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Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit Paperback – September 18, 2001

3.4 out of 5 stars 173 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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."

In chapters that address all of the matters just mentioned, and many others (including women's exclusion from the priesthood and clerical celibacy), Papal Sin considers "the connection between a Christian's truthfulness and Christ's truth." Wills argues that "the New Testament link between the two is brought about by the Spirit when he fills Christians so they speak without restraint." A final chapter, of great rhetorical and spiritual power, finds hope for Catholicism in a "church of the Spirit" where "the poor have the good news brought to them (Matthew 11:5)." Wills is one of those rare and exceptional writers who can clearly discern and describe both sin and righteousness, and can boldly speak the truth about power. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Wills, one of America's foremost writers on religion, were mildly disappointed with his 1999 biography of Saint AugustineDnot because it was anything less than brilliant, but because it was so short. They needn't have worried. In his new book, Wills puts Augustine to work against the "structures of deceit" he sees built into today's Roman Catholic papacy. Wills postulates that the papacy in every era has its own besetting sin. In the medieval period, it was political power; in the Renaissance, money; today, he argues, it is intellectual dishonesty. Because the papacy is incapable of admitting error on doctrinal matters, Wills believes, it forces apologists into mental gymnastics to defend doctrines such as an absolute ban on birth control. Throughout, Wills weaves in observations from Augustine and other Church fathers, showing that the "unbroken tradition" on these issues invoked by Church authorities is an ideological, rather than historical, construct. Wills contrasts Augustine's love of parrhesia, or bold honesty, with what he sees as the papacy's habitual mendacity on issues such as the Holocaust, priestly celibacy, homosexuality and the political function of Marian devotions. He also suggests that the crisis of conscience engendered by a Church that asks its leaders to defend dishonest positions is an unacknowledged contributor to the priest shortage. Though his rhetoric is at times a bit sharp, and his historical formulae a bit too sweeping, Wills's passion is excusable since this is a philippic directed at the Church by one its ownDa sincere, faithful Roman Catholic. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Image; 1 Reprint edition (September 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385494114
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385494113
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #878,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Garry Wills is one of the most respected writers on religion today. He is the author of Saint Augustine's Childhood, Saint Augustine's Memory, and Saint Augustine's Sin, the first three volumes in this series, as well as the Penguin Lives biography Saint Augustine. His other books include "Negro President": Jefferson and the Slave Power, Why I Am a Catholic, Papal Sin, and Lincoln at Gettysburg, which won the Pulitzer Prize.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Disclaimer: I am neither a practicing Catholic nor was I raised as a Catholic.

I noticed this book on the bargain table at a local book store, read the jacket and the table of contents and I was intrigued. The book is divided into four sections: Historical Dishonesties; Doctrinal Dishonesties; The Honesty Issue; and The Splendor Of Truth. I recommend using the "search inside this book" option to review the table of contents and the first chapter.

I found this book a challenge. I read a chapter or two and then did not pick up the book for weeks. At times reading Papal Sin was laborious, yet like physical exercise the mental exercise was beneficial. Of particular interest were the chapters on women (Excluded Women), celibacy of priests (The Pope's Eunuch's and Priestly Caste), priests as sex offenders (Conspiracy of Silence), homosexuality (A Gay Priesthood) and contraception (The Gift of Life).

To a non-Catholic, Papal Sin is educational and fascinating. To a devote Catholic who believes in the infallibility of the Pope, this book is likely blasphemous.

Four plus stars.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is a hard time to be a compassionate, intellectually disciplined, forward looking Catholic. The papacy of John Paul II has grown increasingly humorless, pessimistic, autocratic, and fideistic over the years. In recent weeks alone the Vatican declaration on the supremacy of the Catholic Church, coupled with the trial balloons involving canonizations of the Piuses IX and XII, have caused thoughtful Catholics to wince in embarrassment.
Reformers in the Church need a rallying point. As it becomes more politically dangerous for career pastors and theologians to lead such a renewal, the task may very well fall to a new breed of Catholic thinker, the lay philosopher-theologian beyond the pale of ecclesiastical harassment or sanction. Gary Wills is certainly such a candidate. His passion, his research, his breadth of insight, and his religious faith are beyond question.
But Papal Sin? A provocative title, to be sure. Too many Catholic reformers over the past half-century have discredited themselves from the starting block by letting their angers gestate whining diatribes that, for all their erudition, sound like the ranting of petulant teenagers. Papal Sin teeters on the edge. This is an angry work which portrays the popes of the past two centuries as constitutionally incapable of leading the Body of Christ with beatific purity of heart. For Wills the papacy has consumed its best energies in a titanic effort to preserve its own past, heaping generations of misrepresentation, disingenuous readings of Scripture and history, and outright lying.
A scathing indictment, yes. But his arguments are, at the very least, salient. The first section of Papal Sin is devoted entirely to Catholic relations with the Jews.
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By A Customer on June 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I can't believe this book is causing as much controversy as it is when so many people obviously haven't even read the book in the first place! Wills is a scholar of the highest standing, and while this book is passionate and provocative it is NEVER offensive or anything less than scholarship of the highest order. People's reaction only further proves his point that the Church has become an all or nothing entity wherein anyone who doesn't agree with something the Pope says is condemned by unthinking people as a bad catholic! Anyhow, I really did enjoy reading this book, particularly his chapter on the Holocaust and on the ordination of women. Read it and give it some serious thought--you won't be disappointed.
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Format: Paperback
I am Catholic and I picked this book up because I am truely alarmed with the path the magisterium has taken in the recent past. A lot of what the Catholic Church teaches, it demands its people to follow without question. However, in the modern age it simply isn't good enough to say "Do this because I say so". Especially when some of the teachings, such as issues like celibacy, contraception, papal infallibility, and women in the priesthood that this book brings up, defy not only common sense but also gospel teachings.
Contrary to what some Catholics may say, it is normal and healthy to question and criticize institutions, especially one as important as the Catholic Church. Without this, an institution will not continually grow and mature, only stagnate. This book actually strengthened my faith with the Catholic Church because many of the questions and misgivings I had about the church were addressed here with loads of historical evidence. It showed me that I am not the only one that has problems with some of the official teachings, and there are plausible, historic, and theological reasons that others have these same problems. I think the most important message this book has is that no one individual is infallible, the Gospels teach that only the Church as a whole is infallible.
Now, off my high horse and down to some book criticisms. Wills presents many topics throughout this book, and I think he does a good job interrelating each. However, this can create a tough read for someone that is not passionate about the material. Also, Wills does take some liberties with some of his arguments. Some may not agree with some of the conclusions he draws in this way, so keep a careful eye out for where the evidence ends and his opinions start.
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