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Inside the Vatican


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Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is a Jesuit scholar with a doctorate in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. He is Editor-in-Chief of America, the national Catholic weekly magazine, and author of, among other books, Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church.


In his exhaustive treatment of the world's most complex religious organization, Reese, a Jesuit priest who has written about the U.S. Catholic hierarchy (Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, Harper San Francisco) approaches his subject from a sympathetic yet critical perspective and manages to accomplish two tasks. He describes what is, based on more than 100 interviews with Vatican insiders, and he prescribes what might be, based on his own sense of the church's place in the contemporary world. Though he avoids discussing personal lives of curial officials, he humanizes a vast bureaucracy with an occasional bit of gossip and a few revealing Vatican jokes. For example, one official offered a careerist's recipe for survival in the Roman curia: "Don't think. If you think, don't speak. If you speak, don't write. If you think and if you speak, don't write. If you think and speak and write, don't sign your name. If you think and speak and write and sign your name, don't be surprised." Reese's detailed account of what goes on inside a papal conclave will greatly simplify the work of journalists and teachers during the election of the next pope. (Dec.)

Father Reese's work stands out in a number of ways. It is intriguing but not gossipy. It offers critique without slipping into polemics. It provides a wealth of detail about the institution, yet never lets the human element slip from view. -- John Thavis Catholic News Service Thomas Reese undertakes the Herculean task of trying to penetrate the shroud of mystery surrounding the Vatican. Remarkably, Father Reese, a Jesuit and senior fellow at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center, has managed to pull if off. In relatively concise fashion, he paints a clear, largely dispassionate and often compelling picture of Vatican operations and, in so doing, highlights the tensions that tear the church. -- Diego Ribadeneira Boston Globe [An] excellent [book]. -- Michael Walsh National Catholic Reporter Any journalist who has tried to cover the Vatican will appreciate the Rev. Thomas Reese's book on the politics and organization of the world's oldest--and one of its most secretive--institutions...This even-handed and meticulously researched study of Vatican City and the papal bureaucracy couldn't come at a better time. -- Don Lattin San Francisco Chronicle Reese has given a precise description of the Vatican as an organisation--or rather three interlocking organisations, one dealing with the spiritual administration of one billion Roman Catholics and 4,000 bishops, one running the Vatican mini-state and one supporting the extensive foreign policy work of the Pope. In this book...the sources are mainly anonymous...[but] anonymity adds to its authority and interest. Reese is good on Vatican bureaucrats and good at the questions. His sources tinkle with gossip and loyal criticism of the papacy...[I]t is a thorough book. -- Roger Boyes Times Perhaps the best examination of the "politics and organization" of the Catholic Church's headquarters. Contemporary Review [T]his is a useful and even valuable study of the institutional centre of the Roman Catholic Church, and of the relations between the centre, and the worldwide network of local churches which go to make up the Church catholic. Dr. Reese...brings impressive qualifications and experience as a political scientist to this [study]...It is the special virtue of Dr. Reese's study that he succeeds where many have failed in providing an analytic, critical and comprehensive account of how [the Vatican] works. -- Sean Mac Reamoinn Irish Times Thomas Reese has included...fascinating anecdotes in his study of life inside the Vatican kingdom. -- Kieran Cooke Financial Times [This] is a very useful reference for those who want to know how the Holy See operates...Without a doubt, Reese's treatment of papal elections will be a very valuable reference tool when the successor of John Paul II is elected...Reese's style is clear, concise, and nonjudgmental...[He] gives a balanced picture of the structure, procedures, and people of the Vatican. -- Daniel F. Hoye Commonweal Thomas Reese does an admirable job of lifting the veil of secrecy surrounding the Holy See to examine the nuts and bolts of the operation...[He] paints a revealingly human portrait of Vatican life...Ultimately, this is the merit of Inside the Vatican: Reese gets it right. And in [such] a place...that's no easy task. -- Greg Burke Time A Jesuit at home, as you would expect, in theology, history and current affairs, Thomas Reese conducts an insider's tour of the Vatican. With a papal election near, this is a to the politics of a faith in mid-struggle between ancients and moderns. The Economist What goes on behind the Vatican's walls has long been a mystery to much of the outside world. Everybody knows about the white smoke that signals the election of a new pope by the College of Cardinals; but what kind of politicking and debate is there? How are ballots cast? How are cardinals chosen anyway? Reese, a Jesuit scholar who is a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, answers these questions and many more, explaining everything from the pope's many how the Vatican runs its finances. Washington Post Book World Reese undertakes the Herculean task of trying to penetrate the shroud of mystery surrounding the Vatican. Remarkably, [he] has managed to pull it off. Boston Globe

One need not be Catholic or even religious to appreciate this fascinating look into the Vatican, an institution with worldwide influence. Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist, provides detailed information, much of which is not available elsewhere, on the internal workings of the Vatican both as city-state and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. That information ranges from how popes are elected and how each of the Vatican offices operates to how the Vatican bank functions and what sort of fire department the Vatican has. Reese also offers insights, e.g., that Cardinals tend to elect an older pope to avoid a long reign, and notes procedures for deposing an insane or otherwise incapacitated pope. With its wealth of information, historical background, and analysis, Reese's work should be an important addition for a variety of libraries. [For another view on this subject, see Carl Bernstein's recently released His Holiness John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time, which was unavailable for review.]‘John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York

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