Review: The Power and the Glory – David Yallop

This lengthy book, The Power and the Glory, is an account of the John-Paul II years, but with the rose-tinted glasses removed.  David Yallop has assembled an incredible amount of material to present the behind the scenes story of what really went on in the Vatican, particularly focusing on the fall of communism, the scandals that beset the Vatican Bank, and the child-abuse scandal for which the Catholic Church has become a by-word in recent years.  But the main focus is on John-Paul himself and the man behind the myth.

The book is biographical to a degree and demolishes quite a few myths about John-Paul, not least the story of his war-years when far from rescuing Jews from Nazism as the official story goes, he was closeted away in protected employment and had little to do with resistance or rescue operations.

Although John-Paul abhorred the communist system as such, once he became Pope, he adopted the usual Vatican diplomacy line of working with communist states rather than trying to destroy them. The eventual fall of communism was far more to do with Russian President Gorbachev than the then Pope.  John-Paul II had a blind spot about liberation theology and this prompted him to follow the Reagan line of supporting extreme right-wing governments in South America rather than working with his own priests to relieve the suffering of the poor.

Yallop is particularly strong on the Vatican Bank and Banco Ambrosiano scandals and it is depressing to see how the upper echelons of the Vatican were totally embroiled in money-laundering and cover-ups, with Pope John-Paul refusing to do anything to remove those indulging in blatantly criminal behaviour.  But it is sections of Yallop’s book which deal with the child abuse scandal which are the most depressing.  The Pope stuck clearly to the line of “every family must have private rooms to discuss family matters”, and he repeatedly put the attempt to preserve the reputation of the church before the rights to justice of those who had suffered at the hands of so many Catholic priests.

This is not a happy read, but for anyone who has an interest in the Catholic Church it is essential reading.  Of course Pope John-Paul II will soon be made a Saint but the church he presided over, but no-one who has read this book will rejoice over this elevation.  It is even more depressing that the current Pope is entirely of the same mould as John-Paul II and is pursuing much the same policies.

Review: Six Feet Over – Mary Roach

Mary Roach spent a year investigating the outer fringes of psychic phenomena and has written up her findings in Six Feet Over,   a book full of healthy scepticism but also honest investigation.  She seems to be a generous and open-minded investigator who does not belittle the enthusiasts she meets and writes entertainingly of what she finds. Starting with “reincarnated children”, Mary Roach travels to India to meet children who are allegedly reincarnations of (mostly)deceased relatives and neighbours.  How unlike the western past-lives people who always seem to claim to be reincarnations of more glamorous subjects such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nefertiti  etc.  Because the surrounding culture is accepting of the childrens’ experiences, the children are not usually subject to even the most gentle questioning of their claims, and Roach finds that a little gentle interrogation of witnesses and the children themselves, soon makes the stories fall apart.

Roach then goes on to look at the history of psychic claims, beginning with the search for the “soul” – where does it reside, what happens when it leaves the body, where does it go? These were hot questions for early scientists of the 18th and 19th century and Roach describes their attempts to find the soul and track its progress from conception to death.  The experiments seem highly amusing to us, but Roach reminds us to see them in the context of the days when electricity and radio waves were just being discovered and seemed quite miraculous.  She then discovers researchers in the present day who are still on the quest for the soul (in the Univeristy of Arizona for example).

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