The easily scandalised should avoid The Dictator Pope, a new ebook by the pseudonymous “Marcantonio Colonna” which rose to 4th place on Amazon Kindle’s “religion and spirituality” bestseller list. And others should approach its more sensational claims with caution.

Everyone who writes about the Vatican hears credible things from good sources which we nevertheless cannot publish, because they do not quite pass the evidence threshold, or because we would rather not bring the papal office into disrepute. Colonna just goes right ahead. But the book is also judiciously written and insightful.

For instance, he addresses the old puzzle: how does the Pope sound at one moment like a theological liberal, at the next like a conservative? Colonna’s answer is cynical but not implausible: the Pope belongs to a uniquely Argentine tradition, exemplified by the three-time president Juan Perón. There is an apocryphal story about Perón inducting his nephew into politics:

He first brought the young man with him when he received a deputation of communists; after hearing their views, he told them, “You’re quite right.” The next day he received a deputation of fascists and replied again to their arguments, “You’re quite right.” Then he asked his nephew what he thought and the young man said, “You’ve spoken with two groups with diametrically opposite opinions and you told them both that you agreed with them. This is completely unacceptable.” Perón replied, “You’re quite right too.”

This is a very political book. Colonna expands on previous claims about a group of cardinals – the “St Gallen mafia”, as one member jokingly called them – who tried to prevent Joseph Ratzinger’s election in 2005. The group was originally led by the late Cardinal Carlo Martini, who once claimed that Humanae Vitae, Paul VI’s encyclical reiterating Church teaching on contraception, had done “serious damage”.

The St Gallen mafia adopted Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as their candidate in 2013, and campaigned for him with all their energy. “With Martini dead, and most of the group coming within a hair of the cut-off age for participation in a conclave, time was running out – they knew this was their last realistic chance,” Colonna writes.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection