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The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart o f the Catholic Church Hardcover – February 21, 2013

4.1 out of 5 stars 234 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Thavis, who covered the Vatican for 30 years as a journalist, has written an insider’s account chronicling some of the people, issues, and scandals that have made headlines over the years. The press hasn’t always been flattering, nor are some of the details Thavis recounts, such as the Vatican’s inaction when repeatedly apprised of allegations of sexual abuse of teenage seminarians by the founder of the Legion of Christ religious order. Though sympathetic to the Church, Thavis doesn’t stray very far from his journalistic roots. He presents the facts, leaving the editorial conclusions to be drawn by the reader. Although much of the book’s content will be of most interest to Catholics, the chapter titled “Sex,” which addresses condoms, AIDS, and homosexuality, will surely command a wider audience. In the end, we are left with a more nuanced understanding of the Vatican, an institution Thavis describes as “marked more by human flair and fallibility than ruthless efficiency.” The clergy sex-abuse scandal, however, may well belie the latter part of that assessment. --Christopher McConnell


"Wonder what's going on behind those huge doors at the Vatican? Wonder what those cardinals are up to as they scurry about getting ready to elect a new pope? Wonder what the man who rings the bells when that new pope is finally elected is thinking? Thavis answers all in this fascinating book."
~USA Today
"A veritable handbook on all things Vatican."
~The Daily Beast
"A thoughtful meditation on recent papal administrations and the bureaucrats, functionaries, and emissaries who advance or thwart Rome’s global ambitions."
~New York Journal of Books
"Most fascinating is Thavis' generous assessment of Benedict XVI, whom he sees as an almost tragic figure."
~The New Yorker
"Thavis’s Vatican Diaries is well worth putting on your Amazon wish list."
"[The Vatican Diaries] succeeds well in presenting the Roman Curia as a flesh-and-blood community, a byzantine theater of the sacred."
~National Catholic Reporter
"Entertaining and readable."
~Publishers Weekly
"A lively book that's steeped in history and personality."
~The Eagle Tribune
“Thavis has offered this rare, perceptive and highly readable glimpse into a power structure that is less in control than many would have us believe.”
"Illuminating and fully accessible to members of the faith and doubters alike."
~Kirkus Reviews

"In an age when social media threatens to emasculate news and current affairs, Thavis' work is a refreshing sign that great journalism is not dead. Instead of the inane trivia that now passes for 'news' , Thavis provides us with an account of great depth carefully tempered with censure and sympathy."
~Justin Cahill, Booktopia
"An American Catholic who has done his homework, learned Latin and Italian, made friends in high places, found his way for thirty years in the maze of Church bureaucracy, gives us a humane and realistic and (yes) humorous picture of a mortal institution that guides hundreds of millions of mortals along the path from birth to death and beyond. To an old Prot like me, it's a tour of alien terrain and a bridge to old and dear friends."   
~Garrison Keillor
Vatican Diaries is a must-read for anyone interested in the Vatican’s role in the Catholic Church and the world.
~Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
"The Vatican Diaries by John Thavis provides us with an intriguing and much needed antidote to one of the most common problems affecting many Catholics and non-Catholics who look at the Vatican these days: the assumption of the cold ruthlessness of the "machine". Thavis shows us also the deeply human side of the Vatican, the last Empire and the last, great theater of the sacred in Western Christianity."
~Massimo Faggioli, University of St. Thomas
"In this highly readable memoir of being a journalist at the Vatican, John Thavis follows the conclaves, sex scandals, internal backstabbing and olympian nature of the popes with a sense of comic relief at the caravan passing through his viewfinder."
~Jason Berry, author of Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (February 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670026719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670026715
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (234 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I watched Inside the Vatican by National Geographic which documents how the Vatican City functions but not what it takes to run a religious business with so many characters in the picture. The Vatican Diaries is not about Catholicism as a faith, it is not about the Vatican as a city, it is about the players inside as well as outside the Vatican. This knowledge can not be achieved unless you are an insider or live by Vatican. Forget about the presidential politics since that is boring, Vatican's politic is not. This is a book that exposes many facets of Vatican and that means religion plus the spice of humanity in Italian style. This book certainly does justice to Pope Benedict since many of the issues that Benedict had to deal with during his service was not really analyzed and discussed in US media as it should have been and John's writing certainly covers that era considerably. This is a book about human beings who have to deal with many issues in an environment that regardless of how spiritual they may want to be or they may want to get, they still cannot avoid the arrogance, sexuality and the personality that it comes with that creation of god, the other human beings. I never thought this could be such an informative book. Unlike many other books this book has no ending due to what is happening in Vatican in the given moment. Wish Pope Benedict health, happiness and mainly peace. Great, informative and educational read. Bravo.


