Pope Benedict XVI's sudden resignation earlier this year motivates the publication "on short notice" of this emotionally charged and often immoderate indictment of the former pontiff.
Vancouver author Daniel Gawthrop, who is gay, says he left the church because, under the spiritual leadership of John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger -- later Benedict XVI -- the church "no longer wanted someone like me as a member."
Gawthrop is the author of four other books, including an autobiography and titles on environmentalism, AIDS and B.C. politics.
He identifies Ratzinger as "a kind of Satanic muse in my life." His account of Ratzinger's control in the church, especially as prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, reflects personal disgust with beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism. Many Catholics may take offence.
Under Pope John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council in the early '60s offered some reform to the church. Gawthrop's assertion that John "was determined to move the church away from Biblical literalism and toward a more pluralistic view of Catholicism" may be wishful thinking.
Still, Vatican II may have led to more openness about contraception and priestly celibacy.
Gawthrop identifies John Paul II and Benedict XVI, "both virulent anti-abortionists," as primary opponents of any such modernization.
The Trial of Pope Benedict begins and ends with wistful descriptions of Ratzinger being tried by the International Criminal Court. He was named in a complaint to the ICC by the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests "for command responsibility in the church's denial and cover-up of clerical sex abuse."
As the head of state of Vatican City, the Pope is diplomatically protected from prosecution. A retired pope could be subject to ICC jurisdiction.
While Gawthrop presents a damning account, his position is weakened by overstatement and sometimes startling invective.
Stating that he wrote the book "because Joseph Ratzinger destroyed the Roman Catholic church," Gawthrop describes him as "all-powerful," "God's Rottweiler," and a person with "flawlessly Machiavellian instincts," "lacking ... personal humility and empathy with the flock."
To his credit, Gawthrop does not blame Ratzinger for his involvement with Nazism, unavoidable for a German teen in the Second World War. Still, he cannot resist pointing out that Ratzinger was born 16 kilometres from Hitler's birthplace. He never specifies "the enormous implications it would have in his life."
John Paul II also suffers the author's disdain. The "right-wing pope" with "a little hate-on for Communism" was too "confused in his messaging" about liberation theology to provide "leadership on the issue."
Gawthrop admits that John Paul I, who died, perhaps suspiciously, soon after becoming pope, might be subject to "retroactive, romantic theorizing" about his papacy. As cardinal, he had criticized financial corruption in the Vatican.
The best part of this book, though it's been done before, discusses the shameful pedophilia of far too many priests, and the resulting coverups by Roman Catholic authorities.
Largely free of the book's earlier dismissiveness, the account includes a list of devastating stories of crimes and coverups authentically calling for punishment.
Benedict's successor, Francis I, has been presented as a man of the people, but Gawthrop points out that his own orthodoxy in doctrine differs little from that which dominated the last 35 years.
Gawthrop ends with five calls for action, two "conceivable... though unlikely" and three "admittedly the stuff of fantasy." They include convening Vatican III, really cleaning up the church hierarchy and abandoning Vatican statehood.
Manitoba teacher Bill Rambo is a practising Protestant who is inclined to celebrate the accomplishments of Christianity while acknowledging the humanity of Christians.