What does a prize-winning Vatican journalist do after 30 years working at the Catholic Church’s epicenter? He moves back home to Minnesota and buys a canoe. That was New York Times bestselling author John Thavis just two years ago, sitting in his canoe most days wondering where the next great papal story would come from. Thavis spoke at USD on March 27 and shared his eyewitness accounts of reporting on the Holy See.
“I got clarity from my canoe in Minnesota,” said Thavis, as he reminisced about his three-decade career as a working journalist and bureau chief of Catholic News Service in Rome. Getting back home to the United States gave Thavis the clearer view and perspective he needed to write his best-seller The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church.
Thavis covered three papal transitions and much of his talk focused on the secrecy of the Vatican City and stylistic comparisons of the two recent papacies – Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
The Vatican is “hermetically sealed with leaks quite often,” Thavis admitted with irony. This disparity is more realized as humanity in motion and what makes the Vatican such a compelling place to cover as a journalist. The Vatican is like any workaday organization but lacks “cohesive communication,” he added.
Thavis explores in his book the pull of papal aides who pushed for social media applications while Pope Benedict largely shunned them. While these same aides created YouTube, Twitter and Facebook accounts for him, Pope Benedict received hundreds of personal emails but did not reply preferring to write in a steady pencil for communication.
From his book, he shared more of his insights about Pope Benedict: “Someone once asked me: When have you ever seen Pope Benedict express joy? I had to think long and hard. The spectrum of his public emotions typically ran from detached to mildly amused. Joy, delight, elation – or anger or indignation, for that matter – were just not in his emotional repertoire.”
Thavis did glimpse a Pope Benedict who likened himself to a music man – ”a man who saw himself as maestro. Faith was the music that never disappointed. He knew this music well, and he knew the consolation and satisfaction it offered. For eighty years he had comforted himself with its certainties, its harmony. And now he was trying, against all odds, to make everyone understand what to him seemed so apparent: This was a beautiful way to live.”
Thavis said he is encouraged by the renewed spirit of Pope Francis and how his vision is being shared with the next generation of Catholics focusing on the “simpler Gospel-driven invitation to salvation. The Vatican should lead the way,” he emphasized.
The presentation at USD was held in conjunction with the College of Arts and Sciences and Warwick’s Books.
— Colleen McNatt