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Archive for March 12th, 2014

The Vatican Diaries A Behind-the-Scenes Look

This book provides a unique view into the Vatican with the politics and personalities of Roman Catholic upper hierarchy.  This book was written by a veteran correspondent of the Vatican Press Corps with decades of experience covering the Pope and Roman Catholicism.  One doesn’t have to be Catholic to appreciate this book since enemies and Catholics alike will get to see a fairly balanced look of the Vatican behind the pomp and the ceremony.  The author discusses how some people see the Vatican as a well oiled machine capable of complicated conspiracies but the reality is that the Vatican is like any other bureaucracy with its politics, inefficiencies, mismanagement and information leaks—which the author as a journalist is able to exploit.  But these leaks don’t just serve the advantage of the journalists—sometimes leaks are intentionally given to journalists for the benefit of certain factions within the Vatican against competing sides, etc.  The author doesn’t airbrush the accounts given.

I imagine most readers will have the same curiosity of what the book has to say concerning the Catholic sex abuse scandal.  The darkest moment of the book is the chapter discussing the leader of the Catholic order Legion of Christ, Marcial Maciel. The Legion of Christ is a popular order and highly successful in a day and age where many traditional order is dwindling in numbers, eroding financial support and their schools and seminaries closing.  Marcial Maciel has had many former Legion members accused them of being sexually abused by him and yet he remained the leader of the order until his death.  The Legion’s code of secrecy is rather unusual even among Catholic order and certain American archdioceses has forbidden the legion’s activity and support in their area of responsibilities.  It wasn’t until the leak of the unusual circumstance of Maciel’s death with the presence of a woman who fathered his children and Maciel rejection of the last rite that finally forced the Legion into a corner of not being able to cover up the reality of the evil deeds of their founder as a womanizer and pedophilia.  Again this is the darkest chapter of the book and to hear the campaign by the Legion to knowingly lie to the public and target victims is heartbreaking.  Added to this is to read of the politics in the Vatican in favor of the order makes one quite cynical at the injustice.  However the book has also revealed how Pope Benedict has been more willing than John Paul II in condemning the priests’ own rank to police their own rather than just blame the media for blowing things out of proportion.  A later chapter on sex and the Vatican reveals more heinous deeds and I thought the author does good job writing about it without making it sounding like a juicy gossip column.  Other parts of the books reveal his sympathies with the Catholic Church and one gets the sense he is trying to write as truthfully as possible.

Other chapters of interests include how Pope Benedict was selected and the Roman Catholic battle with the break away group of Society of Saint Pius the Tenth.  I thought it would have been wonderful to have also seen something about the Vatican’s relationship or view of Opus Dei.  From what I understand the book was published earlier than scheduled and I wished the author could have written about the reason why Pope Benedict stepped down and the selection of this current Pope.

The book does have its lighter moments such as the fascinating stories about how journalists with the Vatican Press Corps cover the stories about the Vatican including the irony of being a journalist in the Vatican knowing less what’s going on at times than those watching TV about a Vatican coverage.  The best of the chapters on the lighter side of the Vatican was the one on Father Reginald Foster and his funny personality.  Foster was interviewed by Bill Maher in Religulous as a straight talking Priest.

Not much theology is in this book but for a Protestant like me who is concerned about the teachings of Roman Catholicism and love Roman Catholics, this book broaden my understanding of the Vatican’s ecclesiastical dynamic.  Its journalistic style makes it accessible for non-Catholics although some specific terminology would be unavoidable.

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