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  • John Thavis

On the road with ‘The Vatican Diaries’

This week brings another change of scenery and a change of pace. I’m on a book tour on the West Coast, beginning in Seattle and continuing to Portland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Denver.

This is new territory for me, in more ways than one. Here are some first impressions:

— Interest in the Vatican has once again been revived by the election of a new pope. At a book event yesterday at Elliott Bay Book Company, the Q&A period went on for quite some time, with several questions focusing on whether Pope Francis wants to change things – and if he does, whether he’ll be “allowed” to do so.

There’s a general impression out there that no matter what a new pope’s good intentions, he’s going to run up against resistance from inside the Vatican. My own take is that while that’s undoubtedly true, this pope seems to know that he’s calling the shots. If he faces opposition to some of his ideas, he won’t be a shrinking violet.

— Financial issues are key to restoring Vatican credibility. I can’t tell you how many readers and interviewers have asked about the Vatican bank and its problematic history. I’m convinced that suppressing the bank and finding a new way to move church funds around the world would send an immediate signal that Pope Francis is serious about cleaning up financial mismanagement.

— There are some doubts whether the news media’s interest in the new pope will last. I had an interesting discussion about this during an interview this morning with Tom Tangeny of KIRO-FM’s Seattle Morning News.

Certainly Francis is enjoying a honeymoon period in which every act, however small or symbolic, has generated attention and, for the most part, appreciation. But the pope’s focus is clearly on the Gospel, Jesus Christ and spiritual wisdom, and those are not headline-generating themes for a news market that demands novelty and drama.

What will keep Francis in the news cycle are connections between Catholic teaching and real-world issues like social justice, ecology and economic policies. I expect the pope to make those connections and, perhaps, to punctuate them with actions and gestures that sometimes speak louder than encyclicals.

— People still read books. Yes, even books about the Vatican. They are hungry for information that goes beyond the headlines, and especially for profiles of real people who work behind the scenes.

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