Editor's Choice

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit


Papal Sin Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills
"The book will put heart into the dwindling ranks of liberal Catholics, scandalize the pious, and confirm the familiar indictment of the church by secularists who hold that there is no such thing as truth, only different opinions."Catholics have fallen out of the healthy old habit", Wills writes at the outset," of reminding each other how sinful popes can be."In the middle ages Dante performed this service for his fellow Catholics, castigating popes for greed, venality, and the quest for power and wealth. The sins of modern popes, Wills contends, are more subtle: continuing to defend positions that are no longer tenable, because admitting change could be tantamount to conceding that the church, which claims to be the divinely guided teacher of truth, had been wrong."- The Ecumenical Review, July 2002

Papal Sin
Structures of Deceit

by Garry Wills
Publisher: Doubleday;
1st edition (June 6, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0385494106
ISBN-13: 978-0385494106
Hardcover: Jun 2000,
326 pages.

From the Jacket

"The truth, we are told, will make us free. It is time to free Catholics, lay as well as clerical, from the structures of deceit that are our subtle modern form of papal sin. Paler, subtler, less dramatic than the sins castigated by Orcagna or Dante, these are the quiet sins of intellectual betrayal."
—from the Introduction

From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills comes an assured, acutely insightful—and occasionally stinging—critique of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy from the nineteenth century to the present.

Papal Sin in the past was blatant, as Catholics themselves realized when they painted popes roasting in hell on their own church walls. Surely, the great abuses of the past—the nepotism, murders, and wars of conquest—no longer prevail; yet, the sin of the modern papacy, as revealed by Garry Wills in his penetrating new book, is every bit as real, though less obvious than the old sins.

Wills describes a papacy that seems steadfastly unwilling to face the truth about itself, its past, and its relations with others. The refusal of the authorities of the Church to be honest about its teachings has needlessly exacerbated original mistakes. Even when the Vatican has tried to tell the truth—e.g., about Catholics and the Holocaust—it has ended up resorting to historical distortions and evasions. The same is true when the papacy has attempted to deal with its record of discrimination against women, or with its unbelievable assertion that"natural law"dictates its sexual code.

Though the blithe disregard of some Catholics for papal directives has occasionally been attributed to mere hedonism or willfulness, it actually reflects a failure, after long trying on their part, to find a credible level of honesty in the official positions adopted by modern popes. On many issues outside the realm of revealed doctrine, the papacy has made itself unbelievable even to the well-disposed laity.

The resulting distrust is in fact a neglected reason for the shortage of priests. Entirely aside from the public uproar over celibacy, potential clergy have proven unwilling to put themselves in a position that supports dishonest teachings.

Wills traces the rise of the papacy's stubborn resistance to the truth, beginning with the challenges posed in the nineteenth century by science, democracy, scriptural scholarship, and rigorous history. The legacy of that resistance, despite the brief flare of John XXIII's papacy and some good initiatives in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council (later baffled), is still strong in the Vatican.

Finally Wills reminds the reader of the positive potential of the Church by turning to some great truth tellers of the Catholic tradition—St. Augustine, John Henry Newman, John Acton, and John XXIII. In them, Wills shows that the righteous path can still be taken, if only the Vatican will muster the courage to speak even embarrassing truths in the name of Truth itself.

www.bookbrowse.com/reviews/index.cfm?book_number=577




Garry Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit
The Ecumenical Review, July, 2002 by John Jay Hughes
London, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2000, 334pp.,

Written by a Pulitzer prize-winning Catholic author whose previous books deal with topics ranging from Richard Nixon and John Wayne to Abraham Lincoln and St Augustine, this book is a publisher's dream. Wills takes aim at liberal Catholicism's usual suspects: Catholic antisemitism, papal infallibility, clerical celibacy, church teaching about the indissolubility of marriage and the attempt to mitigate this through the annulment process, the rejection of women priests, the condemnation of contraception, abortion, and homosexual acts.

The book will put heart into the dwindling ranks of liberal Catholics, scandalize the pious, and confirm the familiar indictment of the church by secularists who hold that there is no such thing as truth, only different opinions."Catholics have fallen out of the healthy old habit", Wills writes at the outset," of reminding each other how sinful popes can be."In the middle ages Dante performed this service for his fellow Catholics, castigating popes for greed, venality, and the quest for power and wealth. The sins of modern popes, Wills contends, are more subtle: continuing to defend positions that are no longer tenable, because admitting change could be tantamount to conceding that the church, which claims to be the divinely guided teacher of truth, had been wrong.

