Monday, August 16, 2004

Getting in Touch with the Vatican

ALL THE POPE'S MEN: The Inside Story of How the Vatican Really Thinks by John L. Allen Jr.
Thus when I cover the Vatican, I do not start with the assumption that Church officials are guilty until proven innocent and that the Vatican's motives for any given decision can be assumed to revolve around power and self-interest unless it is shown otherwise. To tell the truth, my experience is that most of the time Vatican officials are trying to make the best calls they can for the common good of the church, based on the information available to them and the political and theological convictions they hold. Once can debate the wisdom of those judgment calls, and I hope this book will provide the tools to do that, but the debate will suffer from fatal confusion unless the challengers appreciate the values Vatican officials are seeking to defend and the logic that led them to particular decisions.

This book is exactly what it says it is, an even-handed attempt to explain how the Vatican's culture: how it thinks, why it reacts as it does, and what typical patterns of behavior can be expected. This is the result of John Allen being on the Vatican beat for years and watching Americans and the Vatican misunderstand each other time and again. Each judges the other from their own cultural vantage point and then jumps to the worst possible conclusion. Allen opens up Vatican thinking by first explaining how the Vatican is set up and then takes us through their psychology, sociology, theology, and the top five myths about the Vatican. He also has special chapters dealing with the Vatican-American misunderstandings over the sexual abuse crisis and the war in Iraq. I skipped all except the summaries for these chapters as by that time I had a good enough understanding that I didn't need to go through everything blow-by-blow.

This may sound dry and boring but Allen provides ample anecdotes and examples to flesh out the details understandably. I found it fascinating and fairly easy to read. If we keep in mind what is explained here about Vatican thinking, there is a much better chance of real communication and understanding ... which will help us all.

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