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In the Courts of Three Popes

An American Lawyer and Diplomat in the Last Absolute Monarchy of the West


Mary Ann Glendon (View Bio)
Hardcover: Random House, 2024.

In the Courts of Three Popes

Accomplished diplomat, lawyer, and Harvard professor, Mary Ann Glendon provides a rare firsthand account of Vatican politics as Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis each endeavored to lead the Catholic Church into the modern world.

“In my years of service to the Holy See, I was a stranger in a rather strange land—a layperson in a culture dominated by clergy, an American woman in an environment that was largely male and Italian, and a citizen of a constitutional republic in one of the world’s last absolute monarchies.”

Glendon sheds light on some of the most vexing issues in the Catholic Church today, from the work to protect women’s rights internationally, to responding to clergy sexual abuse, to the corruption of the Vatican Bank and Roman Curia. Readers will see a side of popes and prelates rarely seen from Glendon’s account of these three papacies, and they will be inspired by her efforts to share in the Holy See’s work for a better Church and a better world. It is her hope that lay Catholics especially will find her account of the ups and downs of her daily work in the Holy See helpful in their own struggles to be “salt, light and leaven” during this time of turbulence in the Church and society.

"Mary Ann Glendon's memoir of her Roman adventures—as head of the Vatican social-science academy, board member at the Vatican Bank, and briefly U.S. ambassador to the Holy See—is charming in all these respects. It is also a record of the Church's upheavals since Glendon was growing up in postwar Dalton, Mass., where the Protestants did the good works—the bake sales and the bus trips to the March on Washington—and the Catholics did the faith, observing a harsh Lent and piously reciting their novenas and rosaries. "With some five thousand inhabitants," Glendon remarks, "Dalton was the size that Aristotle envisioned for an ideal city," and you remember that she is also a professor at Harvard Law School. In some ways Glendon fits the picture of the high-achieving conservative Catholic woman of her generation, who climbs to the top of her professional tree while raising a family. But that summary doesn't quite cover it.... And despite her diplomatic savoir-faire, she is willing—as we will see—to commit some striking and very deliberate indiscretions. So In the Court of Three Popes can surprise you." — Dan Hitchens, The Washington Free Beacon  (Read the full review)