Andrew M(oran) Greeley George W. Cornell - Essay

George W. Cornell

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Making of the Popes 1978 is] a fascinating chronicle, marvelously candid, rippling with pointed anecdotes, revealing conversations, rumors and rivalries, the sights, manners and sounds of old Rome, crisp, quick sketches of personalities and issues, fleshed out with emotional tension and relevant dashes of history. It looks like a real winner.

Because of the book's particular sequential mode and Greeley's fidelity to it before the unexpected tumble of events, the account is also essentially self-effacing. (p. 4)

The running, diary entries, recorded with the freshness of immediacy, are interspersed with subsequent, time-ripened passages set apart in boldface type. They provide fuller perspective and information gathered after the events, explaining how the unanticipated became reality, including votes in the secret conclaves.

The format makes for an unusual, charming turn-about, in which the reader has the advantage of sitting back in ex post facto wisdom and watching the author struggle and squirm with valid clues he relentlessly turns up and discards….

He also offers lively summations of contemporary church issues, apt glimpses into the church's past of a less centralized papacy and open, popular elections. He sets forth the ramshackle state of Vatican finances, the bottleneck of the Vatican press office, the lack of departmental coordination….

What keeps the book crackling with life are the images of Roman activity and attitudes, the dizzying traffic and finger-shaking ritual of accidents, the Roman clergy who never smile even "at one another," the rain and sun, the restaurant menus, the searchlights playing over the Sistine Chapel with its erratic smoke signals, the "beautiful vintage moon" riding low over the Via Della Conciliazione, Greeley's own fluctuating glee and despondency. (p. 5)

George W. Cornell, in a review of "The Making of the Popes 1978," in The Critic (© The Critic 1979; reprinted with the permission of the Thomas More Association, Chicago, Illinois), Vol. 38, No. 4, September, 1979, pp. 4-5, 8.