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White Smoke: A Novel of Papal Election [Mass Market Paperback]

Andrew M. Greeley
2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 15 1997
The cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered in Rome for the papal election following the death of the incumbent pope. Torn by internal conflict and with many of its members alienated, the Church faces one of the most serious crises in its history. A coalition of cardinals favors a more moderate and pluralistic style of papal governance, but must contend with shadowy Vatican forces that oppose change and loss of their own power. These forces are determined to destory the coalition's candidate, a gentle and brilliant Spanish scholar. The leader of the coalition is Chicago's wily Sean Cardinal Cronin, aided by his patently indispensable sidekick, Bishop John Blackwood "Blackie" Ryan.

A lone assassin stalks the Vatican, his crazed mission: to destroy the next pope as soon as the traditional white smoke issues from the cardinals' meeting room--the Sistine Chapel--followed by the ancient words Habemus papam.

Can politics--Chicago style--turn the Catholic Church around? What will happen when the next pope must be chosen? Only Andrew M. Greeley, priest, bestselling novelist, and respected sociologist could have written this blockbuster tale of the forces actually ripping the Church apart, and of the next papal election, when the fate of the entire Catholic Church itself may well hang in the balance.

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From Amazon

The Vatican and the New York Times are just two of the sacred cows milked for all they're worth by Andrew M. Greeley in White Smoke. Greeley's starting point--the openness and tolerance espouse by Pope John XXIII in 1963 has, in the intervening decades, been squashed by more conservative forces. Greeley's ending point: the election of a liberal pope who is not only a pro-feminist, but who was once married. In between, he skewers the New York Times in the person of correspondent Dennis Michael Mulloy, a "typical Irish Catholic journalist--magical with words, a fall-down drunk, divorced, fallen away from the church." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A priest's collar adorns Greeley's neck, of course, and the title refers to the smoke issued from the Vatican when a new pope is chosen-but you don't have to be Catholic to enjoy the author's wise and witty latest (after Irish Gold). For all the ecclesiastical trappings, the real story here is "the ancient and honorable art of politics, second only to poetry in Plato's view of things." The source of that line is frequent Greeley narrator Auxiliary Bishop John Blackwood (Blackie) Ryan of Chicago, who spends almost as much time keeping his superior, Sean Cardinal Cronin, healthy as he does politicking during the election of the new pope. The just-deceased pope isn't named, but Greeley leaves little doubt that he's the present pontiff. As the cardinals assemble to elect a successor, the fictional, right-wing Corpus Christie Institute joins forces with the real-life Opus Dei and the Curia to block the candidacy of the leading liberal candidate. These conservative forces employ electronic eavesdropping, rumor-mongering and character assassination, but they aren't quite up to Ryan, who learned his politics in Chicago. Ryan, whose commentary alternates with other first- and third-person viewpoints, offers lively takes on the Church ("more often good theater these days than good religion"), the American hierarchy ("who didn't understand yet that a little bit authoritarian was like a little bit pregnant") and the cardinals' mission: "to elect a Pope who will not stand in the way of either the Holy Spirit or Jesus' message of love." Included in the high-spirited storytelling are some rare snippets of Church history regarding married popes, early Christian women involved in Church rites and so on. Greeley knows his material and his opinions, and sets both into delicious spins here. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars All Catholics Should Read, BUT... Oct. 27 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the first Greeley novel I have read, though they have all come recommended. As a storyteller he is definitely up there with the best romance writers--in fact I would argue he is better than most sappy romance authors. However, it did take me a good 40-50 pages to understand his jumping from one first-person narrative to the next depending on which character was telling the story, and why he was writing this way. Not a writing style that is widely used.
This book is also a suspenseful mystery, though not as well written in this regard as the romantic. What Greeley does best is give you a good lesson in history, politics and present day sociological makeup up the present-day Catholic Church. Warts and all.
Many conservitive Catholics would probably find this book offensive, though most persons and groups are fictitious (except for Opus Dei, the conservitive Catholic organization). I believe most active Catholics feel that any institution needs to be scrutinized and critiqued. All organizations are run by humans and all humans are fallible. Including the Pope and especially his bishops and cardinals.
Bottom line for this book--it's a decent read, though readers unfamiliar with Greeley's style should be cautious, because it can seem like it is jumping around. It is not the best of mysteries, nor romances, nor even lessons on the Catholic religion--but it could be worse. It is only a point-of-view and not the only one in this universal church. It is a view of what "could" happen and may be close to what might happen during the next conclave. It's entertaining enough as a relaxing summer read, or a quick read on a long plane trip. Though don't ask it to be anything else.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been better June 26 2000
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is one of those books that after you've read it, you can't tell if it was worth your time or not.

I learned a bit about the Papal election process, and I learned a LOT about what a particular part of the priesthood thinks about the current and previous Popes. That was interesting to me as a "small town Catholic boy".

However, as other reviewers have noted, the characterization is paper thin, the plotting is silly, the "bad guys" in the Roman curia are mainly faceless and without redemption, and the "good guys" are completely without fault. I'd go further to add that the bias shown by the supposedly objective reporters in the novel is so severe that the characters cease to be believable in their own right, and become "mouthpieces" for the author.

