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Pope Francis: Untying the Knots Paperback – September 24, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

His family name is Italian—Bergoglio—but as everyone surely knows by now, Francis is the first New World pope. As Vallely, a British journalist specializing in international development and religion, presents him, he will be—is already—a truly new pope. Rejecting eight centuries of his predecessors’ monarchical trappings, Francis is intent on being more of a people’s pope than even John XXIII. His early career didn’t exactly augur his present concern for the poor and the laity in general rather than the institutional church. As provincial of Argentina’s Jesuits, he opposed Latin American liberation theology so strongly that to this day accusations of betraying two colleagues to the country’s brutal military junta still carry water, though much less so than when he became archbishop of Buenos Aires or when he was runner-up to Joseph Ratzinger in the 2005 papal conclave. Vallely says Bergoglio’s experience under the junta changed him; certainly, he came to accept and prosecute a liberation theology shorn of Marxism. An unusually substantial and hope-reviving “instant book.” --Ray Olson


“Paul Vallely's biography of Francis…stands, in terms of seriousness of purpose and depth of understanding, head and shoulders above other recent rushed cuttings jobs.” ―Peter Stanford, The Sunday Times, UK

“By the end of this stint of reviewing I have read through 10 biographies of one sort or another of the new Bishop of Rome. This emboldens me to say, without hesitation, that Vallely's is undoubtedly the most satisfactory of an otherwise lacklustre bunch...Vallely, as befits a long-time journalist, has done the legwork...Read this book, forget the rest.” ―Michael Walsh, The Tablet

“With more research and a wider canvas than most high-speed biographies, this portrait of Jorge Bergoglio gives us depth. Vallely teases out the contradictions of a radical conservative and clarifies his task of renewal.” ―Independent, UK

“No biography, however diligent, can capture someone's interior life. But what this book does demonstrate is that Pope Francis is a tougher, more complex figure than meets the eye...Anybody who reads this book will eagerly await his next move.” ―The Economist, UK


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic; 7.2.2013 edition (September 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1472903706
  • ISBN-13: 978-1472903709
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sally K. Severino on October 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this biography both enjoyable and informative.

The book title is taken from an eighteenth-century oil painting by Johann George Schmidtner: Mary Untier of Knots. Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) from Argentina came upon the original when he visited a church in Augsburg, Germany in 1986. It spoke so forcefully to him that he hung a copy of the painting in the suburban church of San José del Telar in Buenos Aires. “Untying the knots” of his life is the theme that biographer Paul Vallely, a journalist and activist on international development, has chosen as the backbone for his understanding of the interior life of Pope Francis.

Indeed, Vallely successfully portrays Pope Francis to be a tough and complex person who has lived a turbulent life formed amidst the dictatorship of 1976-83 in Argentina. An understanding of the moral challenges that Father Bergoglio faced is essential to understanding the man. Vallely clearly describes the forces that polarized Argentine society during the Dirty War of the military’s anti-communist agenda: the Left that was secularist, anti-clerical, and anti-Church versus the Right that espoused Catholicism. To complicate matters Liberation Theology was emerging and the Vatican was imposing a crackdown upon empowerment of the poor. Father Bergoglio lived in the midst of all these forces.

In addition to describing the forces that formed Father Bergoglio and how he responded to them, Vallely addresses the changes that occurred in Father Bergoglio after the dictatorship, which transformed the man from an unyielding, domineering leader during the dictatorship into a strong but tender Pope who demonstrates a good sense of the realities of power and the courage to act on that sense.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
of the life and growth-through-stress and new insight into the person he shows to us now.

As I read of his early years of administrative duties in the terribly complex social/political situation
in his country, I was surprised that the author did not suggest that the authoritarianism,
which the Pope readily admits to now, was due to lack of mentoring and support for him as a young and new
administrator in a local religious (Jesuit)community that was interacting with a national situation which
would befuddle a most experienced leader.

When you are trying to manage in a highly chaotic situation, options often seem to narrow. To react
quickly enough, a person can choose something that seems to work, insist on it and move on to the next problem,
just to keep up with the demand.

His personal and spiritual growth in his time as bishop and then Archbishop iw wonderful to see, discerning a path
that would best serve the variety of people in his flock, with special concern for the poor whose presence and needs
became so very evident to him.

He is much like the founder of his order, Ignatius of Loyola, who went through a conversion experience from a very
different kind of earlier life (as a courtier in a royal household) to a life of prayer and service, again, with
special attention to the poor, whether spiritually or economically.

The research in the book is highly interesting. The story moves along well. The book needs an editor because
the same passages and word-for-word descriptions occur several times. Maybe it was gotten out in too much of a hurry.
But it is still most worthwhile reading and a joy to see such a good, humble and concerned man expand his role in our
society today where there is so much suffering, but still so much hope.

As I read the news, his work and story are truly good news when that is rare enough to find.
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Format: Paperback
It's an interesting and fast-paced book and by far the best of those written about the new Pope Francis. The author's theme is that priest Jorge Bergoglio made a transformation from authoritarian leader of Argentina's Jesuit priests with questionable behaviors during the country's so-called "Dirty War" in the 1970s and early 1980s to a humble "Bishop of the Slums" who was atoning for the sins and mistakes of his past and continues to do so as pope.
Vallely interviewed many people in Argentina about what type of a leader Bergoglio was of the Jesuits and later as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He split the Jesuit order and was a divisive figure, according to the author.
Vallely found that Bergoglio didn't side with the military when death squads snatched opponents and tortured and killed them, as some had claimed, but that his actions caused two Jesuit priests, Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, to be imprisoned and tortured for five months. The two refused to leave the slums where they had been working as Bergoglio had ordered due to differences of opinion about their ministries, so he informed the archbishop at the time that the two had in effect expelled themselves from the order, the book says. The archbishop prohibited them from saying Mass, something that the military apparently took as the church no longer protecting the men, according to Vallely.
Vallely writes that Bergoglio should have seen the danger in which he placed his priests, "behaved recklessly and has been trying to atone for his behavior ever since." After his term as head of the Argentine Jesuits ended, Bergoglio was placed in exile for several years by the new Jesuit leader as a priest in a lesser city, Cordoba.
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