Reviews - What do customers think about Passing the Keys: Modern Cardinals, Conclaves and the Election of the Next Pope?
An unprecedented detailed account of the recent Conclaves Apr 7, 2008
Paasing the Keys is about the choice of new Popes and the way that fast process affects years-long Papacies. Intriguing, and to be recommended especially to the Italian public, which has no easy access to the news you may find in the book. That is not a book about a religion, but about religious politics that even Catholics can appreciate. Some of the infos inside are quite surprising. One out of all the others is about former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, elevated to the cardinalship by Pope Paul VI as a reward for his progressive thinking.
Great Church History! May 26, 2005
"Passing The Keys" provides the reader with an excellent insight into the papal transitions of the past century. Commencing with the beginnings of the Contemporary Church during the reign of Leo XIII, Prof. Burkle-Young takes the reader through the Vatican and into the conclaves. He does this by reporting the illness and death of each Pontiff as well as the influence of each on the evolution of the College of Cardinals. This is fascinating history.
The ability of this book to explode many of the "facts" which we all know helps us see the Pontiffs in different lights and makes this book a winner!
The first election to be related in detail is that of Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) in 1939. Given the prevailing world situation at that time, the selection of Pacelli, the career diplomat over a papabili with pastoral experience, is very understandable. I remember Pius XII as I was starting school, but I see him much differently through the author's eyes. I was not surprised that what little he says about Pius and the Nazis reflects well on Pius. Two topics which he covered in great detail did come as surprises, one portraying Pius as a wise seer and the other as a flake. He is the only person of whom I have heard to have been disabled by hiccups. I remember hearing the story of how, when he seemed to be dying, Jesus appeared to him and told him that he would recover. I had no idea that the cause of the illness was the third administration of a cell injection treatment by a quack. The story of the disgusting decay of his body before burial raises serious questions as to the proficiency of the Vatican in 1958. In contrast to his bizarre judgment in medical treatment, the author portrays Pius XII as the architect of the ascension of a non-Italian to the chair of Peter. It took four successors, but he is portrayed as the first to envision that as a goal to be advanced by the internationalization of the College of Cardinals. I had heard that Cardinal Montini had been sent to Milan for pastoral experience needed to make him a serious papabile. I was surprised to read that he was exiled from the Vatican because he lost Pius' confidence.
John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli) brought his surprises also. I had always understood that he was a dark horse whose name was advanced after a deadlock developed between conservatives and liberals. As Prof. Burkle-Young presents it, Cardinal Roncalli was a front runner from the start. After his election he called Vatican II which provided a forum for progressives to extend their influence in the Church. Although he preferred an Italian pope, his main contribution to the electoral process was that he commenced the expansion of the College of Cardinals.
Prof. Burkle-Young comes down hardest on Paul VI (Giovanni Montini). Although he was the only non-cardinal in centuries believed to have received votes in a conclave (1958), he is characterized as generally a failure and some of his major reforms as little more than power grabs. The imposition of age limits on Cardinal electors, bishops and Curia officials, while seeming sensible to me, is presented as an effort to rid Paul of meddlesome priests before mortality would have done so. Paul's concentration of power in himself in the name of collegiality is presented as inconsistent and an unfortunate legacy. He does explain how Paul managed to mold the College to his liking by eliminating his opponents and elevating his own choices.
The election of John Paul I (Albino Luciani is presented as a rather bizarre bungle. Paul's favorite, Cardinal Benelli, too unpopular to be elected himself, served as a Grand Elector by mobilizing support for Cardinal Luciani as the Italian candidate. Almost incredible are the unfamiliarity of the electors of Luciani's fragile health and Luciani's failure to recognize what was being done around him. His own self doubts seem more intense than those of other pontiffs. Ultimately, the election of John Paul I was the outcome of Paul's molding of the College. An interesting fact was the mention that "Giampaolo" is a form of "John Paul" in Northeastern Italy suggesting that Luciani may not have realized that he was choosing a double name.
The death of John Paul I left the Italians with no suitable candidate. Force to let himself be presented, Benelli fell short, creating an opening for Karol Wojtyla of Poland.
