Book review – The dope on the pope

2013-02-17 10:00

Few authors can boast that Pope Benedict helped sell their books, but the ­pontiff’s shock resignation has boosted interest in all things ­Catholic just as veteran Vatican journalist John Thavis is about to publish.

The Vatican Diaries, a behind-the-scenes look at the faith’s fabled nerve centre, goes on sale in the US this coming Thursday, just one week before the pope takes the nearly unprecedented step of ­quitting as the head of the world’s largest church.

Thavis, who covered the Vatican for 30 years until retiring from his post as bureau chief for the ­US-based Catholic News Service last year, had long known Benedict­ ­believed a pope could resign and worried he might do it before the book came out.

But he says he was as shocked as anyone else when the pope announced his decision last week.

The book is not an analysis of the soon-to-end pontificate, but the stories it tells amount to what Thavis calls “a mosaic history of Benedict’s papacy”.

Thavis says he’s been able to say in his book many of the things he couldn’t put into news stories.

“There were some things I couldn’t say until I sat down to write a book. There were some judgements I couldn’t have expressed in news stories, and not only because I worked for a ­Catholic news agency.

“I also couldn’t say how ridiculous I found it that the Vatican still feels the need to edit the pope’s spoken words to journalists.”

The moment that made him feel compelled to write the book came when John Paul II visited Swaziland and the Swazi king arrived late for the papal Mass in a white convertible with two of his four wives.

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