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on February 28, 2013
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.

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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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on February 21, 2013
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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on March 15, 2013
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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on February 25, 2013
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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on February 27, 2013
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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on March 17, 2013
The subtitle promises "A Behind the Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church," but what John Thavis really provides here is a relatively objective and even-handed behind-the-scenes look at the journalistic coverage of the Vatican, a kind of "Boys on the Bus" of the papacy in the last 20 years. Still, the book is journalistically solid. It will also be fairly boring to anyone not deeply interested in the machinations of the Vatican.
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VINE VOICEon March 17, 2013
The real surprise of this book is just how much fun it is to read. In places it reads like a keystone kop film with men dressed in clerical garb rather than police uniforms. Everywhere it is a fascinating account of what the Vatican and its people are really like, particularly behind the scenes. Anyone who takes any poke at the Vatican as an insult will not like this book; however, anyone even slightly open-minded in this regard will find much here that is worthwhile. Even at their most foolish and human these people are, after all, the leaders of the Catholic Church and their decisions, whatever motivates them, impact billions of people around the world.

Mr. Thavis was a long-time reporter at the Vatican so much of what he describes here has the veracity of someone who has seen what he is describing or spoken to the principals involved. What is even better is that most of it, though covering well-known topics of Catholic interest, comes from people and details that never made the front page.

Each of the ten chapters pretty much stands alone in taking on a topic. Some are rather light-hearted looks at things of little more than ceremonial import. For example, the very first chapter describes the difficulty in running a conclave and announcing a new pope. (Something of rather fortunate coincidence in recent days.) How successful can they be at making the smoke truly black or white? Can they keep the smoke from backing up into the Sistine Chapel? Who has the clout to inform the bell ringer that a new pope has been chosen? How much can the Swiss guard who stands outside the chapel door close his ears to the "secret" voting going on just on the other side? There's also a nice chapter on how every excavation in the Vatican, even for a parking garage, leads to an archaeological discovery and another on the loss of Latin in the Church today.

Other chapters tackle topics of a much more serious nature. There is an excellent chapter on the scandal surrounding Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legion of Christ. It is a story that is emblematic of the Vatican's poor handling of sexual abuse by priests. Here we have a man who repeatedly commits crimes over decades but because of his effectiveness in raising money and recruiting priests he is honored and protected by the Vatican. Though ultimately brought down and (quietly) condemned (to help people save face), the story of inaction and denial is a sad commentary on how the Church still refuses to seriously address this issue. Continuing the theme of things sexual, there is a good chapter on "gay subculture" behavior within the Vatican. Perhaps the best chapter, however, is the discussion of the sainthood cause of Pius XII. Mr. Thavis looks closely at both sides of the issue and provides a lot of food for thought on what a Catholic saint should be.

If there is anything that links these chapters together it is, interestingly enough, the person of Josef Ratzinger turned Benedict XVI. Though Mr. Thavis notes his weaknesses as a leader and front man for the Church--his media gaffes come up time and again as does his penchant for "patience" in letting problems play out--the clear description of the chaotic Curial bureaucracy within the Vatican makes it easy to see what a losing battle it is for Benedict. He never appears to have the management tools necessary to be successful despite his apparent desire to do some things better. This may have been completed before Benedict stepped down, but by the end of the book it is obvious why he would want to hand over the reins to someone else. In this, Mr. Thavis has been fortunate to hit the right note at the right time.
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on March 12, 2013
To say that I loved this book was a bit of an overstatement. It was very informative. The author's writing style was easy to read and understand. I ordered the book for my husband and I got a copy for myself for my Kindle. That way we could both read it at the same time and discuss it. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand how the Catholic Church really works. The Pedophile Issue is the biggest problem the Church has and after reading this book I understand why they can't or won't take steps to resolve this very serious issue. This book also talks about the serious power struggle that exists in the church today, how everything that comes out of the Vatican is either restated or rewritten. It only touches on the Vatileaks issue and I cannot wait to read that book by Gianluigi Nuzzi when it is finally translated into english.
The book was shipped to us in a timely manner and of course when I ordered my Kindle copy I got it right away and was able to start reading it immediately. This is the first time I used a Kindle and it was great!
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on May 4, 2013
I read this book during and immediately after the recent conclave. The scandals and the intrigue were brought to life, by an insider's view. Understanding the sex scandals and lack of action was especially riveting. Although I am not Catholic, I hope the new pope is able to do as he was called by God to, "Repair my church." His election brings new hope to many.
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This book could not be more timely. It starts with the choice of Pope Benedict and discusses the many arrangements, personalities, and rituals that must be correlated in the choice of a Pope. And now Pope Benedict has stepped down, and the new selection process is upon us. The descriptions of Pope John Paul's last struggling days perhaps informs his successor' s decision to not continue. There is great affection shown to Pope John Paul and his valiant struggle with the church doors.

My favorite character is in fact Foster, the irreverent Latin professor with his independent devotion to his passion within the Church. His ragged clothing wondering through the halls of the Vatican with his unsanctioned tours are intriguing. His love for language Latin is inspiring . But he is one of many characters in this book. I had no idea of the complexity of every moment and decision.

I found the writing to be accessible. I enjoyed the diary format of this member of the press corps, and I think he has genuine respect toward his subject. He does reveal the controversial, but I get the sense that this is as a member of a family familiar with its foibles. I am very glad I read this book at this time, since I will watch for the white smoke and listen for the correct bell when the next Pope is chosen.
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