Throughout his reign, John Paul II pursued his policy of internationalizing the College of Cardinals. Burkle-Young uses this portion of the narrative to lay the ground work for his predictions for the next conclave which, we now know, occurred in April 2005. I will tell you that this portion of the book focuses on several names which came up in the reports on the conclave. Expecting a conclave in 1999, several of the Cardinals who he expected to play key rolls were either dead or superannuated when it finally came. Read and find out for yourself how well he did.
When reading a book like this one is tempted to ask "How does he know that?" and "Is that really right?" With the requirements of secrecy, I wonder how reliable all of his details of the conclaves really are. How did he get exact vote totals? How does he know who said what if they were all bound to secrecy? I did catch one error, when he said that the St. Louis Cardinals, baseball and football, took their names in anticipation of the elevation of John Cardinal Glennon. I know that that was not the inspiration for the baseball team, and that the Chicago Cardinals did not move to St. Louis until 13 years after Glennon's death.
Such minor inconsistencies not withstanding, "Passing The Keys" is fascinating reading. It is a must for anyone with an interest in recent papal history.
Passing the Book: A flawed guide to Conclavology Apr 5, 2005
This month's coming conclave (April 2005) is all the context needed to realize one of the greatest difficulties with joining the burgeoning industry publishing guides to "The Election of the Next Pope" - the risk of becoming outdated is almost impossible to avoid.
Given the possibility that some interested layfolk or cramming journalist might pick up this volume in hopes of better understanding papal conclaves, however, it seems worthwhile to revisit "Passing the Keys: Modern Cadinals, Conclaves and the Election of the Next Pope" by Francis Burkle-Young, nominally a major media consultant and historian on the workings of the Vatican.
Already six years in the past, "Passing the Keys" stumbles out of the blocks with risky assumptions about the then-future: Burkle-Young assumes that John Paul II, already plagued with health difficulties, would very likely pass on before the end of the century. Yet the Holy Father proved much more resilient than Burkle-Young - and, in fairness, many other observers - suspected, extending his pontificate to a near record breaking 26 years, 5 months. In doing so he also held two more consistories in 2001 and 2003, creating 42 and 30 new cardinals respectively (out of a canonically standard body of only 120 voting cardinals) - greatly altering the complexion of the any future conclave to such an extent as to render the last part of his book largely irrelevant. It also allows Burkle-Young to fall victim to the same presumption which has defeated other Vatican watchers and Pope-makers - the Polish Pope had a knack for outliving many "papabili," either figuratively (by living so long as to render them too old to be viable) or literally. Burkle-Young's decisive prediction that "Carlo Maria Martini will probably be the next pope" (p. 431) falls into the former category: Martini is now retired and engaged in scholarship in Jerusalem, at 78 effectively too old to be considered a viable candidate.
"Passing the Keys" focuses almost entirely on the history and workings of consistories (meetings held for the appointment of new cardinals) and conclaves (the meeting as a body of al eleigible cardinals for the sole purpose of electing a new pope) in the 20th century. A brief chapter, "The beginnings of the Contemporary Church" skips lightly over the conclaves which elected Leo XIII (1878), Pius X (1903), Benedict XV (1914) and Pius XI (1922); the subsequent conclaves all get chapters unto themselves, albeit with the two "Pauline" conclaves of 1978 understandably combined into one chapter. Special chapters are devoted to the "Pauline Revolution," in which Paul VI's efforts to drastically alter the customs, rules and composition of the College of Cardinals are detailed, and to the developments and consistories in the early and later years of John Paul II. The book wraps up with the largely nugatory final chapter on "The Next Pope," followed by three appendices for the three currently operative apostolic constitutions governing the operation of conclaves: Universi Dominici Gregis (1996), Romano Pontifici Eligendo (1975) and Ingravescentem Aetatem (1970).
The obsolesence of the final chapter might be beyond Burkle-Young's control but other difficulties are more difficult to excuse. Commentators have long observed the numerous fact-checking failures which riddle "Passing the Keys." This seems all the more odd given Burkle-Young's considerable familiarity with Church history and operation: the misnaming of Avery Cardinal Dulles, the perplexing employment of "archdeacon" and "archpriest" instead of senior cardinal priest and senior cardinal deacon; the use of diminutives for the surnames of Cardinals Spellman, Mooney and McIntyre - to name just a few.