"The irony is that the very attempt to prove that the church has never changed leads to innovating arguments, to modern adjustments or additions, that just show how ill they accord with the monument they are trying to shore up. When ancient props for certain moral stands are removed, or crumble of themselves, the thing they upheld is not allowed to fall with them. New jerry-built contrivances are shoved under them to keep them in place ... a rickety makeshift that tries to pose as an eternal truth" (p.7f.). Responsible for this"structure of deceit", Wills charges, are the modern popes and their sycophantic helpers: "not men who lack intelligence themselves, though it sometimes seems that they believe all others do" (p.6). Let no one suppose that Wills is not skilled at polemic.

The Ecumenical Review July, 2002




Publisher Notes
Wills describes a papacy that seems steadfastly unwilling to face the truth about itself, its past, and its relations with others. the refusal of the authorities of the church to admit that they could err or do wrong to others has needlessly exacerbated their original mistakes. Even when the Vatican has tried to tell the truth—e.g., about Catholics and the Holocaust—it has ended up resorting to distortion, evasion, and blindness. The same is true when the papacy has attempted to deal with its record of discrimination against women, or with its unbelievable assertion that"natural"law dictates it sexual code....Wills traces the rise of the papacy's stubborn resistance to the truth, beginning with the challenges posed in the nineteenth century by science, democracy, scriptural scholarship, and rigorous history. The legacy of that resistance, despite the brief flare of John XXIII's papacy and some good initiatives in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council (later baffled), is still strong in the Vatican.




Amazon.com Review
"Catholics have fallen out of the healthy old habit of reminding each other how sinful Popes can be," notes Garry Wills in the introduction to Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. In his book, Wills alludes occasionally to the most egregious papal scoundrels: "In the tenth century a dissolute teenager could be elected Pope (John XII) because of his family connections and die a decade later in the bed of a married woman."But most of the author's energy is devoted to an incisive analysis of recent popes' doctrinal pronouncements, which Wills believes have eroded the Church's moral authority and contributed to the drastic decline in vocations to the priesthood today."The arguments for much of what passes as current church doctrine are so intellectually contemptible that mere self-respect forbids a man to voice them as his own," Wills writes."The cartoon version of natural law used to argue against contraception, or artificial insemination, or masturbation, would make a sophomore blush. The attempt to whitewash past attitudes toward Jews is so dishonest in its use of historical evidence that a man condemns himself in his own eyes if he tries to claim that he agrees with it."




Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit
By Wills, Garry

Jacket cover

"Papal Sin in the past was blatant, as Catholics themselves realized when they painted popes roasting in hell on their own church walls. Surely, the great abuses of the past—the nepotism, murders, and wars of conquest—no longer prevail; yet, the sin of the modern papacy, as revealed by Garry Wills in his penetrating new book, is every bit as real, though less obvious than the old sins.

Wills describes a papacy that seems steadfastly unwilling to face the truth about itself, its past, and its relations with others. The refusal of the authorities of the Church to be honest about its teachings has needlessly exacerbated original mistakes. Even when the Vatican has tried to tell the truth—e.g., about Catholics and the Holocaust—it has ended up resorting to historical distortions and evasions. The same is true when the papacy has attempted to deal with its record of discrimination against women, or with its unbelievable assertion that"natural law"dictates its sexual code.

Though the blithe disregard of some Catholics for papal directives has occasionally been attributed to mere hedonism or willfulness, it actually reflects a failure, after long trying on their part, to find a credible level of honesty in the official positions adopted by modern popes. On many issues outside the realm of revealed doctrine, the papacy has made itself unbelievable even to the well-disposed laity. The resulting distrust is in fact a neglected reason for the shortage of priests. Entirely aside from the public public uproar over celibacy, potential clergy have proven unwilling to put themselves in a position that supports dishonestteachings.

Wills traces the rise of the papacy's stubborn resistance to the truth, beginning with the challenges posed in the nineteenth century by science, democracy, scriptural scholarship, and rigorous history. The legacy of that resistance, despite the brief flare of John XXIII's papacy and some good initiatives in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council (later baffled), is still strong in the Vatican.

Finally, Wills reminds the reader of the positive potential of the Church by turning to some great truth tellers of the Catholic tradition—Saint Augustine, John HenryNewman, John Acton, and John XXIII. In them, Wills shows that the righteous path can still be taken, if only the Vatican will muster the courage to speak even embarrassing truths in the name of Truth itself."

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit
By Wills, Garry




against ignorantia affectata, Jan 28 2004
By Susan Spilecki"coachspilecki" (Brighton, MA United States)

Garry Wills' introduction to Roman Catholic systematized self-deceiving traditions, *Papal Sin,* is a tour-de-force for awakening the consciences of cradle-Catholics who have taken for granted the moral authority of the popes and their teachings. By examining one at a time the encyclicals and councils of the popes, and setting them against history and theology (including that written by such Roman Catholics as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Cardinal Newman, and Lord"power corrupts"Acton—and, oh yes, the holy scriptures), Wills challenges his readers to examine their own beliefs, to abandon what Thomas Aquinas called"cultivated ignorance," ignorantia affectata," an ignorance so useful that one protects it, keeps it from the light, in order to continue using it" (Wills 9). Wills argues that the intellectual honesty called for by modern science, academic inquiry, and general education (modern here meaning primarily since the Age of Reason into the current era) is not well served by faithful Catholics accepting handed-down doctrines unquestioningly.

