In the Courts of Three Popes

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

About the Book

A rare firsthand account of the three popes who worked to modernize the Catholic Church—and to evangelize the modern world—from a renowned international lawyer, Harvard law professor, and former ambassador to the Vatican

“Mary Ann Glendon’s book joyfully, and with humility, brings us inside her deft, grace-filled, and brilliant public diplomacy career.”—Mike Pompeo, former U.S. secretary of state

For twenty centuries, the Catholic Church has radically shaped world history—and survived it. In the decades following the Second Vatican Council, three popes have carried forward this legacy, striving to lead the Church and its governing body—the last absolute monarchy of the West—into the modern world.

With In the Courts of Three Popes, accomplished diplomat, international lawyer, and Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon gives readers a rare inside look at the papacies of John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. She shares her role in key developments in the Church’s recent history, like the Church entering the third millennium, in Pope John Paul II’s words, on its knees in penance for failures such as clergy sex abuse, or in leading the way for lay women to hold positions of power in the Church. Glendon illuminates the issues vexing the Church today: the place of faith in secular politics, relating the Church to other religions, clericalism and the power of laypeople, and corruption at the Vatican Bank and within the Roman Curia.

Glendon provides a one-of-a-kind analysis of the inner workings of the Holy See, showing readers that, despite its many failings, the Catholic Church is a living, breathing community. Behind the Church’s doctrines and policies and institutions lie people, personalities, aspirations, and relationships that still promise to transform lives.
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Praise for In the Courts of Three Popes

“Mary Ann Glendon’s book joyfully, and with humility, brings us inside her deft, grace-filled, and brilliant public diplomacy career. Few lay Catholics have done more to use the tools of public diplomacy to improve our nation and God’s kingdom. This book is a beautiful primer for all entering the arena with the goal of faithfully serving, as Glendon has done for decades.”—Mike Pompeo, former U.S. secretary of state

“Very often we think of diplomacy and the Vatican as secretive and mysterious. Not anymore! Ambassador Glendon explains a lot in this illuminative and enjoyable book. She makes us all ‘insiders.’”—Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan, archbishop of New York

“A beautifully written account of one woman’s experience that helps us understand Rome’s strange machinery of governance . . . But this book is more than a study of the West’s last absolute monarchy. Glendon casts fresh light on the many joys and frustrations of the Catholic experience since the Second Vatican Council.”—R. R. Reno, editor of First Things

In the Courts of Three Popes will inspire, encourage, and motivate readers to follow Glendon’s example of dedicated service to faith and country.”—Callista L. Gingrich, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See

“The kind of memoir one simply can’t put down: a candid, detailed, absorbing, and finally reassuring portrait of leadership at the highest Church levels that could only be told by a veteran Vatican observer and adviser . . . It’s worth every moment spent reading and sharing it.”—Francis X. Maier, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of True Confessions: Voices of Faith from a Life in the Church

“This book is a must read and offers an indispensable moral compass for the faithful and the skeptic alike.”—Ruth Okediji, Jeremiah Smith Professor of Law, Harvard University

“In this engaging and beautifully written memoir, Mary Ann Glendon displays the wisdom, humaneness, and grace that have characterized every aspect of her exemplary life. an inspiration for people of all faiths who seek to uphold and serve what is highest in a demoralized world.”— Leon R. Kass, Dean of the Faculty, Shalem College, Jerusalem

“In this masterful volume, Glendon recounts, with characteristic honesty and humility, her twenty-four years of service to the Catholic Church. Her storytelling style makes this book impossible to put down.”—Bill Donohue, President, Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights

“How did one woman—an American at that—three times rise to the highest levels of responsibility in the Vatican—a bastion of male religious princes? Mary Ann Glendon’s story of how this happened is both a fascinating and factual tale animated with her experiences in the academy, and the relevance of her own faith to her storied career. It is a must read for Vaticanistas. It is an enjoyable, educative read for everyone else—Catholic and Non-Catholic alike.”—Jim Nicholson, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See and author of The United States and the Holy See: The Long Road
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In the Courts of Three Popes

