Anatomy of the Vatican, an Irreverent View of the Holy See by Paul Hofmann (Rober Hale, £10.95) ONE BY ONE, the external trappings of Papal power have been stripped away. No longer are prelates admitted to the presence of the Pope expected to kiss the tip of one of his red slippers (Pope John Paul II prefers leather moccasins anyway). The bejewelled triple crown thas used to be placed on the head of a new Pope at the climax of the coronation ceremony has been sold to help the poor in New York.
This process, as Paul Hofmann makes clear in this latest example of "Vaticanology", has been accelerated by the characters of the recent Popes; the cheery down-to-earth John XXIII, who inaugurated Vatican II, the smiling John Paul I and the charismatic jet-setting John Paul II. But, suggests Hofmann, with the waning of the magic and the myth of the papacy there has been concomitant decline in influence and authority.
In the final section of the book, Hofmann, indulging in a little crystal ball gazing, predicts a future in which the Church is made up of scattered islands of belief in a predominently Godless world, where local Bishops' Conferences are all but autonomous and can make new appointments without reference to the Vatican, which itself has withered away, much of • its administrative apparatus having become superfluous.
The proper role of the Pope, as an authoritative voice calling for belief in the spiritual world and an adherence to unchanging ethical standards, will then be able to emerge from the "religious Hiancylan" the Vatican has been for centuries.
It is certainly true that many find it increasingly difficult to see what relevance the Vatican's curial apparatus to the Pope's prophetic function. The image of the Holy See has been substantially tarnished over recent years by well-publicised scandals and intrigues, from the Vatican Bank detente to the infighting between the Jesuits and secretive Opus Del, all vividly and fully described in the Anatomy of the Vatican.
None of the information that Hofmann parades is new; it could have been gleaned by anyone taking a more than average interest in Vatican affairs over the last three decades. But he does an excellent job in collating all the information in one back and, in doing so, he ties up many loose ends. He covers not only the method by which Pope's are elected, but also the role of the Swiss Guards and the day-to-day tasks of the bureaucrats.
But his central assumption, that clerics enter the world of the curia out of a desire for power and prestige rather than a vocation, means that he presents a distorted and one dimensional picture of the Vatican. Many curialists are reluctant appointees, and most believe that the Holy See is not merely a convenient managerial structure, but also, in some way, a reflection, however dim, of a higher spiritual order.