Now, for fans of Greeley, I'm sure this will be a satisfying read... For those neutral to his particular style, (and it can get really thick, particularly the dialogue) I suspect it might not be. Before I picked up "White Smoke", the last time I read a Greeley novel was over 12 years ago. I liked that book. I don't much care for this one.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing New Here Jan. 30 2000
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The book is fairly entertaining, written in Father Greeley's plodding but usually fun style. For anyone who has read his works of non-fiction, his views on the hierarchy and the Vatican are repeated here. He is apparently confident that a candidate he can support will win at the next conclave.
In "White Smoke," Father Greeley repeats many of the errors of his other writings. He is a charming person and I think he truly believes that his prescription is the antidote for all that ails the Catholic Church.
He is, of course, wrong. Father Greeley's mistake, as always, is to assume the absence of any transcendent moral truth that goes beyond sociological studies and the whims of American Catholics, seduced by the material pleasures of the late 20th century. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is no more out of step with the people than Jesus Christ was out of step with the people who put Him to death or the American Abolitionists were out of step with those who believed slavery to be moral.
The teaching authority of the Church is not to be sniffed at by those who desire acceptance at Harvard cocktail parties. It is a real thing. Vatican II, contrary to popular belief, did not displace the pope and the magisterium as the teachers of the Catholic Church and replace them with the opinions of American Catholics.
White Smoke is an amusing story- how accurately it describes the conclave no one can know but those who have actually participated. Hopefully, Greeley's predictions of a morally lazy pope will not come to pass. John Paul II has been of the great leaders of our time and one of the greatest Catholic teachers in the whole history of the Church.
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By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
In the introduction to this "novel," Father Greeley, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and pop sociologist who teaches at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, implores his readers not to mistake any of his characters for real-life people. And for good reason. Several of Fr. Greeley's characters bear striking resemblence to real-life personalities. Cardinal Menendez, Fr. Greeley's "progressive" hero whom holds all the politically correct opinions required of a modern hero, resembles Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini, the real-life Archbishop of Milan, who like his literary incarnation is the hero of the worldwide media. (A fawning piece in the august Economist magazine of London recently appeared, heralding the Milanese cardinal as ushering in a new Catholicism for a new Europe: Politically centralized; morally decentralized!) Fr. Greeley's villains -- and make no mistake about it, they are not merely his opponents but his enemeies -- are equally transparent. An African cardinal, named Valerian, could easily be the traditionalists Bernardin Cardinal Gantin of Benin or Francis Cardinal Arinze, both of who serve in Fr. Greeley's hated Roman Curia (the central offices of the Church) and are frequently mentioned as successors to our real-life Slavic Pope.
The traditionalists, uniformly stupid or evil in Fr. Greeley's reckoning, struggle vainly to stop the Menendez juggernaught. But their efforts are easily batted down by Cardinal Cronin of Chicago, presumably Fr. Greeley's stand-in for the (real-life) late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars sociologist Greeley writes on mass communication
Pastor Greeley who in his prime was one of the most widely read novelists around, interesting, detached, open
comical, and an ability to spin a tale. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Anthony Marinelli
1.0 out of 5 stars I got to page 50
It may be unfair of me to rate and review this book, since I didn't finish it. But the fact that I couldn't get past page 50 or so tells it all. Read more
Published on Nov. 15 2003 by Barbara B.
1.0 out of 5 stars IMPOSSIBLE!
It is fiction of course. It can not be otherwise for what it contends may happen is IMPOSSIBLE! Many reviewers are upset. Upset perhaps but they should not be worried. Read more
Published on Nov. 12 2003 by Carl of Veritas Inc.
5.0 out of 5 stars Blacky to the recue!
Blackie, with some electronic help and the assistance of a Black Roman Princesss, prevents some ultra right wing skulduggery in the election of a new Pope. Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2003 by Hugh Curtin
1.0 out of 5 stars This book is awful
Vatican liberals plant stories in major U.S. media and portray anybody who disagrees with them as crazy assassins who'll stop at nothing to get a more moderate pope elected. Read more
Published on Nov. 4 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars As a novelist he's a pretty good sociologist.
This was the first Andrew Greeley novel I've read, and I found it more than a little disappointing. There are effectively two levels of characterization here: All the... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2001 by D. A. Hosek
4.0 out of 5 stars It Gets Even Better????
This is the first Greeley novel I have read. It was a little hard to get into his style of writing at first, but then I couldn't put it down. Read more
Published on April 16 2001
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but not his best
I enjoyed most of the book, but would have appreciated it if Mr. Greeley's editor would have reworked the book a little. Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2000 by Janet Stedman
2.0 out of 5 stars tiresome novel, Martin's is better
A tiresome novel of Vatican intrigue that's way short on the intrigue. All of the "good" characters are attractive, intelligent, liberals who are either agnostics or refer to God... Read more
Published on Jan. 20 2000 by Aubrey McLean
5.0 out of 5 stars One of Fr.Greeley's best works. I hated for it to end.
If you would like a behind the scenes glimpse of what goes on when picking a Pope, you must read this book.
Published on March 2 1999
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