- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (June 6, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385494106
- ISBN-13: 978-0385494106
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 174 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,614,046 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit 1st Edition
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"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
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.
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Having hit the nail, so to speak, Wills does go too far at times. I certainly don't agree with everything or every position he takes. It seems he holds that if scripture does not overtly proscribe something, it should be fair game, or at least open for debate. This puts grease on the already-slippery-slope of moral relativism. He says that abortion is not murder while conceding that it is a human life from the moment of conception. It's not murder because the human life is not yet a person. Huh? I don't care how much psychobabble you can cite, that kind of reasoning is scary. So, there are parts of this book that go way too far IMO. Wills becomes an excessive gay-lifestyle apologist, which eventually becomes unrelated to the topic of the book.
Though I see much wrong with this book, there is a lot that is right, and I thank Mr. Wills for the courage to say what so many of us sensed for quite a long time. The human elements of the Church heirarchy have created a monumental credibility crisis that will likely take decades to resolve. The first steps require recognition of the problem. I'm not at all convinced the Vatican has a clue.
The book has its tendentious & pedantic paragraphs, but the overall tone & quality of the exegesis & writing draws one in...rather, as they say, like watching a train wreck and being unable to withdraw one's eyes knowing the inevitable end.
Gary Wills isn't a Devil's Advocate for Roman Catholics but he's something close to that, a devout believer who still finds the Church, and especially its ruling hierarchy, imperfect reflections of God's will. He is als
o arguably the most prominent Catholic lay intellectual writing at present. (His only competitor seems to be Karen Armstrong.)
Even when the Church has disappointed him, Wills has not let his faith lapse. His credentials are substantial: a Ph. D. in history, and education and teaching in the classics, and a number of substantial books on American history (on the Gettysburg Address, Henry Adams's history of the United States, Nixon's presidency) and religion (Why I Am a Catholic, What Jesus Means, What Paul Means, a short biography of Augustine) and translations from the Latin (Augustine's Confessions, Martial's epigrams).
Like him or not, he's not a lightweight. He's a serious thinker and believer and thus he deserves attention whenever he writes.
Having said that, to orthodox conservative Catholics, Papal Sin must seem like a landmine laid down on the road to obedience, so many flaws --fatal flaws, in my judgment-- does he lay bare in the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy and decisionmaking process.
This is a book about how past popes made fatal mistakes and current popes and the Vatican have compounded them with subsequent bad judgments. This is the Church that now can't find enough acolytes to populate the seminaries. In interviews, an astonishingly high percentage of priests confess to masturbating, having sex with parishioners or others, homosexual encounters, even pedophilia, and still the Church won't tolerate allowing priests to marry or women or gays to be ordained. The hierarchy has repeatedly found excuses for predatory priests who have abused children in their power, reassiging them to new parishes after flimsy and ineffective therapy, and blaming the victims for the priests' pedophilia as though the young children who have been abused had been the predators, enticing their priests to forbidden sexual acts.
The church bans contraception but survey after survey shows that the majority of its practitioners ignore church teachings on the subject., It condemns abortion even in cases of rape and incest and, against the writings of many church fathers , including Aquinas, claims a foetus is a full human being from the moment of fertilization. A pope finally, reluctantly, acknowledges that the Holocaust shouldn't have happened but denies the Church's past history of anti-semitism, as though complicity in the Holocaust falls totally elsewhere.
Wills argues with a wealth of historical and textual evidence that the fault lies in the persistent misreading of Biblical texts to support anti-modern goals. Equally harmfully, the Vatican persists in insisting that past judgments by Popes must all still be right, even when the majority of today's bishops recommend change. Structures of power undermine honesty.
The church that Wills advocates is more like a church composed of St. Francises, or at least of people who strive to emulate St. Francis. The Holy Spirit envelops us all, with no need to exalt the Virgin Mary in its place. (There is an interesting chapter on the nineteenth and twentieth-century exaltation of the Virgin Mary at the expense of the Holy Spirit, whose provenance is of much longer standing.) in Wills's church, Christians admit their imperfections but are saved by Christ's actions. The Church hierarchy is equally humble and it depends on the community of the faithful for its legitimacy, not rules over the faithful imperiously.