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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

An American Pope Francesco

In my previous post I started a review of The Vicar of Christ by Walter F. Murphy. The book covers the life of Declan Walsh from American war hero through Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court to Pope. It is impossible but in Murphy transcends the impossible.

After the death of his wife Walsh has resigned as Chief Justice and joined a Trappist monastery as a simple monk.

In Rome the College of Cardinals is at an impasse between the traditionalist cardinals and the servant cardinals over the election of a new pope. Repeated votes have revealed no path to a pope.

Ugo Cardinal Galeotti, a former papal diplomat in America, decides to propose Walsh as a means of breaking the stalemate. It is possible to elect a non-cardinal, even a layman, as pope.

He provides a stirring oration in support of Walsh:

Walsh has been touched by the finger of God. He was a hero, not merely a participant, but a wounded hero in two wars, one against fascism, one against communism. He was born here among us, and returned to us as a mature man, the representative of his government. Since that time he has been selected for the most prestigious judicial office in the secular world. He relinquished that office in the midst of a distinguished career. He relinquished it not for material advancement but to enter a monastery in the service of God, not even as a priest but as a simple brother. We do not look on these events as fortuitous accidents, random events for which reasons are lacking. We see the finger of God illuminating for us the shape of a man to lead us.”

Elected pope Walsh choses the name of Francesco (Francis). Many have note the parallels between the fictional Francesco and the current Pope Francis.

What makes the remainder of the book fascinating for me is how Murphy weaves into the story the complex issues faced by Francesco.

Faced with a war in the Middle East in which Egypt is bombarding Tel Aviv with missiles he offers himself as a mediator. When the offer is rejected Francesco, over the objections of all, flies to Tel Aviv to stay with an old friend. With a role in the world limited to moral authority he will use the power of his presence. Egypt halts its missiles.

Francesco repeats several times he is not afraid to be a martyr for God's truth. It is not often in the 21st Century that we hear Christian leaders talk of martyrdom.

Within the Church Francesco wrestles with the bureaucracy of a worldwide church of hundreds of millions of people.

He sets out to establish a great crusade to inspire the Church.

His goals for the Church are challenged by the distraction of a series of people in different parts of the world claiming they have been miraculously cured by touching him. Are they are real miracles or hysterical cures?

Despite discounting the miracles Francesco continues to allow the sick and crippled to touch him. Is he shifting from a practical religious leader to a mystic who has come to believe that he has been touchded by the finger of God? He expresses "utter confidence in his own judgment".

The traditionalists are angry. They see a pope entering into heresy. In a clever use of language by Murphy a leaker of Vatican information is titled "Holy Throat".

While the election of Francesco can never be plausible his life and death as Pope are completely believable. The opening sentence states Francesco is dead.

Forty years after publication The Vicar of Christ remains a remarkable book.
Murphy, Walter F. – (2001) and (2018) - The Vicar of Christ


  1. This does sound interesting, Bill. As you say, it's not plausible, but I can see how Murphy makes the story - and Francesco's life - believable. That takes skill on the part of the author. It sounds as though there's a bit of a look at life in the Vatican, too, and that's interesting as well.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. One of the interesting issues is how many issues from 1978 remain issues in the Church in 2018.

  2. That career arc sounds like it would make for a good read... I am tempted by your description of this one, always like books about the Catholic church.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. Declan Walsh lived a life of genuine action and genuine reflection. A rare and fascinating combination. The examination of the Catholic Church explores the complexities of the Church rarely addressed in fiction.