Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession


The death of Pope John Paul II and consequent election of Pope Benedict XVI has shed light on a political process that the world has not been privy to for almost twenty-six years. People from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Square, wondering who the next Vatican leader would be and how the election process really worked, while everyone from international news correspondents to local priests added their own opinions to the debate.
In Heirs of the Fisherman, former ...

See more details below
Hardcover (New Edition)
BN.com price
(Save 5%)$35.00 List Price
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (59) from $1.99   
  • New (13) from $3.95   
  • Used (46) from $1.99   
Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price
(Save 30%)$23.99 List Price


The death of Pope John Paul II and consequent election of Pope Benedict XVI has shed light on a political process that the world has not been privy to for almost twenty-six years. People from around the world gathered in St. Peter's Square, wondering who the next Vatican leader would be and how the election process really worked, while everyone from international news correspondents to local priests added their own opinions to the debate.
In Heirs of the Fisherman, former Vatican insider John-Peter Pham presents a candid portrait of the modern Vatican, the only account to reveal the striking changes to papal succession procedures made by John Paul II. Blending political and ecclesiastical history, Pham goes beyond a mere description of the complex rituals to offer rare insight into the dramatic shifts inside the College of Cardinals, whose 100 members now hail from 50 nations around the globe. He takes us into the secret conclave, where the electors were kept under lock and key, until they had selected a new pope. He also includes a chapter devoted to the intrigues of the 20th century where the first conclave had an emperor's veto and the last was won by the first non-Italian in four centuries becauase the Italians were bitterly divided.
With a new Preface, Afterword, and appendices that include an English translation of the last will and testament of Pope John Paul II, Heirs of the Fisherman is an illuminating history and must-have guide to this vitally important world event. It will continue to be an indispensable reference to observers of future Catholic Church politics.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
On April 19, 2005, the first papal conclave in 27 years selected Cardinal Joseph Raztinger to succeed John Paul II as the leader of the Catholic Church. This lively and informative book by Vatican insider John-Peter Pham casts a scholar’s eye on the long, convoluted history of papal succession and discusses the unique challenges the new pontiff, Benedict XVI, will face as the Church confronts 21st-century issues.
James Carroll
Pham, a former Vatican insider who is now a professor at James Madison University, has written a lucid and useful book. He reports on the cardinals considered to be John Paul II's likely successors (mentioning three Italians, a Nigerian and an Austrian), but he also notes that fully half of the voting cardinals hail from developing nations where reactionary Catholicism thrives. Yet, as Pham also shows, the mortal challenges facing the next pope transcend the liberal-conservative divide.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
When the next conclave meets to choose a successor to Pope John Paul II, this book could easily be required reading for papal observers and journalists reporting on the election. Pham, a writer and former Vatican diplomat and aide, presents an insider's view of the coming election buttressed by a thorough history and thoughtful analysis of the picking of popes. He explains the origins of the conclave (taken from the Latin, cum clave, meaning "with key") and how the present pope's alterations of the system that chose him will affect the first papal election of the 21st century. Pham also proposes and vets a short list of possible candidates, known as papabili. Although he is not the first to preview the next papal election in this fashion (John Allen's 2002 book, Conclave, provided a concise and readable overview), Pham's work is notable for its detail. He devotes extensive space to notes and appendices that include a complete list of popes beginning with St. Peter; John Paul's 1996 document on papal elections; a list of cardinals currently eligible to vote; biographical annotations on figures mentioned in the text; and a glossary of church terms. Pham's exhaustive approach and informed view will appeal to anyone interested in more than a cursory treatment of this fascinating subject. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The time, it would seem, is drawing near for Vatican watchers to study the sky for a plume of white smoke. Here's a timely reference for those handicapping the race for the next pope-and contemplating the future of Catholicism. Pham (James Madison Univ.), a former Vatican diplomat, knows the ground of his inquiry well. He thoughtfully considers the history of papal succession, never an easy matter to begin with and at times the cause of schism within the church; he looks into the various ways popes have come to their earthly ends (martyrdom, misadventure, assassination, old age); and he even offers a few morsels for the conspiratorially inclined (the surprising number of high-ranking deaths surrounding the passing of Pius XII; a little-publicized al Qaeda attempt on John Paul II's life a decade ago). Dense with tables, biographical sketches, and other scholarly apparatus taking up half the book, Pham's study may well be the last word-for now-on the arcane and controversial ways popes have been selected in the past: ". . . political considerations do play a part, albeit not necessarily the predominant part," he asserts, adding that the larger the electoral body of cardinals, the greater the chance for swings and surprises. Of broader interest, however, is his reckoning of the challenges the next pope will face, especially since talk of such conditional matters is very nearly taboo in Vatican circles. For one thing, he remarks, the church of the near future will draw most of its membership from the Third World, due to declining religiosity among European and North American Catholics; for another, the next pope will have to deal with the potential for growing conflict between Christianityand Islam; and questions of theological pluralism, divorce and remarriage, priestly celibacy, contraception, and the role of women in the church will grow ever more pressing. Students of the papacy will find this an invaluable reference, as will trendwatchers and other scholars of the future. Agent: John F. Thornton/Spieler Agency
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195178340
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/30/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

