These are the covers of "The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters" by Stephen K. Ray and R. Dennis Walters, "The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World" by Anthony McCarten, and "The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave that Changed History" by Gerard O'Connell. The books are reviewed by Mitch Finley. (CNS)
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"The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters" by Stephen K. Ray and R. Dennis Walters. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 2018). 164 pp., $15.95.
"The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World" by Anthony McCarten. Flatiron Books (New York, 2019). 233 pp., $26.99.
"The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave that Changed History" by Gerard O'Connell. Orbis Books (Maryknoll, New York, 2019). 291 pp., $28.
Each of these three new books on the papacy is informative and interesting. "The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World" is by the author of the screenplay for a dramatic film with the same title being produced by Netflix. The co-authors of "The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters" are a former Baptist who became a Catholic and a literature professor and deacon who spent eight years in a Catholic seminary. Gerard O'Connell, author of "The Election of Pope Francis: An Inside Account of the Conclave that Changed History," is an associate editor and Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit weekly magazine, America, as well as a reporter on the Vatican for various other English-speaking Catholic news outlets.
"The Papacy," by Ray and Walters, is a compact, accurate discussion of the papacy, its history and theology. It would make both a good college level textbook and ideal reading for any adult who wants to understand what the papacy is all about. It even includes a discussion of what other religious traditions -- non-Catholic Christians, the Eastern churches, Judaism and Islam -- think of the papacy. A section titled "The Pope as World Leader" is noteworthy. An appendix presents "A Chronological List of the Popes," which unfortunately tends to perpetuate the fiction that the papacy, as Catholicism understands it today, has existed virtually unchanged since coming into existence in the person of St. Peter. All in all, however, this is an admirable book on a frequently misunderstood topic.
Anthony McCarten's "The Pope" sensationalizes more than one may wish for. Still, it's a captivating look at events surrounding the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of his successor, Pope Francis. It's a book laden with anecdotes, some touching, others shocking, some with perhaps a tenuous connection to reality, but entertaining stories all the same. One may complete the reading of this book with the hope that the Netflix film drama -- starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce -- will be better than the book.
Finally, Gerard O'Connell's "The Election of Pope Francis" is, in this reviewer's opinion, the best of the lot. If you want the straight scoop on the conclave that gave us Pope Francis, this is the book to read. Written in the style of a journal, the first entry is dated Feb. 11-28, 2013, and the last is dated March 14-19, 2013. Don't be surprised if you frequently find yourself with tears in your eyes during the hours you give to the reading of this fine volume.
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Finley is the author of more than 30 books on popular Catholic theology, including "The Rosary Handbook" (Word Among Us Press) and "What Faith is Not" (Sheed & Ward).