The Vatican Diaries by John Thavis

A shorter version of this review appeared on the book page of The Catholic Post this month.


You might say that John Thavis, the recently retired Rome bureau chief of Catholic News Service, had uncanny timing to release a book like The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church, just days before Benedict XVI announced his retirement.

Fortunately, this book is also fascinating and wonderfully written. The Vatican Diaries is a grand tour of Rome, the Vatican, and several decades of great and controversial stories and personalities.  I read it with interest just after watching about the papal conclave & Pope Francis’s election.  Having seen so much of Rome from the coverage, I thoroughly enjoyed getting an inside look at some of the personalities who make things happen at the Vatican.

(Thavis discusses his decision to feature “mid-level” Vatican workers in this excellent Q&A with The Anchoress.  Also well worth reading.)

Since I was once a reporter and then a public relations director, I most relished seeing how Thavis and his colleagues made the behind-the-scenes reporting and editing decisions that became “the news.”  I loved getting to see how the Vatican press corps covered events and “spun” them, regardless of the skill (or lack thereof) of Vatican officials.

I also found fascinating “Latinist,” the chapter on the colorful Father Reginald Foster, who taught Latin unconventionally for decades in Rome (and made a mental note to avoid getting sick in Rome, as the health care system there sounds abysmal).

Who am I kidding?  I found every chapter worthwhile, not just well-written but well-reported.  This book should be read by aspiring and current reporters and writers, but also for any Catholic (really, anyone) who has interest in the workings of the Vatican.  Before reading The Vatican Diaries, I might have predicted that inner workings of the Vatican would not be genuinely enthralling.  Turns out I was wrong.

Thavis writes not just intelligently, but lovingly, about his Church and how fortunate he was to cover it and its people for so many years. A great read.