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This study is haunted by the great unanswered question of U.S. relations with Catholicism's tiny citadel-why bother having any at all? For much of its existence, the author notes, a virulently anti-Catholic America didn't bother, and it wasn't until 1984 that Ronald Reagan appointed America's first ambassador to the Vatican. Franco, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, devotes most of his attention to the last three decades, when John Paul II's anticommunism and the emergence of conservative Catholics as a cornerstone of the Republican base raised the Vatican's profile in American foreign policy. Franco susses out harmonies and dissonances in the current relationship: while the Vatican and the Bush administration line up on social issues like abortion and gay marriage, John Paul II irritated the White House by speaking out against the Iraq War and other American adventures, fearing they would nourish global "Christianophobia." Franco's is a nuanced, informative look at this relationship, but his styling of the Vatican and U.S. as "the West's two parallel empires" overstates a marginal dimension of world affairs. (Jan. 20)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.