Yet even this is small change next to the more substantive difficulties with "Passing the Keys." It firstly suffers from a confusion of ambition: It tries to provide more than just a mere history of recent conclaves yet fails to provide enough background and grounding in canon law and theological context to be something more. Likewise it is written with more than just a standard journalese but never rises to a level of sophistication which would properly mark it as a a real scholarly contribution. Above all it is badly marred by a problematic theological perspective and a distinct ideological agenda which distorts the entire work. It declaims in the very first sentence that "Papal elections are human, not divine events." Certainly the human component is essential and undeniable (and sometimes flawed); but the rejection of even the pretence of the working of the Holy Spirit is one which would be firmly rejected by virtually every cardinal of the last century, let alone the previous nine, and thus leaves "Passing the Keys" operating on an entirely different plane than its nominal subject. This essentially modernist attitude not surprisingly informs a distinctly liberal perspective which shapes the entire narrative and the analysis of the papabili candidates: the voyage of the Church to move firmly "into the modern world" (p. 4), one begun gloriously under Leo XIII, then derailed by a scheming Hapsburg Emperor to produce the ultra-conservative Pius X, then resumed in halting steps with Pius XI and XII until coming into the full sun of enlightenment under that most cherished of liberal Popes, John XXIII - only to be yanked off the tracks again by "the most conservative Pope since Pius X," John Paul II (p. 288). Burkle-Young is left to wax hopefully that Cardinal Martini would be quickly elevated as (what else?) John XXIV, hopefully to move towards fulfilling so many liberal Catholic goals like women's ordination, liturgical simplification, scaling back of Marian devotions, increased ecumenical outreach, and allowance of divorce and contraception. All of which might be more bearable if Burkle-Young had simply been more frank about such agendas, though still difficult to square with some of the more problematic caricatures. Theologically, John Paul II was far closer to John XXIII (who would have shrunk in dismay from many of these current liberal goals) than any of his pre-conciliar predecessors. But then theology is not one of the strong points of "Passing the Keys." Church factions are always reduced to mere party positions.
All of which is not to say "Passing the Keys" is totally without value. It is admirably footnoted and provides a reasonable guide to further reading on the subjct; and includes certain obscure anecdotes of note, such as Karol Wojtyla's initial desire to be names Pope Stanislaus, the horrific details of Pius XII's failed embalming, or the raising of 120,00 lira for expenses at the 1922 conclave when it seemed that a long, protracted conclave was afoot. The vote totals of various ballots in recent conclaves are also of interest, if of dubious veracity given the difficulty, which Burkle-Young notes early on, of verifying notoriously secret conclave ballots. But for those wanting more current and accurate conclave - and papabile - information, they might be best off sticking with National Catholic Reporter's admirable John Allen - wither his recent books "Conclave" and "The Next Pope," or, better yet, his recent and current writings on the subject in NCR.
A Narrative Lacking Insight Jan 24, 2003
This book is written in a readable style which is probably due to the author's skills as a journalist. To my mind, the effort Burkle-Young makes at writing this narrative produces a product typical of the information age. This is a weakness as well as a strength depending on the reader's interest level and intent. The book seemed to supply more information than I knew what to do with. I found myself asking, "so what?" on more than one occasion and losing interest in the subject matter under discussion. The book probably would provide an entertaining read for the theologian but it does not seem to afford much theological insight. To my mind, the book has its place in the public forum of religious information. I have not placed this book on any bibliographies of theological courses I teach. Burkle-Young is correct when he writes in the Foreword that his book "...is a narrative with a historical perspective, and should not be regarded as an academic work..." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
A Narrative Lacking Theological Insight May 16, 2002
This book is written in a readable style which is probably due to the author's skills as a journalist. To my mind, the effort Burkle-Young makes at writing this narrative produces a product typical of the information age. This is a weakness as well as a strength depending on the reader's interest level and intent. The book seemed to supply more information than I knew what to do with. I found myself asking, "so what?" on more than one occasion and losing interest in the subject matter under discussion. The book probably would provide an entertaining read for the theologian but it does not seem to afford much theological insight. To my mind, the book has its place in the public forum of religious information. I have not placed this book on any bibliographies of theological courses I teach. Burkle-Young is correct when he writes in the Foreword that his book "...is a narrative with a historical perspective, and should not be regarded as an academic work..."