One of the cool things about taking part in reading challenges is it gives you the opportunity to see what the other challenge participants are reading. One day while checking out the various posts to the European Reading Challenge I saw Julie of Smiling Shelves posted a link to her review of John Thavis’s The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church. (Since then it’s also been included as part of Estella’s TBR for her Nonfiction November post on her book blog Estella’s Revenge.) After following the link and reading her review, I wanted to read The Vatican Diaries. Having just finished Thomas Cahill’s biography of Pope John XXIII I was in the mood to read another Vatican related book. I added The Vatican Diaries to my always growing list of books to read and soon forgot about it. Then, a few days later while rummaging through the shelves at the public library I found a copy of The Vatican Diaries. After worrying about all the other unread library books currently in my possession and thinking the last thing I need is one more book, I grabbed it. Now of course after finishing it I’m glad I did. If you’re looking for very good book about the secretive goings on and power plays at the Vatican, then this is it.
Author Thavis spent 30 years covering the Vatican and during his tenure, he’s seen a lot. Drawing from this deep well of experience as a Vatican correspondent, the author serves up an insider’s perspective on Papal Conclaves, bureaucratic infighting, religious zealotry and scandals. And are there scandals! While many of the scandals involve sex (and sexual abuse) some involve corruption and brutal turf wars. I was especially fascinated by Thavis’s detailed look at the Vatican’s complicated relationship with reactionary and dictatorial Catholic groups like the Legion of Christ and the Society of Saint Pius X. Another favorite part of the book was the chapter of the Vatican’s official Latin translator. (A brilliant but somewhat abrasive gadfly, the American Midwesterner was entrusted with translating official documents into Latin. He also taught the language on the side, telling his students, “you can learn this, even a Roman prostitute could”!)
I came away from The Vatican Diaries with the understanding that the Vatican is a very human institution. Just like any humans, those humans can be corrupt, self-serving, lustful and deceitful. On the other hand, some are saintly, hardworking and fair. And many are somewhere in between. That my friends, is the Vatican.