A novel by David Osborn, The Last Pope, on the surface, is a drama set around the death of a pope and the process of electing a new one.
On a deeper level it involves three main characters, two Cardinals and one common everyday priest, and the people surrounding them and the passions and visions that these people have for the Catholic Church's future.
If you are a Catholic, or have a Catholic background, this book will present some of the old and timeless conflicts that various faction have disputed over since the Vatican Council under John the XXIII during the sixties.
For the non Catholic who happens to be a Christian, this book will accentuate how Christ's message has been subtly changed by the bureaucratic process of organized religion and the challenges in seeking to hear the true Voice in the midst of competing claims.
As one could probably guess, two of the main characters can be categorized as the "liberal", who pursues a path of married clergy and the inclusion of women in the clergy, versus the "conservative", who sees the Church sliding down the slope of permissiveness and is dedicated to halting the decline.
In the middle of these two forces is a simple, yet charismatic, parish priest who forsakes his parish in order to spread the true gospel of Christ. His simple vision, and the peoples' enthusiastic embrace of his vision, propel him and his few close followers into national prominence in the U.S. and into the sights of the Vatican in Rome.
On the one hand, the "liberal" Cardinal wants to embrace this young priest because he, himself, rose to his position by toiling in the poor parishes and by fighting for the rights of migrant workers. Yet, he has reservations because by siding with him he endangers his own future in the church hierarchy.
On the other hand, the "conservative" Cardinal sees this priest as a direct threat to the church and wishes to silence him by any means possible. The problem, though, is that the Holy Father, Pope Gregory XVIII, has taken no direct stand on the man. So it is either come down hard on the priest and risk alienation from the pope, or bide his time and possibly lose his own influence in the church political scene
But the pope is dying, and that changes everything!
There is much to like about this book. It gives the reader time to thoroughly get to know each character as it takes its time unfolding the plot, while at the same time unfolding the workings of a super large religious bureaucracy which has become so much like the world that it has lost its distinction.
There are a number of minor characters who populate the story, from the ambitious, upper level curia in the Vatican, many of whom share secret sins, to the Magdalenesque former call girl who ends up as the program scheduler and devout follower of the priest who preaches Christ in simplicity. We also get to sympathize with the lowest level of devoted Catholics, both clergy and laity, so that IF one is a Catholic basher, then perhaps a bit of humility will be learned.
An illustrative quote from the thoughts of one of the characters follows: "Let others, in their ambition and self serving, lie and play politics with Christ. Let others pervert His Word into worldliness according to their needs and in His Name amass power and wealth beyond imagination.Let others use His message to control men's hearts and achieve their personal goals. HE would NOT! Dream or reality, he was indeed Judas. But he would betray no longer..."
The author's bio does not indicate whether he is a Christian or even if he is, or was, Catholic, but he exhibits a firm grasp of the problems that exist in today's Catholic church as well as the simplicity of Christ's message. This book is a winner, in my estimation, because it makes me think and causes me to examine my own heart and life. It goes much farther and deeper than standard "Christian" novels. They should take a lesson from David Osborn.