Summary and book reviews of Papal Sin by Garry Wills

Papal Sin

Structures of Deceit

by Garry Wills

Papal Sin
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2000, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2001, 256 pages

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Book Summary

An assured, acutely insightful--and occasionally stinging--critique of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy from the nineteenth century to the present.

"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 ...

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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

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

Gennavieve@aol.com

Truly a book before it's time considering the crisis in the Catholic church going on right now with sexual abuse and pedophilia. The book exposes the details of the Catholic doctine that most practicing Catholics have no knowledge of.
April 25, ...   Read More

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