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How to become Pope

(This entry was originally posted in April 2005. I encourage readers to track down the books on eBay or elsewhere; would be interested to hear what others make of them)

Since it's that time of century, I thought I would dig out of my memory four books I remember having read where the protagonist becomes Pope. I've lost my copies of them, if I ever had them, long ago.

Peter de Rosa, Pope Patrick. Written in 1995, set in 2009 after the death of John Paul II. This has got some quite good reviews, but I don't know why; I thought it was a load of rubbish. Irish country priest gets sort of accidentally elected Pope; outlaws banking (or at least banking with interest); bonds with the (Catholic) US president who defeated Sylvester Stallone in the 2008 election; eventually wiped out in a nuclear war with the Islamic world. Full of cod-Irishry.

Morris West, Shoes of the Fisherman. Written and set in 1963, the year of the death of John XXIII. Starts dramatically as a Ukrainian is elected pope without a ballot, the cardinals being suddenly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Nothing much then happens; the Church attempts to bridge the gap between the Soviet empire and the West, and somebody resembling Teilhard de Chardin gets into theological trouble. Made into a 1968 film with Anthony Quinn, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud. Unlike the other three books I list here, the Pope lives on for two sequels, which I have not read.

Fr Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian the Seventh. Written and set in 1904. Total wish-fulfillment of the author, himself a failed priest; the Cardinals, unable to agree on the new Pope, come and beg him to take over; he duly does so, sorts out the entire world by allocating large chunks of it to the Germans to run more efficiently, and is, inevitably, assassinated. Horrendously right-wing, even I suspect for 1904, but more passionately written than the above two.

Walter F. Murphy, Vicar of Christ. I think I have listed these in reverse order of when I read them and this was the first. Written and set in 1979. The hero in this case is much more interesting, an American war hero who has served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and then abruptly retires to a monastery after his wife is killed in a car crash. Like de Rosa's book, set after the death of John Paul II (but in this case after a one-year rather than a thirty-year reign); like in Hadrian the Seventh, the cardinals are deadlocked and go for an outside candidate, ie our protagonist. He proceeds to reform the Church drastically (reforms that are all still needed) and is, of course, assassinated at the end.

All of these books veer from earnest to silly, and I haven't read any of them for around a decade. To be honest I think Murphy's Vicar of Christ is the only one I would seek out again.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 11th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
The only one of these I've read is "Hadrian the Seventh", and even though I have a weakness for peculiar 19th and early 20th C novels on religious themes (I actually really enjoyed Newman's "Callista"), I can't really disagree with your assessment. Vicar of Christ sounds like I might quite enjoy it, though.
Feb. 11th, 2013 11:37 pm (UTC)
When I saw the title of your post, and that it was by you, I briefly hoped you'd found a way to accurately predict the next pontiff by means of LibraryThing and GoodReads scores.
Feb. 12th, 2013 12:13 am (UTC)
Hadn't thought of that! You may be interested to know that Kyril I (Morris West) is far ahead of the field on GoodReads, but only narrowly beats Hadrian VII (Rolfe/Corvo) on LibraryThing. Since we have already had an Eastern European, and as there is no English cardinal in the mix this year (for the first time since the early 19th century, I suspect), I don't think either book will turn out a good guide.
Feb. 19th, 2013 11:44 pm (UTC)
Another book is "Hitler Has Won" by Frederic Mullaly, in which Adolf Hitler becomes Pope after winning the war in Europe. Though Hitler is not actually the book's protagonist as such so this does not really fit your model.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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