Book Review: The Vatican Diaries: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church; by John Thavis. Penguin Books
A year after the hardcover publication of The Vatican Diaries (a book whose hardcover release date coincided with the resignation of Pope Benedict
XXIII XVI and the election of Pope Francis—a marketing and sales extravaganza if ever there were one), John Thavis‘ chronicle of Vatican shenanigans is now out in paperback.
A new afterward by the author is the icing on this cupcake of a book—a sweet, delectable, slightly naughty look inside the Vatican: a patchwork of quirky and outdated personalities tied together by allegiance, clericalism, protocol, and theater. While none of these things are very good for Catholics, clergy sex abuse victims or the Vatican state, Thavis expertly shows how the Vatican’s incompetency, callousness and failures reside in its humanity and its all-too-human worship of the most seductive power of all: information.
Thavis spent more than 25 years as a member of the Vaticanista, the group of journalists charged with covering the Vatican, the pope and other news surrounding the Holy See. As a writer for the Catholic News Service, Thavis was forced to balance the very delicate line between journalistic integrity and his own Catholicism.
He didn’t have an easy job. Without decent access to information or (the sometimes-kept) promises of transparency in many western governments, journalists covering the Vatican are forced to follow a path reminiscent of the childhood game of telephone. It’s about knowing the right person to call, capitalizing on people’s hot buttons, and most importantly, knowing whom to believe. Imagine The National Enquirer with all of the couture, but none of the good looks.
The book is a series of well-told anecdotes which follow Thavis’ thesis: The Vatican suffers from a great communication disconnect. Sometimes the disconnect is intentional. Other times, the disconnect is far more nefarious. Whether he’s telling the story of the construction of a underground parking lot (which accidentally unearths an ancient Roman cemetery) or the decades-long saga of serial pedophile and Vatican embarrassment Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, every story is peppered with Three Stooges-esque mishaps and information bottlenecks.
Immensely readable and thoroughly insightful, The Vatican Diaries does not fall into the “wonk-y and unreadible” trap that ensnares too many other books in this genre. It is what is says it is: a diary. And in this case, breaking open your sister’s locked journal was never this much fun.
To buy the book, click here.
And to learn more about my upcoming book, click here.
2 thoughts on “Review: A Diary of Disconnect”
Very fine book review, Joelle, of John Thavis’ book. Just a note that it is Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John XXIII. It is easy to get those Roman numerals messed up. Joelle, your own book looks very interesting. Congratulations!
Sincere best wishes,
Thank you, Rosemary!