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Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church Paperback – March 21, 1998


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 21, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674932617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674932616
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 0.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his exhaustive treatment of the world's most complex religious organization, Reese, a Jesuit priest who has written about the U.S. Catholic hierarchy (Archbishop: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church, Harper San Francisco) approaches his subject from a sympathetic yet critical perspective and manages to accomplish two tasks. He describes what is, based on more than 100 interviews with Vatican insiders, and he prescribes what might be, based on his own sense of the church's place in the contemporary world. Though he avoids discussing personal lives of curial officials, he humanizes a vast bureaucracy with an occasional bit of gossip and a few revealing Vatican jokes. For example, one official offered a careerist's recipe for survival in the Roman curia: "Don't think. If you think, don't speak. If you speak, don't write. If you think and if you speak, don't write. If you think and speak and write, don't sign your name. If you think and speak and write and sign your name, don't be surprised." Reese's detailed account of what goes on inside a papal conclave will greatly simplify the work of journalists and teachers during the election of the next pope.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

One need not be Catholic or even religious to appreciate this fascinating look into the Vatican, an institution with worldwide influence. Reese, a Jesuit priest and political scientist, provides detailed information, much of which is not available elsewhere, on the internal workings of the Vatican both as city-state and the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. That information ranges from how popes are elected and how each of the Vatican offices operates to how the Vatican bank functions and what sort of fire department the Vatican has. Reese also offers insights, e.g., that Cardinals tend to elect an older pope to avoid a long reign, and notes procedures for deposing an insane or otherwise incapacitated pope. With its wealth of information, historical background, and analysis, Reese's work should be an important addition for a variety of libraries. [For another view on this subject, see Carl Bernstein's recently released His Holiness John Paul II and the Hidden History of Our Time, which was unavailable for review.]?John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New Yor.
-?John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Peter Fennessy on February 2, 2001
Format: Hardcover
One young girl wrote in a book report "This book tells me more about hippopotamuses than I wanted to know." Unless you have a special interest in the Vatican inside story, this book may also tell you too much. But since the Roman Curia of the Catholic Church is one of the three most efficient corporate structures in the world, and since its work touches the lives of a billion Roman Catholics (and much of the rest of the world as well), and since its failings have been at the center of controversy in the Catholic world, the book is important. It is a well written and exhaustive summary of how the central Catholic government is structured and makes its decisions. The author, who has written on church governance at all levels, is a recognized expert in the field. Despite the controversial nature of the topic Reese treats the Curia fairly and objectively. Those who complain about the Curia should read this book, for while many of their complaints may be justified, they might be surprised at the amount and complexity of the work the Vatican does, the care and dedication with which they try to do it, and the problems and difficulties they labor under. The section on the internal culture of the Curia is particularly enlightening, and the author's concrete and professional suggestions for reform are valuable.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By saskatoonguy on April 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
Thomas Reese, Jesuit professor and journalist, has carved a very narrow niche for himself as an author, explaining the organizational mechanics of the Catholic church. Most people would find his books to have far too much detail, but there are a few, like me, who are curious about what really happens behind the closed doors of the Catholic administrative apparatus. His 1989 book, "Archbishop," described how dioceses are run, and "Inside the Vatican" describes how the Vatican functions. What decisions do cardinals actually make? What is it like to be a Vatican ambassador to a foreign country? What is it like to have a career as a Vatican bureaucrat? (One tidbit: No air conditioning!)
If these are things you've wondered about, this is the book for you. Reese approaches these things as though he were an anthropologist or a management consultant, with a keen eye for the nuances of interpersonal relationships within the Vatican bureaucracy. My only complaints are that the amount of detail can be overwhelming, and Reese sometimes gets bogged down in a wooden style of writing. It's best to start reading this book in the middle, because the beginning is rather dry. On the other hand, the anecdotes are a strong plus. To give one example, the story of John Paul II reprimanding the Archbishop of Denver to his face creates a mental image that is hard to forget.
The last chapter is the most provocative, where Reese suggests reforms that are both logical and unrealistic: He argues that Vatican administrators should not be allowed to become cardinals, which in papal elections would cause a monumental power shift toward those who are in closer touch with the laity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Todd Hamilton, playwright on December 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Rarely have I seen a book written about the Vatican which is as unbiased as this one. I thoroughly recommend it. Although one has to go through quite a bit of detail and draw ones own conclusions, it is well worth the read.

I compare it to what is argumentatively the most informative book ever written on the Vatican and world politics. Particularly on what happens when the political infighting that goes on when a pope is elected turns to murder.

The Vatican Murders: The Life and Death of John Paul I proves that the conspiracy that planned the Great Vatican Bank Scandal was the same conspiracy that plotted the Murder of John Paul I.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Chesterton on May 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
Reese has written a book that can be daunting to someone who may be looking for quick answers. The Vatican is such an arcane institution that it is impossible to give a short, comprehensive answer on the operation of the Curia. As a researcher, I found Reese's work immensely informative; it also provides some balance to the more sensational allegations of Luigi Marinelli, although I doubt that his work is to be discounted either. It shows an institution that is prone to the same errors of judgement and behaviour in its denizens as any other, but with a higher degree of moral rectitude expected from it. It is a fascinating excursion into one of the world's oldest surviving bureaucracies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Nancy J. Brown on January 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an explanation of how the various aspects of the Vatican operate.
This is not a "tell all" with gossip or scandal. Being more of a study of an ancient worldwide organization than about backroom politics, some people may find some descriptions of "who does what" a little dry.

I, however, found the book most interesting.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Following the excitement of Benedict's resignation and Francis' election to the papacy, I decided it was time to learn more about the inner workings of the Vatican. Fr. Reese's book seemed like a good place to start. So it is, but that doesn't make it easy reading. The governance of the Catholic church is an incredibly complex system of overlapping "congregations," conferences, synods, and other bureaucratic entities operating under centuries old procedures and methods. In ten chapters the author explains the roles and function of the pope, bishops, cardinals, the curia, the working conditions in Vatican City, the finances of the church, and possible directions for the future. Does the book make everything clear? No, but it does make clear some of the complexity and obscurity of the church's governing bodies.

The book is packed with information, perhaps too much. I found myself skimming at times. I was particularly intrigued by Chapter Six, in which the author describes some of the faceless bureaucrats who toil inside the Vatican. If you dislike meetings and committee work, you would hate it there. And sadly, much of the work in these obscure offices seems geared to arriving at predetermined conclusions, suppressing dissent, and avoiding change. The system has been remarkably successful at maintaining itself for close to two-thousand years, through a variety of challenging circumstances. But what of the future? Don't expect radical change, at least, not soon. The church operates on a time-scale of centuries.

Author Thomas J. Reese writes well, making a difficult subject accessible, and with flashes of wit and humor. If you're looking for a serious introduction to the inner workings of the Catholic church, this would be a good place to start, and I recommend it. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church
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