This is a big gossipy book that reads as if assembled from a series of shorter journalistic articles as it may well have been. Parts go over the same terrain repeatedly -- it would have been better with tight editing. But I did find some insights of interest to me that I'll enumerate here.
- The discussion of how the Jesuit Provincial Jorge Bergoglio, the future pope, dealt with the Argentine dictatorship and murderous Dirty War of the 1970's looks at this contested subject from several viewpoints without drawing any definitive conclusions. Vallely includes a brutal description of the torture chamber run by the Navy and includes testimony to the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy with this regime. He also gives a vivid sense of how middle class citizens of Buenos Aires tried to keep their heads down and just get by amid the horror. Bergoglio definitely sought to keep his community away from politics, especially from opposing the regime in defense of the poor; subsequently he apparently felt he had acted highhandedly and without due discernment, but Vallely comes to no conclusion about his concrete collusion with the military. He was removed from leadership by higher ups for a season, though eventually he was made the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
- In that role, he was a champion of what was known as the "Theology of the People" which vied with and also took up much of the "Theology of Liberation."
Yet by choosing to place himself in the slums, with the people, Bergoglio seems to have been changed by his practice. The acknowledged founder of Liberation Theology, Leonardo Boff, says Pope Francis should be considered a convert to a gospel of liberation these days.
- On the topic of Pope Francis' famous response to a question about homosexuals in the Church -- "who am I to judge?" -- Vallely turns to the observations of the priest and theologian James Alison about the men who make up the Catholic hierarchy. Alison asserts that many of these celibate churchmen are deeply conflicted gays which makes their coming to terms with homosexuality nearly impossible.
- Vallely offers a full account of the criticisms from many Catholic women that, for all his openness and emphasis on pastoral presence, this Pope just can't see women as full, adult human beings. He quotes a question that Mary McAleese, a former President of the Republic of Ireland, put to the Pope: