The inside story on the Vatican

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One of the most respected journalists assigned to the Vatican is John Allen, correspondent for The National Catholic Reporter, a progressive U.S. newspaper. Mr. Allen wrote a book entitled All the Pope’s Men in 2004 which sets out to build bridges between his readers (especially those in North America) and those who work at the Vatican. The book was written in the small town of Gubbio, Italy. This is most appropriate as it is the town where St. Francis brought reconciliation between the feared wolf and the villagers. Truly a story of healing and understanding.

Probably the most important point the book makes is that there is no such as thing as “the Vatican”.  That presumes that there is a group of people in Rome (them) who all share the same mindset which at times is at odds with what average Catholics (us) want. (Actually the Vatican refers to the location in Rome. The administrative headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church is more correctly known as the “Holy See”.)
Allen makes the point that the Holy See is made up of all sorts of people; young and old, conservative and liberal, service-oriented or power hungry.

The Holy See reflects the diversity of the Church.  Sometimes these diverse perspectives are at odds with one another.  Allen gives the example of one high ranking official who was displeased by the use of dance in the liturgy such as might be seen in a special Hawaiian mass.  He issued directives that this should not be done.  At the same time, the Master of Ceremonies for the Pope was encourage local communities to use cultural expressions, such as dance when the Holy Father was celebrating liturgy in their countries.  Which one spoke for the Vatican? Both.

Another interesting point is that much of the tensions between North American’s and the Holy See stems from Vatican officials associating authority in the Church to Holy Orders. Everything flows from priesthood.  Others would say that all baptised members of the Church can share in that authority and service.  Allen presents a balanced perspective on both beliefs.

This is a really informative book that people who are interested in the Church should definitely read.


  1. Quite honestly we’re all lost with the new Pope (at least in Old Europe). Personally I’m not sure that what he’s done so far – especially with Mass in Latin and bringing the integrists back is a good thing. Do we need to go that backwards? A French Catholic paper had published an article about the Pope who no longer wanted churchgoers to applaud in church. The article also added that individuals could write to their local bishop to complain if need be. Well about a fortnight ago we all applauded in church to congratulate a newly-wedded couple. Suppose what we did was wrong, Vatican-wise. I am not waiting to see how the Pope will punish us once he gets a report from the local Bishop saying that we applauded in Church.
    My dear brothers and sisters … all this is becoming perfectly ridiculous.

  2. The dynamics of the church global are very interesting. South America (those that have not become Penecostal anyway) are very traditional. Here in the US it seems to be developing along generational lines (the young moving traditional & the old more spirit of Vatican II). Given Europe’s very low attendance (10%?) I would have thought it would be very traditional and conservative, but perhaps not.

    I agree that John Allen while I don’t agree with some of what he says, he certainly does a fair and balanced review on the book and his articles.

  3. Vatican II teaches that both “ministerial and common” priesthood share to serve and to lead the Church. But, reality speaks that most official leadership still belongs to the “institutional” Church. Maybe, the Church is still in the process of adjusting to the spirit of Vatican II for almost 50 years already. There is still hope……

  4. Michael,
    If your couple had a nuptial mass at their wedding then you shouldn’t be applauding (applause is a sign of approval by an audience for stage performers).

    To quote the Holy Father:

    “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

    Pope Benedict XVI
    in The Spirit of the Liturgy

  5. We applaud at Ordinations to show our support of the Church’s selection of a candidate for Orders. I’ve seen applause at Papal masses which made the Pope smile and laugh. I guess it’s not so much applause as the “why” of the applause. We don’t applaud someone’s singing or preaching. We applaud to show consent, support or as an expression of praise… TO GOD.

  6. Why the “applause” becomes an issue? Have we not ever think of “Inculturation?” This requires more creativity far beyond we can imagine…. actions/movements to give more life in the Liturgy. The act of “applauding is just nothing compared to what is going on in an “Inculturated Liturgy.”The “applause” being done in the context of the celebration( for me) adds meaning to the celebration.

    This might be one of the reasons why many young people are not comfortable to be in the Church because of the liturgical dynamics seemed have no connection with real life or with very human elements like that issue of “applause.” Thanks be to God that my Church is very alive. It seemed every Sunday is a Pentecost Sunday. Praise God!!!!

  7. I would certainly feel distracted if the applause takes place right in the middle of the Liturgy. But it’s ok at the end of Mass.
    Still expecting someone from the Parish to complain to the local Bishop for punishment. :))
    No one has so far ….

  8. Protestants follow their conscience, Catholics follow the teaching authority of the Church. Michael… No Catholic has the right to freestyle expression at Mass-and for good reason. It would only be a matter of time before some parish liturgical committee decided that celebration at the end of mass would be better served by changing “Ite Missa Est” into “it’s Miller time” and passing out the brewskies.

    You don’t have to guess at gesture and posture at the Mass, nor do you have to rely on the local parish priest who may be guessing himself. We have God’s gift to the Church-the teaching magisterium-to help us. The Church’s (and therefore Christ’s) teaching on the Mass is the teaching of the Council of Trent which declared that the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, is present and offered in an unbloody manner in the Mass.

    If you were historically present at Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, I’m sure you wouldnt’ be applauding. Well, that’s the equivalent here. You and I are present at Christ’s sacrifice at every mass, so penitence, sacrifice, and thanksgiving is what is called for.

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