Sunday, 24 March 2013

two new books

With the changes at the Vatican lately, I have decided to read two new books on the Holy See and how it operates not only as the HQ of the Roman Catholic Church or the Universal Church as they like to call it at the Vatican but also as a huge business empire involved in banking, real estate, geo-politics and Italian politics. Despite the fact that Italy is a Republic and the Holy See is a separate State, the Vatican meddles excessively in the lives of Italians throughout political interference and money payouts to Italian politicians.

The first book, The Vatican Diaries: A behind the scenes look, I found truly interesting and entertaining, written by John Thavish who after 30 years as a journalist specializing on Vatican Affairs has written a memoir or an eyewitness account of his time covering Popes and the Vatican. Lots of personal observations on John Paul II and his Rock Star style and on Benedict XVI.
Trips aboard the Papal plane on voyages around the world and daily business making world news.

He gives a good account of the scandals and the personalities involved, you quickly realize, as one colleague told me years ago, that you do not work at the Vatican to find your Faith, you will probably loose it.

The second book I read, Ratzinger was afraid, by Gianluigi Nuzzi, . The title of the book is different in various countries and the original was written in Italian. This book was written from the documents stolen by the Pope's Butler, Paolo who was then arrested and jailed. He was pardoned by Pope Benedict and now has a job as a cleaner at the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome which is run by
the RCC. This book is somewhat like Wikileaks and is dubbed Vaticanleaks.

I did not enjoy as much, first it is poorly translated, you need to know some Italian to realize that the English word used is incorrect. Also it is simply a sensational style book, you have private correspondence or secret documents from the Pope's desk or from one of the Cardinals working closely with the Pope, this is all internal documents without context and it requires that you be aware of the background story and know the actors named. There is a long passage on world economics, Italian politics and speculation on what to do from the Vatican's point of view to influence the outcome by the then Head of the Vatican Bank who was advising Benedict XVI, a little tedious.

What you do understand is that there are 3 villains at work here. The first is the all powerful Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone who is in the Holy See Government the equivalent to a Prime Minister and is the number two of the RCC. He is now on his way out with the change over with the new Pope Francis I who will appoint someone else.
Then there is the arch-conservative former Secretary of State under Jean-Paul II now Dean of the college of Cardinals Angelo Sodano.  Cardinal Sodano knew all along from 1982 about the pedophilia scandal but under orders of Pope Jean Paul II kept everything under wraps and very quiet. Jean Paul II saw the abuse scandal as a needless distraction from his own agenda. Angelo Sodano was a trouble shooter and very adept at buying silence the old fashion way, using his powerful office to do so.
He used compliant politicians, governments and the media who were too happy to give a positive spin to what ever Jean Paul II was doing instead of looking into negative aspects.

Then comes the Editor in Chief of the Vatican Newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian who controls the news and the message out of the Holy See and often will set the tone for other Catholic newspapers on various stories.

You also have the arch-conservative Private Secretary to Pope Benedict, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, known in Vatican circles as Father George. He was the door keeper and screened what the Pope would see or hear about. Finally Pope Benedict appears as a frighten man who did not want to manage the huge machine and was more and more bewildered by the various scandals and faux-pas appearing around him.  Benedict appears as a man who lived his life isolating himself in the milieu of the Vatican City. The Apostolic Palace a cocoon far from the real world outside. He took his meals with his servants, ladies who belonged to an ultra-catholic organization and who like him had conservative views. In the book this appears in sharp contrast to Jean-Paul II who would be out and about and who had his meals with many dignitaries he would invite at his table for discussions or monologues depending on your view of who speaks.

Not to forget the role around the Papacy of powerful organizations like Opus Dei, Communion and Liberation or the Military Order of the Knights of Malta play an important role because their members are wealthy, powerful and belong to the political elite of many countries. No wonder the average Catholic is a bit lost and confused on the goings on when observed from your parish.

These two books certainly give a good look inside the Vatican but both require prior knowledge of the operations of the Vatican organization to achieve a fuller understanding, however you are left in no doubt that the reason of State (Raison d'Etat) always trumps all other cards.

It will now be very interesting to see what changes Pope Francis, a Jesuit, brings to the Curia. So far all we have seen is cosmetic. My impression is that Francis is obviously bringing a simpler style but that he is a very firm manager and has a clear idea of how he wants to stir the ship.

Two Popes, on the left Benedict XVI on the right Pope Francis I. Very different style look at the difference from the throne, the shoes, the dais and the outfits worn.



  1. Any secretive, closed and powerful organization breeds bullies.

  2. I have a terrible intuition the Curia staff will bump him off, as an upstart

    1. you watch to many movies, lol!!!

  3. The first book in particular sounds interesting. I've never clearly understood the respective roles of the Holy See, the Curia, and the Vatican City State. I learned recently that while the Vatican is a sovereign state, the UN observer is considered the ambassador of the Holy See.

    1. The Vatican is the Hill where the City State is located. It was on this hill outside of Rome where Nero had his circus and burned apparently we are told Christians. The Holy See is the name of the government of the Church. Taken from the seat of St-Peter. The Curia is the bureaucracy running the government.