“When I became pope, almost the first word the Curia taught me was ‘ricatto’-blackmail.”

A terrifically written , intimately detailed book that could be read in conjunction with Morrow’s ‘Pope to Pope’ .

It is the intimate diary of Pope John XXIV ( ‘Pope Vegemite the Last’ ) detailing hidden secrets, corruption, scandals etc behind the scenes at the Vatican.

The outwardly most powerful person actually has no real power in the face of opposing forces both within and without his inner circle of the Curia…We learn of ambition, corruption, blackmail, political back stabbing. sex and the Pope’s own crisis of faith.

There are lots of Saints or Blessed days and their harrowing stories. There are opera allusions (Sister Angelica who here is a splendiferous cook) and operetta – Gilbert and Sullivan with the nightmare song from Iolanthe.

It is a cry for love and acceptance by John’s father. We learn of John’s (real name Mario Gino Pietro Francis Xavier Castaldi), beginning in Wollongong and his relationship with his parents and siblings. He details his childhood and  growing up and attending a Catholic school. There is a brutal teacher and there’s the bullying et al.

Pope John questions his faith – what does he really believe? John is rather progressive in his thoughts, considering the introduction of women priests, allowing easier divorce, abortion and sex before marriage, acceptance of LGBTI people to try and encourage lapsed Catholics to return to the Church.

There is a meditation upon angels ( “And William Blake’s angels perfectly sculpted non-bodies are obviously the result of punishing work-outs between hymns’) , Mariolatry and the theology of apparitions. Also Christmas (‘Feast of a baby boy about whom much is known, much is myth and much more is inspirational’).

He meditates on the hidden children of priests. women in the Catholic church and sin. Like most of us he questions why bad things happen to good people. There is no privacy – everything is monitored and he is spied upon. A liberal, he wants to call a Vatican Council, but various Cardinals deny this.

He has a great friendship with one of his Swiss Guard, Ennio, and another administrator Dario. Assorted secrets and scandals hit and he is forced to resign. He has dreams? visions ? of St Peter and a previous Pope among others.

As in Pope to Pope an appearance is made by Cliff Penfold, an Australian layman who secretly acted as a priest on the Hellfire Pass during World War11.

The Anglican Church has a female Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope wants to meet her. He has an unexpected visit from the Grand Mufti.

He has health niggles and secretly has a blood test, which  reveal he has leukaemia. He is forced to resign and describes the conclave in great detail – the atmosphere, smells,  accommodation, and the backstage politics continuing until the last moment…

A terrific page turner written with humour, passion and fascinating detail. A most excellent read.