If you expect this book to be a liberal attack on Benedict XVI, you will be pleasantly surprised. John Allen, Jr., has done a wonderful job recording the events surrounding and following Pope John Paul IIís death. This book is intriguing because some of the cardinals have talked about what happened, albeit without giving specific details. Allen was able to talk to several of them and piece things together to get an almost reliable account of what happened before and during the conclave.
Allen is the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR. You may have seen him giving commentary on CNN during those momentous events in April 2005. He knows his stuff; his books include Pope Benedict XVI: A Biography of Joseph Ratzinger (2005), All the Popeís Men (2004), Conclave (2002), and his forthcoming book, Opus Dei, which is scheduled for release in November 2005. He has also written several articles for newspapers and journals and lives with his wife in Rome.
Allen examines the weeks before Pope John Paul IIís death, then he begins looking at the rise of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was the Dean of the College of Cardinals and the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. He shows how Ratzingerís actions at the meetings, funeral and other events encouraged many of the cardinals to vote for him. Some of the cardinals had doubts about Ratzinger, but they overcame these doubts when they saw him in action as the Dean. Allen examines the issues the cardinals reviewed leading up to the conclave. He also shows who was in the running to be pope and how much or little support they had. Allen says that the Italian cardinal Martini, the former Archbishop of Milan, would have had a strong candidacy except that he suffers from Parkinsonís and many did want to see another pope go through that; besides, Martini did not want the job. The Argentine cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was a good Latin American candidate but did not have strong support.
Allen says Ratzinger went into the conclave as the candidate with the majority of the vote, according to his sources. Many cardinals and others considered the Vatican too centralized but did not consider Ratzinger as being part of this because he came to the Vatican already a cardinal. He was also considered personable with the bishops when they came to visit on their ad limina visits (every five years the bishops give a report on their dioceses). He kept up on what was happening and showed an interest in peopleís lives while other curial officials were considered not to be too concerned about being current. Ratzinger would know the bishop he was talking with and where he came from.
Ratzinger, according to Allenís sources, says that he did not campaign for the papacy. He wanted to retire, even prayed that God would spare him. But as we now know, God did not listen to his prayer. Allen says Ratzingerís behavior at John Paul IIís funeral is what really convinced many of the cardinals that he was the choice to be pope. They considered him the one to continue John Paulís programs but also his own man.
Allen gives a short biography of Benedict XVI and reminds us that he is one of the most intellectual popes elected since Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903). Allen suggests that we will be seeing a lot of books and other works from him as his pontificate progresses. We will also see some things that set him apart from John Paul II. This he has already started by choosing the name he chose, his choice of coat of arms that does not include the papal tiara, and the pallium that he uses.
This book is a delight to read and it contains some black-and-white photos. There are no typos, nor is there a bibliography. This book is recommended to those interested in why Benedict XVI was elected and how. It is also recommended to those wanting to know more about this new pope.