All the Pope's Men
John L. Allen, Jr.
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Buy *All the Pope's Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks* online

All the Pope's Men: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks
John L. Allen, Jr.
400 pages
July 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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If you were hoping for the inside scoop, as the title implies, this is - and it isn't. John L. Allen, Jr., is a correspondent for National Catholic Reporter and a Vatican analyst for CNN and NPR. This doesn't mean he is biased, but it does impact on the book, making it less than a tell-all expose.

Most readers will rush to the chapter on the "American sexual abuse crisis," as it's called, emphasis on "American". Why? Because by emphasizing our litigious nature, the Vatican can to some extent, and possibly fairly, downplay the abuse aspect. Americans love to sue, we know that, as Allen points out, and part of the scandal is money-driven. Not much is said here about the priests and their deeds; much is said about whether the tempest is more or less the size of a teapot. References to "presumed victims who want large pay-offs" (to quote, as Allen freely does, the Bishop of Nicaragua) will offend many - and will not convince others that it is the Church that is under attack, not its communicants.

The book is subtle, intellectual, one could say Jesuitical in its presentation of the Church's stance on world matters. It wants us to know that the Vatican, though it possesses a huge treasury of artworks, some of them gifted by fleeing upper-echelon Nazis, is not really "wealthy" because these precious works are a worldwide trust belonging to the ages. So it's still very important that the Church collect the pennies of the poor around that same wide world, and, guess what, the "American sexual abuse crisis" has put the hurt on those efforts.

One could get slightly cynical about the book if the author weren't so open in telling what seem to be the big bad secrets of the innermost circles of the Church. Roman Catholicism still stands for ideas that many people cherish: it's pro-life and, generally speaking, anti-war; it ministers to the poor and has a tradition of sainthood that fascinates and attracts many non-Catholics. It is arguably the first Christian church, if not the only, and its place in history is secure.

The timing of the book is certainly questionable, if you are an American and given to freely speaking your mind as well as suing the shirt off anyone who offends you. It's erudite, clever, and undoubtedly at least a half or three quarter scoop - but served up with a sauce of subterfuge, in this reviewer's estimation. Arguably, it wouldn't be possible to write an insider's view of the Vatican without bias - because you wouldn't get in the big front doors. A point to ponder.

© 2004 by Barbara Bamberger Scott for Curled Up With a Good Book

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