10 January 2007

Two brief reviews

I received two books in the mail recently from Doubleday...both by NCR(eporter)'s John Allen, Jr.

All the Pope's Men

The Rise of Benedict XVI

I will recommend both as good introductions to difficult subjects: the workings of the Vatican Curia and how God's Rottweiler became Pope Benedict XVI.

Let me say now: I have no love for the NCR. IMHO, it's a rag. And it stands for almost everything horribly gone wrong in the post-VC2 Church. Now, having said that, let me say this--we have a saying in Mississippi about those we don't particularly like. We say, "I wouldn't p*** on him if he was on fire." (You have to imagine the accent!). This was my feeling about John Allen up until just recently. His positive response to the negative criticism of his Ratzinger biography added a huge amount of credibility to his side of the scale for me. So, when I opened the box and found these two books, I didn't immediately bless them with holy water and chunk them in File 13.

All the Pope's Men is the more interesting of the two. The chapter titled "Vatican Theology" is the worth the price of the book. The chapter on the sexual abuse scandals is also quite good. He has two sections outlining the problems the church in Rome has understanding the church in America and vice-versa. The chapter also includes a handy chronology of events for those keeping track. I was very impressed with the section on proposed reforms. Allen manages to fairly navigate this mind field. He reminds us that the great Dominican, Yves Congar, wrote of Church reform: "The great law of a Catholic reformism will be to begin with a return to the principles of Catholicism"(309). Allen adds by way of commentary: "Authentic reform always stresses the need to sentire cum ecclesia--'to think with the Church.' It is a project to be carried out in cooperation with the pastors of the Church, never in struggle against them"(309). Amen, brother!

The Rise of Benedict XVI doesn't entirely avoid the predictable American political descriptive categories that we've come to expect from the MSM when they talk about the Church. Typically, the newly elected Holy Father is seen as a president or a prime minister who is being swept into office with a mandate for change and eager to kick butt and take names of his political enemies. Allen manages to avoid the worst examples of this oversimplification. He still indulges a bit in the media habit of presenting liberal reformers as "progressive" (and therefore "good") and curial officials as "reactionary" or "conservative" (and therefore "bad"). You can come away from this book thinking that the Roman Church teeters on a razor's edge of root and branch revolution but for the unfortunate election of a pious German scholar to the Chair of Peter. Allen's sense of fairness prevents him from being taken in too deeply by these silly, lefty propaganda sound-bites. I was very disappointed in the last chapter of the book. Allen predicts a few areas that will be challenging to the Holy Father. He predicts that B16 will be troubled by the likes of the CTSA and its habitual dissident nagging. And that he will be worried silly by the slowly growing extinct "progressive Catholic women" (a.k.a., "feminist nuns"). Naw, I doubt it.


  1. Pretty much my same reaction to both of the books. Allen works pretty hard to not bias his reporting which has improved over the years. It is just pretty hard to be attached to NCR and not get filled with crap.

    The book on the Vatican I found the most worthwhile. The other book had lots of good informations, but it was rather surprising that his predictions did not include anything as far as liturgy goes - something that any Ratzinger watcher would know to expect.

  2. IMHO, John Allen is the ONLY reason to read the NCReg.

    He's a rarity in the press realm these days, a reporter who actually reports.