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Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism: Revised and Updated Edition

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For the past two years Pope Francis has enchanted and bewildered the world in equal measure with his compassion and his contradictions. Expanding greatly on his acclaimed earlier book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Paul Vallely reexamines the complex past of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and adds nine new chapters, revealing many untold, behind-the-scenes stories from his first For the past two years Pope Francis has enchanted and bewildered the world in equal measure with his compassion and his contradictions. Expanding greatly on his acclaimed earlier book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Paul Vallely reexamines the complex past of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and adds nine new chapters, revealing many untold, behind-the-scenes stories from his first years in office that explain this Pope of paradoxes. Vallely lays bare the intrigue and in-fighting surrounding Francis's attempt to cleanse the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank. He unveils the ambition and arrogance of top bureaucrats resisting the Pope's reform of the Roman Curia, as well as the hidden opposition at the highest levels that is preventing the Church from tackling the sex abuse crisis. He explains the ambivalence of Pope Francis towards the role of women in the Church, which has frustrated American Catholic women in particular. And Vallely charts the battle lines that are being drawn between Francis and conservatives and traditionalists talking of schism in this struggle for the soul of the Catholic Church. Consistently Francis has show a willingness to discuss issues previously considered taboo, such as the ban on those who divorce and remarry receiving Communion, his liberal instincts outraging traditionalists in the Vatican and especially in the Church hierarchy in the United States. At the same time, many of his statements have reassured conservative elements that he is not, in fact, as radical as he might appear. Behind the icon of simplicity that Pope Francis projects is a steely and sophisticated politician who has learned from the many mistakes of his past. The Pope with the winning smile was previously a bitterly divisive figure. In his decade as leader of Argentina's Jesuits left that religious order deeply split. His behavior during Argentina's Dirty War, when military death squads snatched innocent people from the streets, raised serious questions. Yet after a period of exile and what he has revealed as 'a time of great interior crisis' he underwent an extraordinary transformation - on which Vallely sheds new and fascinating light. The man who had been a strict conservative authoritarian was radically converted into a listening participative leader who became Bishop of the Slums, making enemies among Argentina's political classes in the process. Charting Francis's remarkable journey to the Vatican and his first years at work there, Paul Vallely has produced a deeply nuanced and insightful portrait of perhaps the most influential person in the world today. 'Pope Francis,' he writes, 'has not just demonstrated a different way of being a pope. He has shown the world a different way of being a Catholic.'


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For the past two years Pope Francis has enchanted and bewildered the world in equal measure with his compassion and his contradictions. Expanding greatly on his acclaimed earlier book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Paul Vallely reexamines the complex past of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and adds nine new chapters, revealing many untold, behind-the-scenes stories from his first For the past two years Pope Francis has enchanted and bewildered the world in equal measure with his compassion and his contradictions. Expanding greatly on his acclaimed earlier book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, Paul Vallely reexamines the complex past of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and adds nine new chapters, revealing many untold, behind-the-scenes stories from his first years in office that explain this Pope of paradoxes. Vallely lays bare the intrigue and in-fighting surrounding Francis's attempt to cleanse the scandal-ridden Vatican Bank. He unveils the ambition and arrogance of top bureaucrats resisting the Pope's reform of the Roman Curia, as well as the hidden opposition at the highest levels that is preventing the Church from tackling the sex abuse crisis. He explains the ambivalence of Pope Francis towards the role of women in the Church, which has frustrated American Catholic women in particular. And Vallely charts the battle lines that are being drawn between Francis and conservatives and traditionalists talking of schism in this struggle for the soul of the Catholic Church. Consistently Francis has show a willingness to discuss issues previously considered taboo, such as the ban on those who divorce and remarry receiving Communion, his liberal instincts outraging traditionalists in the Vatican and especially in the Church hierarchy in the United States. At the same time, many of his statements have reassured conservative elements that he is not, in fact, as radical as he might appear. Behind the icon of simplicity that Pope Francis projects is a steely and sophisticated politician who has learned from the many mistakes of his past. The Pope with the winning smile was previously a bitterly divisive figure. In his decade as leader of Argentina's Jesuits left that religious order deeply split. His behavior during Argentina's Dirty War, when military death squads snatched innocent people from the streets, raised serious questions. Yet after a period of exile and what he has revealed as 'a time of great interior crisis' he underwent an extraordinary transformation - on which Vallely sheds new and fascinating light. The man who had been a strict conservative authoritarian was radically converted into a listening participative leader who became Bishop of the Slums, making enemies among Argentina's political classes in the process. Charting Francis's remarkable journey to the Vatican and his first years at work there, Paul Vallely has produced a deeply nuanced and insightful portrait of perhaps the most influential person in the world today. 'Pope Francis,' he writes, 'has not just demonstrated a different way of being a pope. He has shown the world a different way of being a Catholic.'

