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Historical overview of modern papacy shows political ups and downs


This is the cover of "The Papacy in the Modern World: A Political History" by Frank J. Coppa. The book is reviewed by Agostino Bono. (CNS)

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"The Papacy in the Modern World: A Political History" by Frank J. Coppa. University of Chicago Press (Chicago, 2014). 224 pp., $35.

Although popes are first and foremost heads of the Catholic Church, political issues historically have rivaled spiritual ones as topics of concern. Even today, when a pope no longer holds temporal power, he still wields international influence as head of a respected transnational organization applying moral values to hot-button world situations.

Even without political clout several modern popes have contributed mightily to world history. Polish-born Pope John Paul II, now a saint, was a major figure in the collapse of the Soviet Union and its East European communist empire. Pope Benedict XV saw his proposals for ending World War I initially rejected only to later form the basis of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points, which became the framework of an armistice.

"The Papacy in the Modern World" traces the history of papal involvement in politics from the French Revolution to the election of Pope Francis. It shows how popes have evolved from temporal rulers of the papal states, fighting to maintain their kingdom, to today's proponents of the need for moral and ethical values to guide political decisions.

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