Vivid, impressionistic, chimerical history of the papacy that purports to explain why the Bark of Peter is about to go down. The former Rev. Malachi Martin, S.J. conjures up more Titanic Papal Villains (Sylvester, Gregory I, Gregory VII, Boniface VIII, Martin V--even John XXIII), presiding over more Critical Turning Points for the Church, than one can shake a crozier at. But despite the mind-boggling multitude of the Vatican's sins, described by Martin in lurid if not always reliable detail, Catholicism's basic crime was simply wedding Jesus' spiritual message to temporal power. Many people, including Catholics, would heartily concur with this, but the rest of Martin's interpretation is highly eccentric, not to say off the wall. First of all, he grossly exaggerates the power and importance of the papacy, as if the fate of Christendom hung from the dome of St. Peter's. He follows the ""great man"" theory of history into reckless oversimplification (Leo the Great's famous interview with Attila decided the destiny of Europe for the next 15 centuries, John XXIII destroyed the ""authority and unity"" of the Church in five short years). Overall, he neglects the massive factors of social change--politics, economics, ideology, etc.--in favor of dramatic close-ups (Leo III crowns Charlemagne, Gregory VII humbles Henry IV at Canossa, Pins VI dies in exile). And, often, imaginary scenes masquerade as cold fact: how does he know that Celestine V was smothered, that Innocent VII and Alexander V were poisoned? Martin closes with a strange conservative coda praising John Paul II for his (probably doomed) attempt to run the Church by exercising ""purely spiritual power""--to the disregard of ""secular values""! Lively stuff, certainly, but rife with distortions.