John-Peter Pham is a frequent writer and commentator on religious and public affairs. An alumnus of the post-graduate Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, he served as a Vatican diplomat as well as an aide to both the Vicar General of His Holiness for the Vatican and the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Dr. Pham is presently the Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Introduction : John Paul II crosses a threshold 1
Ch. 1 The Pope is dead! 10
Ch. 2 Before there were conclaves 40
Ch. 3 The cardinals under lock and key 62
Ch. 4 The conclaves of the twentieth century 97
Ch. 5 Thou art Peter! 135
Ch. 6 The next conclave : looking beyond John Paul II 142
App. 1 The succession of popes 175
App. 2 The apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis on the vacancy of the apostolic See and the election of the Roman pontiff 189
App. 3 Cardinals presently eligible to vote in a conclave 215
App. 4 Biographical notes on select personalities, historical and present, appearing in the narrative 231
App. 5 A glossary of select terms 291
App. 6 Last will and testament of blessed Pope John XXIII 311
App. 7 Last will and testament of Pope Paul VI 315
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2004

    Informative and Subtly Provocative

    The reviewers on the dust jacket are right. Not only is this book 'very readable,' but it's the 'most complete one volume explanation' of the obscure topic of how popes have been chosen. All that is enough to make this book a worthwhile read. However, I think there's more to this insider's guide. While the author doesn't come out and say it, there is a provocative conclusion to be drawn from his detailed description of the papacy's historical imperfections: The institution itself needs to be radically reformed in order to tap back into its spiritual roots and to keep in sync with its faithful. Maybe the author is too diplomatic to say it, but the conclusion is obvious from his fascinating narrative.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2004

    A Great History

    Pham manages the amazing feat of compressing nearly two millennia of historical complexity into an easily accessible read while sacrificing neither the narrative thread nor the overarching themes - a rare accomplishment in any historical field, much less the minefield of church history. Even more amazingly, he manages to maintain a balance, joining neither the shrill critics of the Roman papacy nor its amen chorus of apologists. This book is recommendable to all audiences, Catholic and non-Catholic, liberal and conservative, scholar and lay. I predict this book is destined to be 'the' spectator's guide as Pope John Paul II's days near their end and the world once more focuses on the mysterious rituals that will play themselves out in the Vatican.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2004

    An Indispensable Reference Despite Its Flaws

    The author has carefully gathered a prodigious amount of historical material - much of it inaccessable to all but a few polyglots, some of it entirely inaccessable because of the sources in the church hierarchy or archives. While his presentation of all this raw matter and, above all, the length of this work are not the most felicitous, there is no doubt that this book is destined to be the indispensable reference. Down the road others will perhaps produce out of this mass one or more reader-friendly volumes, but they'll all have to start with this foundational work.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2004

    A Fascinating Political History and Analysis

    When Pope John Paul II dies, the election of his successor will have a tremendous impact not only on the more than one billion Catholics around the world, but perhaps even more far-reaching impact on the rest of the world than many analysts appreciate. Not only will the next Pope lead his coreligious, but he will have a significant role to play on the world stage. Despite this import, the way that the Roman Catholic goes about selecting its head are a mystery to most outsiders - and probably the majority of its own members. Consequently, I am delighted that John-Peter Pham has written a book that, prescinding from the purely spiritual internal matters that are not the province of outsiders, presents a fascinating history of this electoral process and a thoughtful analysis of its current political dynamics. In this light the best part of the book is, in my opinion, the middle section where the author takes the reader through the conclave process step by step and gives fascinating historical anecdotes to illustrate his points. My only criticism of this excellent book is that its length - the professional reviewers are more than correct in noting that it will be the definitive work on this subject - may be daunting to many readers and the scholarly apparatus (seven appendices plus notes and bibliography) maybe too much.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2004

    Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession

    This is perhaps the best-informed and researched account of the secretive process that the Catholic Church uses to pick its supreme head. I'm not a Catholic, but I picked it up because, like many non-members of this largest Christian denomination, I'm fascinated by its history and ritual even as I disagree with many of its doctrinal stances. The author writes in a clear and interesting manner, rendering an obscure topic easily accessible to the intelligent reading public. Unfortunately, the author perhaps has too much to tell and the narrative gets long at times. Nonetheless, it's probably the best guide out there for those interested in this subject matter.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 1, 2004

    Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession

    For most Catholics - to say nothing of non-Catholics - the world of the Vatican is shrouded in mystery. Ironically, it becomes even more secretive just when it receives the most attention during the period between the death of one pope and the election of another. Even professional observers are generally at a lost given the arcane way that clerical world operates. Now John-Peter Pham, a former insider in this strange world, lifts the veil ever so slightly, presenting a balanced, historical perspective on events that will be closely followed by millions. This long overdue account will be the resource as the days draw near when John Paul II will meet his Maker and all the camera lenses of the world will focus on the Eternal City.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2004

    A sophisticated tale by a former insider, in the breach

    A readable work that indulges in the sort of ex-insider spillage that guarantees both good reviews and sales. To paraphrase another reviewer: For every Mother Teresa of Calcutta... there's a priest who's willing to betray his vows and his Church in order to establish an academic reputation as a clever writer and keen intellect. The author exploits his past as a ex-clerical diplomat and former seminarian in Rome -- to full advantage. Forget about disloyalty and opportunism, Dr. Pham is very nearly as intelligent and well-informed as he fancies himself... and maybe a little swollen with intellectual arrogance. Just imagine, it's ready in time to cash in on sales from the imminent demise of John Paul II. Gosh, what a scholarly triumph.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2005

    Fact-filled and entertaining

    I found this book a pleasure to read, both for its intellectual and entertainment and value. I am debating with myself over whether I like the fact that half the book is appendices and notes, since those provide a great body of reference material for my library, or whether I would prefer sacrificing such facts for more stories from the history of the papacy. Any narrative that includes such characters as Charles the Fat, Stephen III (IV) through Stephen IX (X), and various 'antipopes' can't fail to amuse. Readers who have the slightest morbid curiosity will be glued to Pham's outline of the established protocol at the pontiff's passing as well as his detailed accounts of what caused each pope's death. Moreover, no one will be able to close this book in the middle of his retelling how one quack completely bungled both the final days and embalming of a recent Pope, nor will they be able to turn their eyes from tales of cadavers being fished out of rivers or exhumed during various renovations. For those who like the intricate histories of European nobility, Pham's attention to the details of each person's official title and the meaning of various symbols and gestures will delight. I myself am trying to memorize the nine titles of Pope himself, something to bring up at the next dull party. Pham's book is a serious one, though, and devout Catholics who read this book should stand in awe of the orderly nature of current papal proceedings relative to past anarchy, the vast stretch of history embodied in the workings of the Vatican, and the profound mystery of Jesus' legacy. Likewise, those readers who have no relationship with Catholicism but recognize the real power wielded by the Pope and the non-trivial nature of naming his successor will receive a rich education in this process and its history. Pham's book is a must-have companion for the moment this event is broadcast into our homes again on live television.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2004

    The History They Didn't Teach in Catechism Class

    More than the story of what happens when the pope dies, Pham has written a dramatic telling of the history we didn't get in catechism class. Here it all laid out: holy popes, sinful popes, greedy popes, political popes, courageous popes, even possibly a few actively homosexual popes. Having been brought up with the idea that all churchmen were good and roughly disabused of that notion by the scandals of recent years, it's refreshing to read a history of the Catholic Church that doesn't whitewash, but accepts the reality of human nature as both noble and ignoble. While the second half of the book is a virtual reference library, the first half is a very accessible narrative that ought to be read by every Catholic who wants to know the history of his or her church as it is in all its humanness.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2004

    Unintended Morality Tale

    Whether the author intended it or not, his chronicle of ritual, political intrigue, and secrecy is a page-turning morality tale of what happens when religious leaders become more enamored with earthly power than heavenly truth. The scandals that shocked many of us in recent years aren't so surprising when one puts them in the context of the papal shenanigans down through the ages that the author recounts with a rare combination of scholarly detachment and wry humor. A must read for Catholics, former Catholics, and all others interested in this still-powerful institution.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)