Summary and book reviews of Papal Sin by Garry Wills

Papal Sin

Structures of Deceit

By Garry Wills

Papal Sin
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Hardcover: Jun 2000,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2001,
    256 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

"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.

Remembering the Holocaust

We Remember

The debilitating effect of intellectual dishonesty can be touching. Even when papal authority sincerely wants to perform a virtuous act, when it spends years screwing up its nerve to do it, when it actually thinks it has done it, when it releases a notice of its having done it, when it expects to be congratulated on doing it--it has not done it. Not because it did not want to do it, or did not believe it did it. It was simply unable to do it, because that would have involved coming clean about the record of the papal institution. And that is all but unthinkable.

A good example is the long-awaited document on the Holocaust, We Remember, issued by a papally appointed commission on March 16, 1998, and recommended in an accompanying letter by John Paul II. This document had been in preparation for over a decade. It was supposed to go beyond the Second Vatican Council's assurance, in 1965, that Jews cannot, after all, be blamed for the ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

An invigorating read that is sure to spark controversy.

Reader Reviews
Frank L. Cocozzelli

As a Catholic, it is good to know that other Catholics have similiar beliefs. I would love to see Mr. Wills next take on the cult Opus Dei.

Mary

I've read Papal Sin and find it a courageous work - one based on truth. It is time truth be spoken as loudly and widely as possible. It is not blaphemous or heretical. It is threatening to those theologians/priests who have tried to usurp the ...   Read More

Dr.A. MonguiĆ³

This is an excellent book, written with conviction and elegance. In the 16 Century Erasmus, the great
humanist, wrote also with conviction and elegance, and like Mr. Wills with a profoundly Catholic spirit,
not afraid to criticize his Church, not out ...   Read More

Mel

I saw Garry Wills on a talk show discussing Papal Sin when it first came out, and was very intrigued and decided to buy it. It is one of the best books I have ever read. It is honest, extremely well researched, and there is no hidden agenda on Mr. ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Papal Sin, try these:

  • Losing My Religion jacket

    Losing My Religion

    by William Lobdell

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    William Lobdell's journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. It is a book about life's deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt.

  • Witness To Hope jacket

    Witness To Hope

    by George Weigel

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A groundbreaking portrait of the Pope as a man, a thinker, and a leader whose religious convictions have defined a new approach to world politics.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Night Film
    by Marisha Pessl
    One of the central tenets of Hinduism states that the world as we know it is just an illusion –...
  • Book Jacket: Complicit
    Complicit
    by Stephanie Kuehn
    When seventeen year-old Jamie Henry receives word that his older sister Cate, is being released from...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  152The City:
    Dean Koontz

All Discussions

Who Said...

Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

O O T F P, Into T F

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.