest who would say mass in the nude to a pope whose attire drew the comment from the British Queen, `too effeminate for my everyday tastes and far too elegant for royal affairs.'
Above all one is reminded that the Sovereign State of the Vatican--like all states--is a political one. Gone are the days when they elected the `holiest' man to the papacy. Today the primary quality of `Your Holiness' is `political acumen;' it has very little to do with the word `holy.' Consider the pedophile cover-ups that exploded in the press thirty years ago.
John Paul II never did much more than to lift a finger to control them. In fact, his inaction did all but condone them--pays-offs of victims persisted into this century. Yet--a political giant--he was able to keep the matter relatively in check for more than a quarter century. Benedict comes along and takes the bull by the horns and enacts strict policies to bring them to an end. Yet, unable to politically control the mess he bears the brunt of the blame. When canonized, the widely traveled Polish Pope will be remembered as `The Beloved Saint of All.' Benedict--if he ever makes it--will be tabbed `The Patron Saint of the Pedophile Priests.'
Yet, this book is more than just that. The author brings the Vatican to life. Here are the sounds, the smells, the touches, the tastes, the eyes, the voice, the very heart of a Vatican State too often wrongly viewed as a heartless regime of vast wealth and clandestine deceit. Here is the humor, the laughing, the joking, the tears, the pain, the joy, the struggle, the despair and the anxieties of a present day trying their best to nurture hope for a better tomorrow.
Most pointedly, John Travis bridges the vast canyon between what really goes on in the Vatican and what explodes in the media from day to day through rumors and innuendos. This is what is really important of this book -the truth.
This author writes in such a crisp and entertaining way he is able to reach the most brilliant scholar and a ten year old child in the same sentence and be understood by both.
Kind of reminds me of something John Paul I once said in his biography Murder by the Grace of God: The CIA and Pope John Paul I
"Some are like eagles soaring in masterly documents; others are like nightingales singing praises; I am a poor wren sitting on the lowest branch of the ecclesiastical tree saying it as it really is."
The Vatican is often viewed as an enigma hidden within a mystery - Thavis' book does much to remove some of that mystery, though it also becomes apparant that the Vatican is still one of the last absolute monarchies. It is like a series of medieval petty duchys, ruled over often by tyrants, quick to defend their feudal rights over others, even if this comes at the expense of the Pontiff. This, however, is one of the joys of the Vatican - were it a huge and well oiled machine it would not work in the same way. It is also a human institution, rather than a monolific edifice, and the presentation of its inner life provided by Thavis is less Dan Brown and much more 'Yes Minister'.
On the negative side, Thavis is (like many of his journalist colleagues) to quick to defend the rights and role of the Fourth Estate (the media) and to see failings and misreadings as coming out of poor communication, rather than the desire of the fourth estate for quick quotes, journalistic laziness and anti-intellectualism. Thus (like Rowan Williams, former Archbiship of Canterbury) Pope Benedict was often attacked by a media too quick to pass judgement without properly understanding the issues at stake, or having properly read speeches and briefs passed to them. The problem is not with poor media strategy, but with media hubris - the media often creating the stories they want to report, rather than true meaning of the text as given. Thus both Benedict and Rowan Williams both fell foul because of speeches they gave on Islam, on both occasions because the media failed to properly understand the speeches being made and too lazy to properly digest the text given to them. Thavis of course fails to recognise this, but it becomes apparent in this book that it precisely this failing of the media that is a major part of the problem.
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