As rude awakenings go, this one is pretty straightforward. Last year the Vatican spent about $114 million, which was almost exactly twice as much as it took in. Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia offers this cogent analysis of the situation: "Any time your operating income fails to cover expenses, you've got a problem."
Six years ago, in his role as the Holy CEO, Pope John Paul II named Krol and 14 of his fellow cardinals to a special council charged with rescuing the Catholic Church from financial perdition. According to Shawn Tully's informative if uninspired report in the Dec. 21 Fortune, the pope "thinks the cardinals have fiddled long enough."
The sources of the Vatican's quandary would be familiar to many governments or corporations: a sprawling (and, believe it or not, heavily unionized) bureaucracy, the high cost of pensions for retired church workers, unexpectedly low returns on church investments, even a recent and bruising scandal (the Banco Ambrosiano flap).
Stopgap solutions are plentiful, but for reasons of church temperament and history, they are unthinkable -- at least so far: the sale of some of the Vatican's 18,000-plus works of art, its gold bullion (which sits in the vaults of the New York Fed) and its real estate in Rome and around the world. Incidentally, all but a small fraction of the cost of the pope's expensive global travel is borne by the host dioceses.
Long-term solutions are equally elusive. The cardinals are weighing a plan to ask wealthy communicants for donations to build an operating fund for the Vatican, but opponents worry about giving undue influence to a few rich Catholics -- and, by implication, to American ones.
Answering 'Answered Prayers' Critic John Richardson recognizes that what Truman Capote's posthumously published and "unfinished" novel requires is not so much a review as an autopsy. This he performs, with a cool blade, in the Dec. 17 number of The New York Review of Books, and delivers in the process a cautionary tale about literary license.
"Answered Prayers," in Richardson's unequivocal view, is "the burned-out aftermath of fireworks -- blackened Catherine wheels, fag ends of fuses, rockets that never made it to the sky." Its "little horror stories bear witness to a terminal fizzling out of skill and imagination."
Richardson knows this pathetic book is easy game, so he doesn't waste much time on its literary merits. He is more concerned for Capote's many victims, whose loyalty to the failed writer was repaid with heartless tattling and merciless caricature. To make his point, Richardson names names Capote himself coyly disguised; the piece is in part a candid reader's guide to "Answered Prayers."
His point is this: Capote did more than embarrass people, he devastated them -- in one squalid instance, which Richardson recounts unsparingly, apparently driving a woman to suicide. There is more than a little vengefulness here, not all of it terribly attractive and some of it eerily like Capote's own, but Richardson makes it hard not to share his indignation.
Body Language In the windows of some avant-garde boutiques today, you can find human beings standing stock still, modeling the fashion of the day. Call this homage to the mannequin, life doing its level best to imitate art.
The art of mannequin making is in its heyday, if Metropolis magazine is to be believed. In the December issue, Karrie Jacobs traces the (fairly recent) history of store-window dummies, the technology of their construction, the precision and individuality of their design and the social currents reflected in their body language.
In the past decade, for instance, the tough, aggressive poses of the feminist era have given way to soft, coquettish stances of the postfeminist age. So says one designer, anyway. Today, Jacobs says, designers are heading in two directions at once, "creating both the most real and the most consciously unreal humanoids possible."
Metropolis, the attractive setting for this absorbing story, calls itself "The Architecture & Design Magazine of New York." It's oversized, like Interview and L.A. Style, and urbane without being impossibly inward. Subscriptions: 14 monthly issues for $23.95, if you enclose payment, and 13 if you don't; write P.O. Box 1664, Dayton, Ohio 45401.
Still Hungry 140 Years Later America's love affair with Chinese food was sparked in the Gold Rush, and it has remained passionate to this day, even through periods of deep prejudice against the Chinese themselves. Bryan Johnson, in his brisk chronicle for the December American Heritage, doesn't quite explain the magic, but he does confirm that chop suey and the fortune cookie are American inventions; that it has taken almost 140 years for the American palate to appreciate the kind of Chinese food that's eaten in China; and that Americans have been making the same jokes about Chinese food for generations.
Between the Lines First, read some very short stories by John Updike, Langston Hughes, Jayne Anne Phillips and John Cheever. Next, answer a few questions about what you've read. Then, figure out your score. This test is not administered by the College Board but by Omni magazine, in its December issue. Your responses could provide insights to your personality