30 review for Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism: Revised and Updated Edition

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    I was curious to read this book, after hearing bits and pieces about this pope that seemed conflicting to the man that he had become. I am glad I read Paul Vallelly's account. He presented both sides of his growth and metamorphosis. He has a way to go on some issues, but he is bringing the catholic church back to the gospel, to the promises of Vatican 2, to the reformation of the financial issues, to care of the poor. But as Vallelly points out the stilted response to the women's issue, the ongo I was curious to read this book, after hearing bits and pieces about this pope that seemed conflicting to the man that he had become. I am glad I read Paul Vallelly's account. He presented both sides of his growth and metamorphosis. He has a way to go on some issues, but he is bringing the catholic church back to the gospel, to the promises of Vatican 2, to the reformation of the financial issues, to care of the poor. But as Vallelly points out the stilted response to the women's issue, the ongoing sex abuse are a work in progress. After completing the book I am a hopeful Catholic.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Charles Shenk

    Great book about Pope Francis - I learned so much about him - his struggles, disappointments, failures but his accomplishments as a human being. However it is filled with much details and data so you need to be patient while reading this book. After reading this book I have a high regard for him and hope that he can continue to reform the curia and the church in general.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rosalind Simon

    Good book on all the challenges and turmoil that the Pope faced and what makes him who he is. Parts of the book seems repetitive but generally a good read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    BJ Brown

    Selected chapters--mostly the ones dealing with Francis' papacy to date. Filling in my background knowledge. Selected chapters--mostly the ones dealing with Francis' papacy to date. Filling in my background knowledge.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Maria Beardsley

    Learned a lot but a little dense. Kudos to the author for capturing a moving target.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Julie Tedjeske Crane