Chapter One

From Dalton to Rome

I thought I knew everything when I came to Rome, but I soon found I had everything to learn. —Edmonia Lewis, American sculptor

I attended the University of Chicago at a time when the wags used to say that it was the university where Jewish professors taught Thomas Aquinas to Marxist students. Works by Augustine and Aquinas were taught by the likes of Richard Weaver, Leo Strauss, and Richard McKeon. Catholic luminaries like Jacques Maritain and Martin D’Arcy were frequently on campus for long visits. I became acquainted with the riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition through the core “great books” curriculum installed by Robert Maynard Hutchins, who once referred to the Catholic Church somewhat enviously as having “the longest intellectual tradition of any institution in the world,” and who drew freely from that tradition in constructing Chicago’s mandatory core of courses. Not only did I thus become familiar with the “greats” in my own tradition but I observed that those thinkers were held in high esteem by the best Chicago teachers.

The same education that reinforced a critical approach to learning also helped reinforce the religious habits and practices I had acquired in Dalton. Especially significant to my formation was the work of Thomas Aquinas. He understood the intellect as a gift from God—a gift whose use would advance one’s ability to better know, love, and serve the Creator. I absorbed a little of Thomas’s approach to knowledge, which had enabled him to engage pagan philosophy with confidence that his desire to know would not unsettle his faith but rather bring him closer to the mind of God.

As in the case of many Catholics of my generation, my education gave me a lively appreciation for the spiritual and intellectual riches of Catholicism, but I had minimal exposure to Catholic social thought, the body of Church teaching about economic and political matters. That changed with the appearance of Pope John XXIII’s famous encyclical Pacem in Terris, “Peace on Earth.”

It was the spring of 1963, and I was in Belgium, finishing a year of graduate legal studies at the fiercely secular Université Libre de Bruxelles and working as an intern at the headquarters of the European Common Market, the predecessor of the European Union. I had been active in social causes as an undergraduate and a law student at the University of Chicago, and so I was excited that the pope himself was endorsing the ideals I believed in. His emphatic insistence that “racial discrimination can in no way be accepted,” his affirmation of women’s roles and rights in contemporary society, and his praise for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave me a feeling of pride that my Church was in the vanguard of historic changes.

For an American Catholic like me, it was also a certain source of pride to see the wide public attention that the encyclical commanded. For the first time in history, a papal encyclical—a letter traditionally circulated to churches—made use of modern human rights language. Moreover, it was addressed to “all men of good will,” which attracted notice beyond religious circles. The New York Times published it in full, and over two thousand prominent statespersons, scholars, and diplomats from all parts of the world attended a United Nations conference devoted to the document.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which was being debated in Paris while Angelo Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, was papal nuncio to France—became an important point of reference for the Church when speaking to a secular society. Because the declaration had come to serve as a model for most post–World War II rights declarations and was instrumental for cross-national discussions of human freedom and dignity, it made good sense for the pope to invoke it. In later years, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI would follow John XXIII’s example, drawing upon the declaration while also expressing reservations about its susceptibility to misuse.

Although Pacem in Terris captivated me, and though I was excited by the Second Vatican Council, I fell out of touch with much of what was happening in the Church for a few years in the 1960s when I drifted toward what today would be called cafeteria Catholicism.

A painful personal crisis, however, brought me up short. In May 1966, my beloved father died at age fifty-five of a rapidly advancing cancer that had been diagnosed only three months earlier. Ten days after Dad’s death, my daughter Elizabeth was born, and shortly after that Elizabeth’s father—an African American lawyer I had met in the civil rights movement—moved on to other interests. I found myself with sole responsibility for a beautiful little baby girl, far from friends and relatives, and I was forced to face the fact that my own decisions—a civil marriage to a person I barely knew—had brought me to this pass.

I decided that I would leave my job as an associate in the Chicago law firm of Mayer, Brown & Platt and move back to Massachusetts so that I would be closer to my mother, who was then suffering from mental problems, and to my teenage brother and sister, who were devastated by the unexpected loss of our father.

