A lengthy, detailed-crammed, sometimes quite derivative look at the papacy over the past five years--chiefly focused on...



A lengthy, detailed-crammed, sometimes quite derivative look at the papacy over the past five years--chiefly focused on events of 1978 (the death of Paul VI, the month-long term of John Paul I, and the election of his Polish-born successor: ground already well covered in Hebblethwaite's decorous The Year of Three Popes and Greeley's gossipy The Making of the Popes 1978), but also including background on the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul II. Veteran pop-chroniclers Thomas and Morgan-Witts try to steer a middle course, blending an overview of major problems facing the popes (e.g., the birth control, abortion and celibacy issues; ""liberation theology"" and Latin America; Ostpolitik; the Cardinal Cody scandal; the Sindona-Marcinkus-Vatican Bank mess) with ""inside"" information on politicking at the two 1978 conclaves and the day-to-day lives of the popes. Picking up the story with the death of the aged Paul, a beaten man ""who retreated almost totally to the privacy of his own mind,"" Thomas and Morgan-Witts lay out the details of an extraordinary year: the maneuvering that resulted in the election of Alberto Luciani as John Paul I (not really a surprise to insiders--he was one of the dozen cardinals on whom L'Osservatore Romano had prepackaged a front-page story); the bugging of that conclave by, of all folks, Vatican Radio; the Curia's dislike of the affable ""Gianpaolo"" who (unlike Paul VI) wasn't good at paperwork, but proved a showstopper in his few public appearances; the ugly rumors of poison after his death (not helped by a minor Vatican cover-up of small details, like who found the body, or its nixing of an autopsy); the role of several influential cardinals (notably, Austria's Koenig) in pressing for a non-Italian pope; and the dramatic, eight-ballot conclave from which Karol Wojtyla emerged as John Paul II. For followers of Vatican politics, there is more inside-the-conclaves detail here--who spoke to whom, who pushed for whom, precise ballot-by-ballot vote totals--than in Hebblethwaite or Greeley (though there is a clear debt to both throughout). But also a lot of padding, much of it apparently from Vatican Radio scripts. Other sources (including, it seems, some intelligence agencies) helped trace the movements of assassin Mehmet Ali Agca through the Middle East, a Libyan terrorist training camp, and Bulgaria to his fateful appointment in St. Peter's Square. But the Agca material, through chronologically woven in, seems tacked on--and the definitive account remains unwritten. All in all: ambitious, workmanlike, non-revelatory.

Pub Date: June 1, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983