The Pope’s new book
by Sal Robinson
It’s probably a good time for the Pope to put out a new book, the third in his “Jesus of Nazareth” series, preceded by Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration and the controversial Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. This last takes things right back to the beginning, analyzing narratives of Christ’s birth and infancy. The millions of copies this ideally timed tome, in which it sounds like the most controversial argument Benedict makes is that there’s no evidence there were any animals in the stable in Bethlehem, will sell may help to obscure the presence of another book, journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi’s Sua Santità: Le Carte Segrete di Benedetto XVI (His Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI). Nuzzi’s book is a collection of leaked documents taken from the papal chambers, allegedly by the Pope’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, and at least twenty other whistleblowers. The documents included show evidence of cronyism, corruption, and power struggles at the Vatican, and they’ve been a major embarrassment for the Pope since Sua Santità came out early last year.
Sua Santità is one of those books where the story of how it was researched and written seems actually somewhat more exciting than the actual contents. According to a Reuters report by Silvia Aloisi and Paolo Biondi:
Nuzzi’s book describes the secretive meetings he had with his main source, codenamed “Maria.” After being tested during by a string of intermediaries, he was driven round the same Rome streets for an hour before reaching an empty apartment.
There, in a room furnished with a single plastic chair, he met “Maria,” whom he describes as a devout Catholic who has worked at the Vatican for nearly 20 years and who began setting aside documents after the death of Pope John Paul in 2005.
Getting into the spirit of things, Gabriele himself claims that, though he was the source for some of the documents, he did it for the Pope’s own good. “In a way, I felt like a secret agent for the Holy Spirit,” he’s quoted as saying in an article about the case by Michael Day in the Independent. But Day also points to the possibility of other higher sources for the docs:
The general belief among Vatican experts is that, as part of an ongoing power struggle, figures much higher in the pecking order than the butler have sought to damage the Pope’s right-hand man, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and even Benedict himself.
This has fuelled the belief that the prosecution of Paolo Gabriele has been, and will be, a stage-managed affair. One veteran Vatican expert, who wished not to be named, told The Independent yesterday that the process [Gabriele’s trial] to a “kangaroo court.”
It’s all enough to turn a person’s thoughts to oxen and donkeys at the manger….
Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.