THE AMERICAN POPE: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman by John Cooney

THE AMERICAN POPE: The Life and Times of Francis Cardinal Spellman

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A drawn-out hatchet job on a distasteful man who seems to deserve most of what he gets. Americans under 40 scarcely remember Spellman (1889-1967)--Cooney (The Annenberg Legacy) would have done better to publish this bio a decade earlier--but, in his day, he was a potent figure. Trained in Rome, ""Spelly"" cultivated all the right people at the Vatican, including Eugenio Pacelli, who became Pius XII just in time (1939) to appoint him archbishop of New York. With little academic intelligence (""I hire theologians,"" he used to say) and limited charm, he was nonetheless a solid administrator and an adroit politician. He renegotiated all the archdiocese's mortgages, centralized its buying, and embarked on a massive building program (eventually totaling 5 hospitals, 37 churches, 130 schools, and numerous convents, orphanages, and old-folks homes). He was Military Vicar of the US Army, the intimate of presidents (on one of his many diplomatic missions, he disbursed CIA money to the Vatican to help the Christian Democrats in the 1948 Italian elections), and a major force in New York City politics for almost 40 years. (His campaigns against The Miracle and Baby Doll got the headlines, but he also quietly dictated policy to Mayors O'Dwyer and Impellitteri.) He was a reactionary superpatriot, a personal friend of Joe McCarthy, a strikebreaker (using seminarians as scabs against a Catholic gravediggers' union), and--if Cooney's hearsay evidence can be trusted--an active homosexual who raged against heterosexual sin. As Cooney sees him, Spellman had no deep passions save anti-Communism and reptilian ambition. Which may be true, but that doesn't make it any easier to wade through this diffuse, gossipy account of his career: an obituary for a dinosaur by a hostile paleontologist. (Earlier Spellman biographies, from his era, stick to puffery or commemoration.)

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1984
Publisher: Times Books