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The Accidental Pope: A Novel Hardcover – December 11, 2000

3.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writing in uninspired "what-if" mode, ex-U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Flynn and Moore (The French Connection) jam yet another tale of Triumphant Good through the eye of the millennial needle. Following the death of Pope John Paul II, the College of Cardinals convenes to elect a new pope. While the whole world watches, an Irish cardinal named Comiskey tells a moving story about his seminary friend Bill Kelly, an ex-priest-turned-fisherman, who once saved a group of fellow seminarians from drowning. Unable to reach a consensus after seven days, the cardinals end up casting their votes for the able fisherman. Bill himself has a vision that foretells his good fortune, and although he is a widower with four children, he takes up the mandate and the name of Peter, and heads for Rome with his family. Once established, Pope Peter II/Bill sets out to make everyone happy: the Jews, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Northern Irish Protestants, even homosexuals. Although some interesting modern Church issues are touched on frankly here, such as the controversial deeds of Pius XII and the Catholic and Orthodox conflicts of interest in Africa, theocratic tub-thumping and leaden dialogue sink a feel-good story that's hard to feel good about. (Dec.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

When a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican joins forces with the author of The French Connection to write a novel about the Vatican, the result should be good. Pope John Paul II is dead, and a few of the deadlocked cardinals gathered to elect a new pope jokingly cast a ballot for Bill KellyDa priest turned fisherman who once rescued a swamped boatload of clerics off Cape Cod. To everyone's horror, he wins, and the reign of the first American pope begins.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 392 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (December 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312268017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312268015
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,020,440 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Sometimes you pick up a book because it looks interesting, or because you read everything a particular author has written. Sometimes books suprise you, sometimes they disappoint. I bought this book because of its unlikely (and seemingly humorous) premise, and kept reading because it turned out to be a good read.
The book, co-authored by the former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, examines the papacy of Pope Peter II, who just happens to be an American fisherman who happens to be a laicized Catholic priest. While on the surface the premise seems almost ludicrous, by the middle of the book it no longer seems to be outside of the realm of the possible. Pope Bill, as he likes to be called, has to deal with the scrutiny of the world press, a stunned curia which cannot believe that they elected him, and, of all things, his children living at the Vatican. The authors use the new pope to examine the role and position of the Catholic Church as it moves into the third millenium. Pope Bill's actions and proclamations, while disturbing to the traditional-bound cardinals in the book, "play well in Peoria" and reflect the type of progressive thinking that the authors (not to mention many contemporary Catholics) seem to believe should prevail in the church today.
While the story moves along well for the most part, the authors do get bogged down in a few places and miss several opportunities for an interesting expansion of the story. For example, the pope's oldest daughter, who had been agnostic (at best) since her mother's death, has a sudden and stunning conversion in the story. Unfortunately, there is virtually nothing said about this change nor how it affects the father-daughter relationship.
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I wanted to like this book because Ray Flynn is a fellow Catholic and a fellow Bostonian, and the basic idea of a pope being elected who is a widower with children has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, there are too many problems. The writing is very uneven; in places it isn't bad, but much of the dialogue is wooden and awkward. The theology is startlingly bad, especially in a work purportedly by a former ambassador to the Vatican. Or perhaps it was very badly edited. In any case I stopped reading altogether when I reached the point two thirds of the way through where the Eucharist was casually said to be symbolically the Body of the Lord (not REALLY!). That, of course, is the Protestant position; it has no place in a book that's supposed to be about Catholics.
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Format: Hardcover
I had wanted to like this book very much, and expected that a former ambassador to the Vatican would have some interesting insights, but I was greatly disappointed. The work is very ill informed. Camerlengo is misspelled throughout. The writer stresses that a layman cannot be elected pope, which is incorrect. Cardinals don't know what to do if a non-bishop is elected pope, but this is clearly provided for in the rules they are all very familiar with. Top churchmen set aside liturgical and other requirements without any particular reason. The pope is greeted at the airport by an African cardinal who dresses in loincloth and tribal gear because this sort of common touch is supposed to be worth 100,000 converts. A man who was trained and served as priest does not know the difference between an encyclical and a rescript, or between a priestly and an episcopal ordination. The pope sets aside other Vatican business to work strenuously for days with a number of cardinals to prepare for a public audience and Christmas homily that each consists of a few folksy remarks, but then tries off the cuff to solve the major problems of the church and the world. Despite his pastoral experience, he tells a gay man looking for some compassion that perhaps AIDS is God's punishment on homosexuals. All these sorts of things are more implausible than that a widowed laicized priest with children could be elected pope. Flynn uses the book to lambaste the State Department professionals who presumably gave him a difficult time as a political appointee, but there is a parallel theme here also that the common man off the street off the top of his head can address the world's problems better than the Vatican if he just acts like the common man with common sense and decency. The weakness of that plot is matched here by the weakness of the writing as well. What a shame.
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Format: Hardcover
This novel has what is easily the worst-written opening chapter I've read since I stopped reading creative writing assignments. I nearly put the book down at that point, but I have a tradition of reading a "pope novel" every August and this was this year's book.
The characters are largely two dimensional, but show some unrealized promise (unlike, say the characters in Andrew Greeley's White Smoke, who are irredeemably two dimensional). It's kind of amusing at times to spot the obvious substitutions. The most amusing of which is Flynn's Father Farrell, an obvious parody of Andrew Greeley for whom Flynn has little sympathy.
It wasn't until I was finished that I read the dust jacket and discovered that Flynn was a former ambassador to the Vatican. It explains the prominence of the US ambassador to the Vatican in the narrative (in this case, it's a fictionalized version of Richie Daley who's been made virtually a saint(!)).
In the whole the novel is a pretty quick read, handicapped largely by an effort to tackle too much in the space that's allotted so that no plot points really get developed. Flynn's manifesto for the church is an interesting mix of progressive and conservative, although he manages to miss out on some doctrinal points: Trivially, camerlengo is misspelled throughout, and the feast of the Assumption appears both in its correct month and also in December (I assume that Immaculate Conception was meant here). A bit more significantly, one central plot point turns around the idea that the status of children from an annulled marriage is an unresolved question (it's not--they're legitimate).
Still, I managed to laugh at the humor (intended and unintended) and it wasn't a bad way to spend a weekend's reading. I would suggest getting it at the library though.
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