    I read this as part of my preparations for a trip to Italy. It is an excellent biography of an exceptional person. This is a revised edition which includes an extensive discussion of the Pope's successes and failures as Pope. The revised edition also includes additional research regarding what happened during Argentina's "dirty war." Perhaps the most interesting thing about Pope Francis is how he has changed over time. In this respect, the book's opening quote sets the tone perfectly: "In a high I read this as part of my preparations for a trip to Italy. It is an excellent biography of an exceptional person. This is a revised edition which includes an extensive discussion of the Pope's successes and failures as Pope. The revised edition also includes additional research regarding what happened during Argentina's "dirty war." Perhaps the most interesting thing about Pope Francis is how he has changed over time. In this respect, the book's opening quote sets the tone perfectly: "In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."--John Henry Cardinal Newman Early on, the book includes a scathing quote from a senior Jesuit who was asked to comment when Francis became Pope [regarding his tenure with the Jesuits]: "It was an absurd situation. He is well-trained and very capable, but is surrounded by this personality cult which is extremely divisive. He has an aura of spirituality which he uses to obtain power. It will be a catastrophe for the Church to have someone like him in the Apostolic See. . . " Pope Francis rose to power within the Jesuits in his mid-30s during a terrible time in which the Church (and the CIA) were complicit in the torture and "disappearing" of tens of thousands of people. With respect to Pope Francis' role in this, the book makes clear that he had inside sources who tipped him off and thus he was able to help some people within the church who would have been targeted. On the other hand, he is accused of allowing the arrest of two Jesuits who disobeyed his orders. What actually happened seems unclear, although I did not get the impression that the Pope had entirely clean hands. In addition to this particular incident, the Pope was generally seen as dour and autocratic during his time with the Jesuits. As a result of his troubled tenure, the Pope found himself in exile in Cordoba--essentially washed-up by age 50. Interestingly, during this period the Pope seems to have undergone a profound transformation. He became genuinely humble. The book notes that his critics don't really buy this transformation (the books quotes the Yiddish proverb that "too humble is half proud"), but I tend to think the change is largely genuine. When Pope Francis describes himself as a sinner, I think he means it. He knows he has made terrible mistakes and counts himself among those in need of mercy. After Cordoba, the Pope became the "Bishop of the Slums," which is a persona that is a lot closer to what people think of when they think of the Pope as he is now. The second part of the book covers the Pope's tenure as Pope. The book acknowledges what is pretty obvious--the Pope works hard at cultivating his image. In fact, the book starts out with an anecdote that sums this up nicely: the pope's bag was on a plane, but he had it taken off the plane so that he could be seen by reporters carrying his own bag onto the plane. Despite the obvious stagecraft, simple living is one virtue (unlike humility) that seems to be part of the Pope's essential personality. Efforts to clean up the Vatican bank, diversify Church leadership in terms of both ideology and geography, and open up the Church in a pragmatic way seem to be some of the Pope's successes. Of course, he has achieved whatever success he has because, despite his avuncular image, he is no fool and he will move against those who challenge him. The incident with the individuals who set up the Kim Davis meeting demonstrates this well. Two areas where the Pope has been something of a disappointment are the sex abuse scandals and the role of women. Even here, the Pope seems capable of introspection and taking advice. It is clear that he simply does not have a good grasp of modern, Western women. This makes sense in terms of his life experience, which has been as a sheltered man living in a male-dominated society. I like the stories of the Swedish Ambassador speaking truth to the Pope on this issue--telling him that idealized essentialism of women as "nice" isn't helpful, and I like that she gave him a copy of Nicholas Kristof's book (which he may have been aware of). With regard to the sex abuse scandal, it seems like the Pope's natural inclination is not to react as forcefully as he should. Here again, he seems capable, at least to a certain extent, of taking advice--in particular, from Cardinal O'Malley, who had some first-hand experience with dealing with this difficult issue. In sum, although this is a longish, dense book, I would highly recommend it to Catholics, lapsed Catholics like me, or anyone who is interested in biographies of world leaders.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rashmi

    I am not a Christian, let alone a catholic but there is something about Pope Francis that is humbling. This book is insightful - His life as Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became Pope and how he changed, and his life as Pope Francis. It is interesting and refreshing to see that we have a Pope who is open to change, has an acceptance for social change. Has a fantastic sense of humor. No he isn't in favor of gay marriage but at least he is open to civil unions and in his words 'who am I to judge' I am not a Christian, let alone a catholic but there is something about Pope Francis that is humbling. This book is insightful - His life as Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he became Pope and how he changed, and his life as Pope Francis. It is interesting and refreshing to see that we have a Pope who is open to change, has an acceptance for social change. Has a fantastic sense of humor. No he isn't in favor of gay marriage but at least he is open to civil unions and in his words 'who am I to judge' . He works for the poor, he washed and kissed the feet of prisoners which included Christians and Non Christians, men and women. The latter completely unheard of by the Vatican. He is civil and accepting of atheists. He cleaned up the Vatican bank. When you read the chapter on the corruption that was prevailing in the Vatican Bank, it felt like you were reading a mystery crime thriller! These are some quotes from the book that resonate with how I feel: "He knows that a sense of touch is often missing from the life of the city" said a Vatican Insider. "He understands the physicality of human touch, the washing of the feet, the kissing of the disfigured man, the embrace of the transgendered man cold-shouldered by his parish priest." "Let's be the church of Yes, not No. When the people in the pews were asked what they liked about Pope Francis, their answers were revealing: his warmth, his smile, his simplicity, his humility, his audacity, his joy, his sense of liberation, his respect for people of them faiths and even for atheists. Above all. People cited his ordinariness, his extraordinary ordinariness. He is one of us." And lastly - more work still be done - "Former president of the Republic of Ireland, Mary McAleese - he's a lovely person, everybody likes him and women like him. We love his smile, his openness, we love his accessibility, we love his frankness, we love the ease of him, but we also know that's not enough....."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paulette

