A fascinating and enlightening look at the world's oldest and most mysterious institution, written by an American journalist with unparalleled knowledge about the Vatican's past and present.
The sexual abuse scandals that shook American and British Catholicism in 2002 brought to light a long-standing cultural gap between the English-speaking Catholic world and the Vatican. In Rome, the crisis was often seen as an attack on the Church mounted by money-hungry lawyers, a hostile press, and liberal activists who used it as a way to turn attention on such concerns as celibacy, women's ordination, and lay empowerment. When the Vatican struck down the U.S. bishops' draft for handling allegations of sexual abuse, many saw it as an attempt to curb an independent American Catholic church. Yet, as time passed, it became clear that the Vatican's well-founded concerns about due process were shared by most liberal U.S. bishops and canon lawyers.
ALL THE POPE'S MEN is a lucid, in-depth guide to the sometimes puzzling, often incomprehensible inner workings of the Vatican. It reveals how decisions are made, how papal bureaucrats think, and how careers in the Roman Curia are shaped. It debunks the myths that have fed the distrust and suspicions many English-speaking Catholics harbor about the way the Vatican conducts its business, explains who really wields the power, and offers entertaining profiles of the personalities, historical and present-day, who have wielded that power for good and for bad. A thoughtful analysis of the recent sexual abuse crisis sheds light on how the Vatican perceives the Church in the United States.
Balanced, lively, and filled with Vatican history and lore, ALL THE POPE'S MEN provides the general reader with an authoritative picture of the highly charged relationship between the Vatican and the richest, most influential national Catholic church in the world today.
Allen, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and analyst for CNN and National Public Radio, offers an authoritative guide to the church's inner workings. Far from sensationalistic, this book provides a carefully balanced view of how the Catholic Church works--and sometimes doesn't--in the modern world. Allen, who is Catholic himself but does not see himself as a missionary or apologist for the church, is a fair and thorough reporter of ecclesial affairs who drew on four-plus years of covering the Vatican as well as 35 interviews with officials in the church bureaucracy to write this book. He begins with an overview of the Vatican, then debunks five myths--including, notably, the idea that power is concentrated solely in the Pope and that the Vatican is fantastically wealthy. In talking about the myth and reality of Vatican secrecy, Allen lays out the basis for his book: that the Vatican's psychology and culture are difficult for people, even most Catholics, to grasp, resulting in miscommunication and animosity toward the church. Allen also delves into Vatican psychology, sociology and theology before concluding with lengthy chronologies detailing the Vatican's role in the American sexual abuse crisis and the war in Iraq.
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October 16, 2006
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Excerpt from All the Pope's Men by John L. Allen, Jr.
If you mill about St. Peter's Square long enough, you will eventually see a black Mercedes sedan exiting from the Vatican, bearing a cardinal or a gentleman of His Holiness to some important engagement. (The "gentlemen" are Italian laymen, often from noble families linked to the papacy for centuries, who help the Pope greet visiting dignitaries and assist at other ceremonial occasions.) The passenger is usually seated in the rear, dressed to the nines, projecting an air of worldly power and importance. One can sometimes be forgiven for straining to see the connection between such affectation and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The world-weary Romans, who have seen it all over the centuries, have developed a kind of gallows humor for resolving the tension between the high ideals of the Church and its human realities. For example, those sedans from the Vatican bear license plates that read "SCV," which stands for Stato della Citt del Vaticano, Vatican City State. The Romans, however, say that it really means Se Cristo vedesse . . . If only Christ could see.
Similar jokes at the expense of the human side of the Vatican are legendary. Monsignor Ronald Knox, an Anglican who joined the Catholic Church, once famously quipped: "On the barque of Peter, those with queasy stomachs should keep clear of the engine room." (Barque is an antiquated word for boat. Thus "barque of Peter" is an old, but still venerable, metaphor for the Catholic Church.) Here's another classic. Question: Why is Rome such a spiritual city? Answer: Because so many people have lost their faith in it. Even popes sometimes get in on the cynical act. Beloved roly-poly Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) was once asked how many people work in the Vatican, to which he is supposed to have replied: "About half."
Yet the Catholic Church, like any social movement, needs an institution with which it can organize its common life. Without an institution, a social phenomenon dies. It's not enough for Roman Catholics merely to have the Pope as a symbolic figurehead. The Church needs structures with teeth in order to make decisions, and to keep its 1-billion-strong worldwide membership in some kind of basic unity. Decisions have to be made about what the Church teaches, how it worships, and what position it's going to take on important issues. Thus the Catholic Church needs a central administrative system through which information can circulate, contacts can be maintained, and decisions can be communicated and enforced. If Roman Catholicism did not have the Vatican, it would have to invent it.
This was what Pope Innocent III meant when he wrote to the bishops of France in 1198: "Although the Lord has given us the fullness of power in the Church, a power that makes us owe something to all Christians, still we cannot stretch the limits of human nature. Since we cannot deal personally with every single concern--the law of human condition does not suffer it--we are sometimes constrained to use certain brothers of ours as extensions of our own body, to take care of things we would rather deal with in person if the convenience of the Church allowed it." Pope Sixtus V was equally candid in 1588 in Immensa aeterni Dei: "The Roman Pontiff, whom Christ the Lord constituted as visible head of his body, the Church, and appointed for the care of all the Churches, calls and rallies unto himself many collaborators for this immense responsibility . . . so that he, the holder of the key of all this power, may share the huge mass of business and responsibilities among them--i.e., the cardinals--and the other authorities of the Roman Curia, and by God's helping grace avoid breaking under the strain."
The aim of this book is to explain how the Vatican thinks, not to focus on its structures. Yet those structures influence the psychology and culture, so some understanding of terms such as Vatican, Holy See, congregation, superior, and so on is essential. This chapter covers that basic ground, laying out the vocabulary one needs to have and offering an organizational overview that will at least hint at who's who and what's what. Think of this as a basic survey course in college that lays the foundation for more advanced study, a kind of Vatican 101. This will be quick and, for experts, frustratingly schematic. Readers wishing a deeper treatment will want to consult the classic on the subject, La Curia Romana: Lineamenti Storico-Giuridici by Niccol~ del Re, published by the Vatican Publishing House in 1998. It is a comprehensive work, truly the best resource for this material, and much of the highlights in this section are drawn from Re's book. For those who don't read Italian, the best resource in English is Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church, by Fr. Thomas J. Reese, editor of the Jesuit-run America magazine.