Great books, articles, and Web sites to read about the pope and the Catholic Church.

What Slate writers are reading.
April 12 2008 7:20 AM

Your Papal Homework Assignment

Prepare for the pope's America visit with these books, articles, and Web sites about him and the Catholic Church.

For more on the pope's visit, read " On Faith," a blog on religion produced by the Washington Post and Newsweek.  Religion professor Donna Freitas makes three wishes for the Catholic church.  On Faith's Sally Quinn interviews clergy-abuse victim Barbara Blaine. Anthony Stevens-Arroyo discusses the pope as a defender of faith. And "Campus Catholic" Elizabeth Tenety writes on faith, hope, and love.

Pope Benedict XVI. Click image to expand.
Pope Benedict XVI

My biggest complaint about how religion is covered in the media, and I certainly don't exempt myself from this criticism, is that journalists will go to almost any length to avoid writing about—how to put this?—God. So, in honor of this week's visit of Pope Benedict XVI, I'm going to buck both convention and my own inclination to slink in through the side door and recommend Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. It is not a quick read. But it is subtle and revelatory and scholarly in the best sense. So much so that it made me wonder how much Joseph Ratzinger ever really enjoyed his work at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where until three years ago, as the old T-shirt I have says, he'd been "putting the smackdown on heresy since 1981."

Another must-read for those interested in a nuanced view of John Paul's successor is David Gibson's biography of him, The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle With the Modern World,and, in particular, his fascinating chapter "A German Soul": " 'The Germans,' Goethe once said, 'make everything difficult, both for themselves and for everyone else.' … The thread running through all things German, however, is an obsessive quest for the authentic, the authentic German, the authentic emotion, the authentic philosophy, the authentic esthetic, the authentic faith. Germans want to know where the truth is to be found, and they will risk anything and betray anyone, even themselves, to get it.'' Gibson makes me feel for the young Ratzinger, who was born in Bavaria two weeks before Hitler held his first Nazi rally and grew up attending Mass three times each Sunday and moving from one village to another "because his father 'had simply said too much against the brownshirts.' " (Gibson is also keeping an all-Benedict-all-the-time blog through the end of the pope's visit. It's called Benedictions: Blogging the Pope in America, at


Commonweal recently published a terrific cover story by Robert Ellsberg based on his introduction to The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, due out later this month. The Catholic Worker founder's journals were sealed for 25 years after her death. In them, she writes of traveling to Cuba at the time of the missile crisis, fasting for peace in Rome during the Second Vatican Council, and getting thrown in jail at age 75, along with some picketing United Farm Workers.

For a history of the Catholic Church in America, you cannot do better than the thrillingly evenhanded (not an oxymoron just this once) Catholicism and American Freedom by John T. McGreevy. If I had not been a cradle Catholic, George Weigel's Letters to a Young Catholicmight make me want to convert. And though spending time in Rome has been known to have the opposite effect, spiritual tourists might want to pick up A Catholic's Guide to Rome: Discovering the Soul of the Eternal City, by Frank Korn, a pocket-sized encyclopedia of some of the most undeservedly overlooked churches in Christendom.

Melinda Henneberger is a Slate contributor and the author of If They Only Listened to Us: What Women Voters Want Politicians To Hear.


War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 11:13 AM Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
War Stories
Sept. 23 2014 4:04 PM The Right Target Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM Why Is Autumn the Only Season With Two Names?
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 1:50 PM Oh, the Futility! Frogs Try to Catch Worms off of an iPhone Video.
  Health & Science
Sept. 23 2014 4:33 PM Who Deserves Those 4 Inches of Airplane Seat Space? An investigation into the economics of reclining.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.