The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina as pope in 2013 unleashed a flow of books that has grown from a trickle to a flood, though not quite a deluge—yet. The books that were released about the pope in the months immediately following his election were mostly compilations of material drawn from his homilies, speeches, papers, interviews, and other publicly available sources. They came from Catholic publishers and the Catholic imprints of major trade houses. Now, with enough time since the election for major authors to write books about Francis and what he might mean for the future of the Catholic Church, new and forthcoming titles are ambitiously tackling the big questions raised by the first Third World pope, a pontiff with a remarkably different style and message from his recent predecessors.
These “big books” are written by veteran Vatican commentators and journalists, scholars of Catholicism, and, in one case, a bestselling author known for his original and sometimes controversial views on Catholic topics. And maybe someday someone will sign Pope Francis to write his own books, as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did before him.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope, and Chicago-based Loyola Press—owned by the Jesuits—had one of the first books out the gate after his March 2013 election with Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way he Leads by Chris Lowney (Oct. 2013). In April 2014, Loyola published The Church of Mercy: A Vision of the Church, which PW’s review called “a mission statement for this papacy.... Francis preaches the gospel of mercy and invites anyone who will hear him to have a personal relationship with Jesus.” Loyola says The Church of Mercy is the first Vatican-authorized collection of writings, talks, and homilies presented by Francis during the first year of his papacy as he outlined some of his ideas for a renewed Catholic Church; the book has sold a respectable 70,000 copies. Loyola’s newest is Pope Francis: Life and Revolution (Oct.), a biography by Elisabetta Piqué, an Argentine journalist and longtime friend of the pope’s; it is being released simultaneously in English and Spanish. In 2015, Loyola will publish Walking with Jesus: The Heart of the Christian Life by Pope Francis, a collection of homilies, addresses, and speeches edited by Giuliano Vigini.
Another publisher with a special connection—the pope took his name from Saint Francis of Assisi and has drawn inspiration from his life and ministry—is Franciscan Media, publisher for the Franciscan friars of the Province of St. John the Baptist in Cincinnati, Ohio. In August, Franciscan Media published Pope Francis and Our Call to Joy by Diane M. Houdek, about the pope’s first apostolic exhortation, which was released in late 2013. In February 2015, the house will publish The Spirit of Saint Francis: Inspiring Words from Pope Francis, a volume of the pope’s ruminations on the life and ministry of his namesake. According to managing editor Katie Carroll, “The content is drawn from a variety of the pope’s written work—homilies, apostolic exhortations, audiences, speeches, even tweets. These excerpts show how the ideals of Saint Francis are a basis for the pope’s life, work, and writings.” What distinguishes the book from other compilations, she says, is that the material was written by Francis after his election.
The publishing houses of other Catholic religious orders are also weighing in, including Orbis Books, the publishing arm of the Maryknoll Brothers missionary order, which publishes many books on liberation theology. Francis himself comes out of the developing world and out of that tradition, which emphasizes social and economic justice; Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff, in Francis of Rome & Francis of Assisi: A New Springtime for the Church (Orbis, Aug.), provides “critical theological analysis of his ministry in light of the realities of the contemporary church,” according to PW’s review. In April 2015, Orbis will publish its own collection of the pope’s writings, Morning Homilies.
Also in 2015, Paulist Press, publisher for the Paulist Fathers, will release Pope Francis: Tradition in Transition by Massimo Faggioli (May), assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minn., who has written several other books on the papacy. Faggioli begins with Benedict’s resignation and follows the progress of the conclave that elected Francis, going on to chronicle the first months of the new papacy.
Some books collect the pope’s words into different formats: photo-essays, devotional journals, even a Bible study. Last November, Rizzoli released Francis: The People’s Pope, with photos and commentary edited by Vincenzo Sansonetti. Penguin’s Tarcher imprint is best known for books in the mind-body-spirit category, but next year will publish Reflections from Pope Francis: An Invitation to Journaling, Prayer, and Action by Susan Stark and Dan Pierson (Feb. 2015), which includes blank space for readers to write their own thoughts on the pope’s statements about such topics as care for the poor, mercy, forgiveness, and brotherhood. Westminster John Knox, the Louisville, Ky.–based publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., offers Jesus, the Pope, and a Protestant Walk Into a Bar by Paul Rock and William Tammeus (Aug. 2015), organized as a seven-week study using scripture to view what is being called the “Francis effect” and its impact on both the Catholic and Protestant churches.
And the Big Books Are...
In November 2014, Holt will publish The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, a biography by Austen Ivereigh, who is an English journalist, Catholic commentator, and former advisor to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, archbishop emeritus of Westminster. PW’s review called Ivereigh “the ideal papal biographer since he possesses a keen insider’s view of the Catholic Church.” He writes of Jorge Bergoglio’s childhood as the son of Italian immigrants in Argentina, and of the strong influence his grandmother Rosa had, inculcating the concern for social justice that has become a unique feature of Francis’s papacy.
Another British journalist and papal expert, David Willey—who has reported on five popes since the 1970s for the BBC—publishes his own biography, The Promise of Francis: The Man, the Pope, and the Challenge of Change with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint in September 2015. In a book illustrated with color photos, Willey traces the life of this unusual choice for pope, analyzing the first two years of Francis’s papacy for clues to what this path-breaking pontiff might mean for a church struggling with scandals and declining influence on how contemporary Catholics live.
Another author well-suited to the task of writing about the new pope is American journalist John Allen, whose The Francis Miracle: Inside the Transformation of the Pope and the Church is being published by Time Entertainment Books in March 2015. Now associate editor of The Boston Globe and of its website Crux: Covering All Things Catholic, Allen reported on the Vatican for 16 years in Rome for the National Catholic Reporter, CNN, and NPR. Allen has written two biographies of Benedict. His book on Francis places the new pope in the context of the secretive world of the Vatican, examining how he might operate its levers of power.
Another hopeful book is Pope Francis and the Struggle for the Soul of the Catholic Church by John Gehring (Rowman & Littlefield; Aug. 2015). Gehring—a former journalist who has worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in media relations and is now director of the activist organization Faith in Public Life—trains a political lens on the emergence of Francis, examining how the Catholic Church, once known for its emphasis on social justice, has moved to the right, focusing on a few divisive issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, becoming what some have called the “Church of No.” In public statements early in his papacy, Francis addressed that problem, calling for the church instead to emphasize love and care for others.
Perhaps the highest-profile book in the Francis lineup in 2015 will be The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis by Garry Wills (Viking; Mar.). Wills—a Pulitzer Prize-winner, professor emeritus of history at Northwestern University, and bestselling author (Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit; Why Priests?)—argues that the church, while seeming to be immovable, has remained vital exactly because it has changed over the centuries. Asked by PW whether he believes Francis will push for real change on key issues, Wills says, “Yes, because he has to. They are overdue and are already occurring throughout the church.” How will Francis do that without contradicting core Catholic values? Says Will, “If he follows the example of John XXIII, he will not make changes by his own personal fiat, but will encourage bishops to move in new directions, as John did with the Second Vatican Council.” Wills believes “the changes, in order of likelihood, are easing off from the condemnations of contraception, divorce, and homosexuality.” As with long-ago practices such as “interdicts, indulgences, and the ban on usury,” Wills predicts “church authorities [will] rather let practices lapse than end them with formal decrees.”