Unsure about how best to transition back to Massachusetts, I consulted one of my mentors at the University of Chicago Law School, Soia Mentschikoff, who had been the first woman to teach law at Harvard. Soia put me in touch with the Dean of Boston College Law School, Father Robert Drinan, who invited me for an interview that led quickly to a job offer.

In the summer of 1968, I moved back to Massachusetts with Elizabeth to begin my academic career. The Boston College environment was a great help to my spiritual life. I was surrounded by faithful Catholic colleagues who became good friends, and I was welcomed to participate in interdisciplinary projects by the learned Jesuit who chaired the philosophy department, Joseph Flanagan. Through regular prayer, Mass attendance, and the imperative to be the best mother I could be, I became a better Catholic. And through Boston College study groups, I received something like a graduate education in theology while reading and discussing works by Romano Guardini, Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Bernard Lonergan, and others. These interdisciplinary sessions helped me to see legal problems in relation to the manifold challenges that the Church was facing in a secularizing postmodern world.

Two years later, it was my great blessing to be married in a Catholic ceremony to Edward Lev, with whom I had worked at Mayer, Brown & Platt, and who moved his labor law practice to Boston. It was a time of incredible blessing. Edward adopted Elizabeth, our daughter Katherine was born, Edward won the American Bar Association’s Ross Essay prize for a brilliant article on arbitration, and I was well on the way to tenure with the publication of a text with Max Rheinstein, who had been my supervisor in the University of Chicago’s Master of Comparative Law program. In 1973, in gratitude “to Whom it may concern” (as my Jewish husband would say), we adopted an adorable three-year-old Korean orphan, whom we named Sarah Pomeroy Lev after my mother, who had died earlier that year.

Throughout the 1970s, family life and work as a beginning law professor occupied nearly all of my time and attention. For better or worse, most of that eventful decade—the Vietnam debacle, the pontificate of Paul VI, the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, Watergate, Woodstock, Roe v. Wade, the Iran hostage crisis—just passed me by. My one effort to serve the Church in that period was a disaster. Teaching law students was a breeze compared to a catechism class for eighth graders!

In October 1978, when Karol Wojtyla stood on a balcony overlooking the Piazza San Pietro and introduced himself as “a Pope from a faraway land,” I had no idea how that event would change the world and affect the rest of my life. The following year, when the new pope, John Paul II, visited Boston, the only member of our family who went (in pouring rain) to hear him speak was Elizabeth, then twelve years old.

When I was ready to devote time to pro bono activities, I scarcely recognized the causes to which I had once been devoted. I remained intensely interested in care for our natural environment, in human rights, and in issues affecting women and families and the world of work. But I couldn’t see how to engage with the movements that were then dominant in those areas. My dissatisfaction with these trends eventually led me to look for better approaches in organizations grounded in Catholic social thought. In the Berkshires of my youth, I had been steeped in what we called conservationism. Berkshire natives were already concerned about the dangerous chemicals that Pittsfield’s General Electric plant was dumping into the Housatonic River and vigilant about the need to protect Mount Greylock from commercial exploitation. My grandfather Pomeroy enrolled me in the National Wildlife Federation when I was ten. So I was drawn to the new field of environmental law. But the mood and tone of the environmental movement in the seventies was so focused on population control as to seem almost anti-people. It seemed distant from the concept of stewardship for all of God’s creation.

About the Author

Mary Ann Glendon
Mary Ann Glendon is Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. She led the Vatican delegation to the Beijing Women's Rights conference in 1995, the first woman ever to lead a Vatican delegation, and has been featured on Bill Moyers's World of Ideas. She is the author of Rights Talk; A Nation under Lawyers; Comparative Legal Traditions (a classic textbook on international law); Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, winner of the Scribes Book Award; and The Transformation of Family Law, winner of the Order of the Coif Prize, the legal academy's highest award for scholarship. She lives in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. More by Mary Ann Glendon
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