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Why I Am a Catholic Hardcover – July, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618134298
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618134298
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Having faced a barrage of critics for his New York Times best seller, Papal Sin, Pulitzer Prize winner Wills (history, Northwestern Univ.) responds to the frequent question, "Why do you remain a Catholic?" Considered by many a traitor to the Church, he passionately reaffirms his allegiance and loyalty to the constitutive elements of Catholicism. In a deeply personal narrative, he writes about a wonderful Catholic boyhood and an honorable Jesuit formation. No hint of anger here! The core of the text rearticulates the vicissitudes within the history and cultural context of the papacy from Peter, a companion of Jesus, to Pope John Paul II, the worldwide Vicar of Christ. The papacy is a living entity that evolves and changes much as society experiences a constant ebb and flow. Wills concludes this timely and hopeful work with an articulate reflection on the creed the real object of belief. A scholarly and serious analysis of examined faith, this is recommended for all public and academic libraries.
- John-Leonard Berg, Univ. of Wisconsin, Platteville
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Although Papal Sin (2000), Wills' dissection of "structures of deceit" in the papacy, infuriated some Catholics, it gratified many more readers, in and out of the church. Detractors and sympathizers alike, however, asked why Wills remained in the church. This book, his reply, is one part autobiography, three parts history, and one part confession of faith. The autobiography covers his Catholic upbringing and education; his abortive Jesuit novitiate; his discovery of the first of his Catholic personal heroes, G. K. Chesterton, whose writings lifted Wills' depression over leaving the seminary; and his first practical encounters with papal encyclicals and their uses while working for the National Review. The historical parts analyze the development of the papacy from centuries-long nonexistence to temporal power in the Middle Ages to institutional calcification and authoritarian dogmatism during modernity to Vatican II and subsequent attempts to undermine it by the curiae of Paul VI and John Paul II. Finally, Wills parses the Apostles' Creed, drawing on another personal hero, St. Augustine, as well as Chesterton, again, to argue that professing the creed with complete sincerity entails endorsing freedom of conscience, democracy, and ecumenism. Although it is unlikely that this book, which cites many more papal sinners than its predecessor did, will mollify Wills' critics, it is compellingly argued, intellectually satisfying, and spiritually moving. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

Like all of Wills' books, it's intelligent, well-written and engaging.
Stephen Deasy
I even did volunteer work for Triumph Magazine around 1966 in Washington D.C. where he worked briefly.
Gary A. Grelli
Why not either write the book implied by the title, or change the title?
Joseph Conklin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 125 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Garry Wills, prolific commentator on things political, cultural, and religious, writes again. The only problem is, it takes about 250 pages for the reader to get to Mr. Wills' answer to the question why he remains in the Catholic Church if he has so many quarrels with the hierarchy, the papacy, and their pronouncements on various points of doctrine.
The book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Wills talks about growing up Catholic, his days in the seminary and the Jesuit order, how and why he left the Jesuit order, his work for the National Review and his lifelong infatuation with the 19th-20th century religious writer and journalist, G.K. Chesterton.
The second part is a dreary catalogue of depredations, deceits, abuses of power, and miscues by various popes through the millenia. Wills argues that the papacy in its modern form is a recent invention and that it has evolved several times through different forms. It goes without saying that he thinks papal infallibility has got to go. The second part seems to be a reprise of his earlier book, "Papal Sin."
The third part of the book actually gets around to Wills finally, at long last, answering the question why he remains a Catholic. This fifty page portion of the book is actually quite eloquent and thoughtful and could stand on its own as a book or as a magazine article. Wills's meditation on why he remains in the Church is organized around the clauses of the Apostle's Creed, which he treats with great insight.
I subtract 2 stars because of the redundant material and the interminable delay in getting to the answer to the question. I give 3 stars because the last section is quite good.
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164 of 201 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Wills has written an essential book. It doesn't deal directly with the current Church scandals, but it's timely in that it gives us reason to hope for reform. Wills made a big splash criticizing the Church in his last book. He made it very clear how the Church fathers are more interested in protecting themselves than ministering to the faithful. One would have thought from that book that he was done with Catholicism, that he would turn his back on the Church.
Here he shows why he hasn't run from his faith. The Church has incredible powers to regenerate itself in times of crisis. It can change, and still remain the Church.
I have struggled with so many of these issues over my life. Repulsed by so much that is asserted under the banner of Catholicism, but also drawn over and over again back to its beauty and message of goodness. With this book I can begin to reconcile these inclinations. I don't think I'll ever throw myself wholeheartedly back into the Church (unless it truly changes), but I can with all my convicion say I am one of the faithful. I just wish those in the Church would heed Wills's message of reform. We would all of us--even non-Catholics--be better off.
I highly recommend this important book. Thank you, Mr. Wills for being so brave and honest.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Conklin on March 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
The criticisms others here have written are entirely justified. I haven't read Papal Sin, but Wills describes in his introduction how that book was critical of the papacy, and how the question was raised by several categories of critics- Why are you still a Catholic? One would assume, then, that the present book was written to answer that question. Instead, incomprehensibly (following a brief biography), Wills launches into a historical review of all the papal sins that I would have thought were the subject of the first book. He gets to the modern day, and he criticizes (then) Pope John Paul II and (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. What he does nowhere that I can see is to find very much good to say about any of the popes. The final pages are an apologetic for the Church in general, that basically the popes really are important and that it is the people of the Church that prop him up. Somehow, after he states in the historical portion that the bishop of Rome did not have the primacy of the Church for at least 5 centuries, he finds Peter at this last stage, reclaims the papacy as a flawed but necessary part of the institution, and proclaims all right with the Church because it has maintained consistency where it counts. Hey, this should have been Chapter One!

My problem with the book isn't with the opinions. Wills can write a history of the ineptitude of popes if he wants, but a) I thought he did that already with Papal Sin; b) this book goes from the apparent apologetic of the introduction to the polemic bulk of the ensuing content with so little warning that one feels that this whole other book reared its beastly head and forced itself upon him. This inconsistency of theme is glaringly obvious so the question that forces itself upon the reader is- Why is Wills obsessed with the papacy?
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41 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Julio F. Lopez on November 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
I loved this book! This is a great book if you are Catholic but cannot agree with the Party Line or if you want to discover why some Catholics are not as conservative as you may be.

I read "Papal Sin" (Wills other famous book) and didn't appreciate the argument because the book didn't seem complete. It seemed to juxtapose the argument from a true historical perspective. As such, I put that book down thinking the book was interesting but I wasn't convinced.

However, with this book I was thoroughly satisfied. The historical backdrop was so detailed that it left me wondering, "Why ARE you Catholic, Mr. Wills?". The answer comes with his discussion of the Creed - a must read. The only item I would disagree on is his interpretation of the Lord's Prayer. The author interprets the prayer through an End Times lens. While this may be true to certain clues in the Greek; I don't beleive it's true to the Prophetic spirit of Jesus when sharing the Prayer. The Prayer is a backdrop to our relationship with God the Father (read it in context of what comes before and after within the book of Matthew). As such, I beleive the spirit of the Prayer is timeless i.e. past, present and future. Despite my disagreement, Mr. Wills is far more educated and expresses his argument beautifully, so I humbly cannot take points off for his viewpoint.
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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.

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