The author of Pope Francis Among the Wolves, the Inside Story of a Revolution, Marco Politi, a longstanding expert on Vatican affairs, a “Vaticanista” as they say, writes for the Italian paper Il Fatto Quotidiana. I have it on good authority that he is the best of the bunch of those who follow the Vatican closely and write about it, and this from one of that bunch. Read into it that he has some very good connections, vitally necessary to be able to report on the Vatican and the Pope, historically closed and non-transparent, until now.
In his book, he presents good background on Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope in history and the first from beyond the European stronghold of the Church, and therefore a total outsider, and his election by an “Anti-Italian Conclave”. He also presents a tale of the “land mines” the Curia and entrenched Vatican power structures are throwing down to trip Francis in his efforts to reform. These are real, concrete, deliberate efforts according to Politi. And he traces the history of the recent power plays in the “Vatileaks” affair that is thought to have brought down the papacy of Benedict XVI, and the sexual scandals that blew that papacy open. In addition, he outlines the Synod process up almost until the opening day of the Synod session of October 2015.
Politi also gives a good overview of the Church in the age of Francis and what PF is doing to change it. And how the Roman Curia deeply resents his efforts to do so. That it is all about power is no surprise. Politi contrasts the vibrancy he saw in Churches he has visited around the world with the old guard European church dying on the vine. This old guard, deeply traditional, does not want to give up its entrenched position of power. You will also read the best background information on the reform of the IOR, the so-called “Vatican Bank”.
Pope Francis, according to Politi, has a good network of supporters but he also has many enemies. These are the wolves he must work with on a daily basis. PF had to learn a bit the hard way how to navigate the concerted efforts to trip him up in the early months of his papacy. In the interview done in September 2013 by Antonio Spadaro for the world-wide Jesuit journals, when Francis was asked “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” he didn’t only answer the famous “I am a sinner”. He also described himself as “naïve, but a bit astute”. After reading this book, I would say naivety is out the window and astuteness has ratcheted up a few levels.
Are the threats to Francis real? Politi is indicating that with his book. But he also tells us of a man who is not easily frightened by what he lives with on a day to day basis. After all, this is a man who navigated the so-called “Dirty Wars” in Argentina as the very young Provincial of his order, was able to save the lives of two of his order who were arrested by the junta, something that almost never happened, but also lived to tell about it. He has a level of “toughness” under his gentle and tender demeanor. The directions of the threats are multi-pronged: Mafia, those who fear a loss of power, the Traditionalist throughout the world who do not like this pope one bit. The maneuverings of some of the cardinals is eye-opening. Politi also gives us his thoughts on what Pope Francis needs to do to navigate all of this. The title of this book alone has raised the quite vocal outrage of some of the higher ups in the Curia. In my opinion, that means it is too close to the truth and making them uncomfortable.
The book at times reads like a thriller and it is hard to realize that it is not fiction. I picked this book up while I was in Rome in October of 2015. It was a surreal experience to sit on the steps of the Colonnades circling Vatican Square and read it while I ate my lunch. The lunches were long ones those few days it took me to read this book, as I could not put it down. This is a “must read” for anyone who is interested in following the papacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis, and the events unfolding in the Church today.