UPDATE 2014: Watch the two hour 2014 documentary which documents all the facts provided in this book and more. Amazing story. Link provided in the comment section.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As my title indicates, John Thavis has written a remarkable books on a couple counts. At the same time as Pope Benedict has decided to close his reign, John has opened up the recent history of the Vatican and its players in a very well-written manner. I was impressed throughout and could barely put the book down as a couple things stood out.

First, the Vatican like most complex and large organizations works to conserve its own interests. This resulted in immeasurable tragedy, as in the case of Maciel, with support for the beast and the victimization of many. And the mind boggling absorption with homophobia and dedicated priests who were made to suffer. This book shows clearly how this occurred and how difficult it is to turn an aircraft carrier on a dime.

Second, the stories are beautiful. Some are sad and cynical but some are full of joy. My favorite part of the book is the story about Father Foster. The images of him exhorting his students to appreciate Latin ("My God, every prostitute in ancient Rome spoke Latin")and telling a reporter "I'd like to say Mass in the nude" are memorable.

What else can I say? Great book!
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Format: Kindle Edition
Only two days ago people the world over waited for white smoke to appear above St. Peter's Square and it isn't hard to understand why. The Holy See is arguably the most influential organization in the entirety of human history, the power it wields is sacred to the faithful, but equally impressive to those outside the Catholic church.

In The Vatican Diaries, John Thavis lifts the veil of secrecy and sheds light on the politics that characterize life in Vatican City. Offering readers insight into the world he knew while working for the Catholic News Service.

The thing I liked most about this book is that unlike some other titles I've sampled over the years, Thavis humanizes the Vatican. He talks about her quirks and idiosyncrasies, points to her character by examining her structure and inhabitants. Even in print the city seems more real as seen through the eyes of one who holds such obvious passion for her past, present and future.

Thavis' writing isn't tinged with superiority either, its steady rhythm and light humor make The Vatican Diaries both easy to understand and delightfully entertaining. A great book for those looking for a more intimate look at the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Boy, what great timing for the author. The Vatican Diaries comes out just as Pope Benedict XVI has resigned. What this book shows me is that for anything this inept and mismanaged to have survived over 2,000 years - it has to be from God. And - God has a great sense of humor! Good Catholics do not have to shy away from reading this entertaining and enlightening book about their Church. I would suspect their own parish may be reflected in these pages as well. This "diary" is a quick read and very interesting. The Catholic Church is nothing if not human and The Vatican Diaries illustrates that wonderfully. Buy or download this book quickly so you'll be up to speed when the new Pope is elected.
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I admit this was a leap of faith to purchase and read this book. Few reviews existed and I hesitated. What helped my decision to read this was the discovery that it was written by a veteran journalist. It is very timely, does not steer away from the major controversies of the day, and is very engaging. The author has a writing style that is very easy to read and makes you feel like you are on a tour that has a guide who is thorough, communicates well, is very amiable, well respected, and candid. Some of the material does take you behind the scenes of the power struggles occurring daily at the Vatican, and much of it is fascinating and bewildering. At times it does feel like the Keystone Cops but it is not done maliciously but with wit and elegance. Worth the time to read and digest all the subject matter he exposes. Well done.!
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