— John Thavis, a Mankato-born journalist who spent 20 years covering the Vatican for the Catholic News Service, was visiting Rome recently when the biggest papal news in recent years broke.
Thavis was in Rome to touch base with the sources he used for his new behind-the scenes book, “The Vatican Diaries,” when Pope Benedict stunned the religious world by announcing he’d was resigning — and the first pope to do so in 400 years.
No one outside the pope’s inner circle knew this news was coming.
But Thavis said he suspected this was coming.
“I had thought for more than a year that the pope might resign,” he said. “He had said, in certain circumstances, it’s your duty to resign.”
Plus, the 85-year-old pope had been frail. He’d recently topped off the college of cardinals, filling its vacancies with fresh faces. And, Thavis observed, there wasn’t a lot on the papal calendar.
So the signs were there.
Now begins a process that Thavis, 62, has witnessed personally several times: the conclave, the world’s oldest known tradition of selecting a religious leader. It is steeped in tradition — not to mention a fair amount of secrecy — and its every move is watched around the clock by observers outside St. Peter’s Basilica and on televisions all over the world.
Thavis worked for The Free Press in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He left to return to Italy, where he found temporary work with news agencies for several years until landing a permanent gig with the Catholic News Service. His beat: the Vatican.
Covering that beat meant cultivating sources in one of the most intriguing establishments in the world. He said whether it’s covering a city council meeting in Mankato or the latest controversy at the Vatican, the process is roughly the same.