    This is a very revealing book of both the man, his efforts to reform the Church and the resistance still within the Church to deal with the priest sex abuse cases and the need to improve the role of women in the church. I found the chapters on his reforming the Vatican Bank fascinating. Throughout this book you get a good sense of how the Vatican has been run all these years and it is appalling at the secrecy and nepotism that permeates this institution. Even more sad was to see how there is sti This is a very revealing book of both the man, his efforts to reform the Church and the resistance still within the Church to deal with the priest sex abuse cases and the need to improve the role of women in the church. I found the chapters on his reforming the Vatican Bank fascinating. Throughout this book you get a good sense of how the Vatican has been run all these years and it is appalling at the secrecy and nepotism that permeates this institution. Even more sad was to see how there is still a cabal of insiders determined to thwart the Pope on his reforms and determined not to deal appropriately with pedaphile priests and those who cover up for them. This book is excellent in detailing biographical background on this Jesuit priest from Argentina who became Pope and one of the most popular Popes in recent history. Very much worth the read, even if you are an atheist (and recovering Catholic) like myself. Highly recommend.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    I think this is important for many Catholics to read. It's very much written from an outsider perspective, which comes with it's own set of biases (focusing on the 'archaicness' of the Church, instead of focusing on previous goods of the Church) but for the most part it's an eye-opening account of what has gone into making Pope Francis who he is, as well as seeing the way the world outside the Church views him and what he has been doing in his papacy thus far. It's also a bit of a wake-up call f I think this is important for many Catholics to read. It's very much written from an outsider perspective, which comes with it's own set of biases (focusing on the 'archaicness' of the Church, instead of focusing on previous goods of the Church) but for the most part it's an eye-opening account of what has gone into making Pope Francis who he is, as well as seeing the way the world outside the Church views him and what he has been doing in his papacy thus far. It's also a bit of a wake-up call for the faithful to see the world the way Pope Francis does- not insular towards the Church, but a sending forth of the Church outwards into what the world needs most from Catholics today. Also a great lesson to those confused about what can and cannot change in the Church.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Don Heiman

    Paul Vallely published "Pope Francis --the Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism" in 2015. The book updates an earlier biography on Pope Francis written by Valley. The author uses a journalistic style with a distinctive British penchant for irony, story telling, and humor. I found the book very interesting and full of insight into the affairs and emerging direction of Catholic magisterium thought. Paul Vallely published "Pope Francis --the Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism" in 2015. The book updates an earlier biography on Pope Francis written by Valley. The author uses a journalistic style with a distinctive British penchant for irony, story telling, and humor. I found the book very interesting and full of insight into the affairs and emerging direction of Catholic magisterium thought.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ginny

    Wonderful insights into the man of the moment. Highly recommended.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Massimo

  13. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Taylor

  14. 5 out of 5

    jack maddison

  15. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rob

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mick

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rosa Mandel

  20. 5 out of 5

    Creolecat

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aloysius

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bob

  24. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Kivlehan

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul Carmichael

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary L. Travis

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rose

  28. 4 out of 5

    mgm miller

  29. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark Russell

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