Wills focuses on issues as seemingly diverse as contraception and abortion, the canonization and use of saints, gay priests, masturbation, the idolatry of Mary and the concurrent rejection of the power and authority of the Holy Spirit, and papal infallibility. He makes a strong case that the popes have increasingly supported its decisions with bad logic, bad theology, bad exegesis, and bad faith with its faithful-as-Church, rather than challenging the authority of the papacy-as-Church.

My faith has been cracked open by Wills arguments. I intend to do considerable further study and prayer to decide whether I can continue in an institution that has shown such disregard for the truth it is sworn to protect.




Flawed... but still a compelling, important read, Jul 5 2004
By"jimbabkajr" (OH, USA)

Garry Wills'"Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit"Is a riveting, important read. The book is about truth and the all-too-frequent lies of the top leadership of the Roman Church. The book is full of scholarly notes, and it is obvious that Wills is a well-read and intelligent man, as well as a compelling writer. The book is well-worth reading. I could not put it down.

Wills is creating his own Inferno here. And much of the critique is well-deserved.

But research can be twisted to your own ends - especially in a book on truth. This Wills does. He separates pepper from fly poop in reviewing canonization claims under Pope John Paul II. He uses indirect, even tortured evidence that contradicts the plain reading of scripture to make the case for homosexuals in the priesthood. His case for women in the priesthood caricatures the traditional view - essentially setting up a straw man to defeat.

Wills also demonstrates an unwavering faith in the flawed techniques of modern textual criticism - always (even knee-jerkingly) choosing the latest dates for authorship of New Testament writings and accepting the most liberal, anti-miraculous explanations of those Biblical events.

He can also be irritating. He was overly critical of Popes who stood for a position they believed in. In fact, much of the book is a set-up in that his real target is the current Pope John Paul II. And though he claims to advocate conscience, he can be frequently caught decrying it in the papacy. And most egregious of all, he absolutely opposes the proselytizing of Jews, seeing it as an act of anti-Semitism.

Lest you think I overstate this final point, check out his telling of the story of Edith Stein (particularly page 50 in the hardcover), and then ask yourself, "If you had the Truth wouldn't you want to persuade others of it?"This is not anti-Semitism, but love.

But for all those shortcomings, the book is still filled with important information. And Wills has such a great writing style that a relative novice to the subject matter could still dive in and follow along; which is perhaps the best reason to recommend this book.

Wills' marshaling of evidence from early church fathers was especially impressive and convincing. Augustine, in particular - the subject of a previous work by the author - is presented in such an interesting way that I want to get to know him better. And it is obvious that the prolific Father Raymond Brown is also a large influence on Willis.

But what Wills got right, boy did he get right. I learned a ton from the sections that dealt with the sexual abuse scandals and the ensuing cover-ups.

And Wills even changed my mind on a subject I'd been struggling with - a topic I had done some serious research on.

So what, in my opinion, did Wills get right?

The most shocking part of the book dealt with the sex scandals. There's a serious problem here that the church is refusing to confront.

The evidence presented against the celibacy of the priesthood, and the non-existence of the priesthood in the early church, are both right on the mark. Going one step further, the priesthood is shrinking dramatically. Wills not only blames celibacy (wrongly, in my opinion), but the very method by which priests are selected, which he demonstrates is in contradiction to the practice of choosing a pastor as it was done in the early patristic period.

The replacements and diminishment of the Holy Spirit, both in a monarchy of the Pope and the elevation of Mary are well-covered. Wills demonstrates bravery in stating the true gender of the Holy Spirit, and depth of understanding in showing how this confusion has aided-and-abetted distorted doctrine. For example, this denial has aided in the elevation of Mary's status to well-beyond disciple, the role demonstrated in scripture. Wills shows that it is the rise of Mary that was used as the foil to make the Pope infallible - an innovation that is only a century-and-a-half old.

In making these points Wills introduces the reader to Pope Pius IX. Pius IX is an especially interesting character in the book. His criminal behavior and eccentricities are the stuff of good novels, and thanks to Wills' story-telling style I found myself wanting to learn more about him as well.

There are other points that my mind could not yet fully digest. Wills' take on the sacrament serves as an example.

Even if you hate everything Wills stands for, you cannot honestly deny his writing ability. In fact, I'd hate to be stuck on the other side of an argument with him. However, I was left wondering, why is Wills a Catholic? He very clearly disagrees with many of the traditional Catholic distinctives.

Maybe if you read this book, you'll be able to answer that question.



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