Why is Pope Benedict XVI quitting? And who might replace him?
Those are two of the questions we put to John Thavis, who spent more than three decades covering the Vatican for the Catholic News Service. He peels back the veil of the Vatican in his book "The Vatican Diairies: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the power, personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Roman Catholic Church," which comes out Feb. 25.
Thavis, who has recently returned to live in Minnesota with his family, was in Rome this week. When the news came of Benedict's decision to step down -- something no pope has done in nearly 600 years -- Thavis was not quite as surprised as you might expect.
"I did have a suspicion," he tells us in the interview. Because, he explains, "Benedict himself said openly a couple of years ago that, hypothetically, he would consider resignation if he felt his strength was waning, that he couldn't fulfill the duties of the job. Already, last Feburary, I saw that he had sort of cleared his calendar. I was a little bit concerned that he was going to retire even then."
Thavis continues, "Nevertheless, when the announcement was actually made, I was as shocked as anyone. It's one thing to think a pope could resign... it's another to be watching a pope announce, I'm leaving at the end of the month. It really is unprecedented."
Along with explaining more about Benedict's departure, Thavis talks a little about what he wrote about in his book, which includes scenes of journalists having drinks on the pope's plane.
Despite what you may have read in thrillers like "The Da Vinci Code," the Vatican is a human place, driven by individual personalities, he says. "Sure, there's Vatican secrecy, but the fact is, if you're a reporter and want to find something out and talk to the right people, you'll find something out."
Watch the video to hear more about "The Vatican Diaries" and Thavis' experience as a "Vaticanista."
ALSO:Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times