PARALLEL EMPIRES by Massimo Franco


The United States and the Vatican: Two Centuries of Alliance and Conflict
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Italian journalist Franco reports on the relatively new, developing relationship between the United States and the Holy See.

The two “parallel empires”—one fights with “soft power” and moral suasion, the other with military power and advanced technology—exchanged ambassadors for the first time in 1984, as Pope John Paul II and President Reagan joined forces to bring down “the evil empire.” Before that, relations between America and the Vatican had been fraught, even in colonial times. Many European immigrants fled America to escape persecution for religious beliefs, and efforts to establish a Catholic bulkhead (e.g., in Maryland) were met with hostility by the Protestant majority. John Adams set the tone in 1779 by rejecting the admittance of “an ecclesiastical tyrant” from the Old World. Monsignor Gaetano Bedini’s disastrous visit to the United States in 1853, seen as an assault on the separation of church and state, ended in a near anti-papist rout. The Vatican’s perceived sympathy for the Confederate cause exacerbated anti-Catholic sentiment in America, effectively closing off diplomatic relations until FDR sought help in strategic spying on the Nazis during World War II. The Vatican resolved to align itself with the postwar American power, though the first Catholic president, JFK, wouldn’t touch the subject of establishing diplomatic relations. Finally, with Polish-born Karol Wojtyla at the papal helm, Reagan established a “holy alliance” supporting Lech Walesa and Solidarity in order to bring about a Soviet collapse. Recent pedophile scandals have again strained relations, while papal anxiety that American aggression against terrorism would ignite a “clash of civilizations” has only irritated Washington. Franco closes by examining the “values and new roles” emerging for the Bush administration and the Holy See after the death of John Paul.

Surprisingly informative, even lively: a balanced treatment of the two empires, and a hard look at the hopes and fears surrounding Benedict XVI’s ascension.

Pub Date: Jan. 20th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-385-51893-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2008


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