The Catholic Left speaks!

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit
By Garry Wills
Doubleday, 2000, 326 pages

About a month ago, I finished a book written by a Catholic traditionalist decrying the 50-year-old apostasy of the church spearheaded by the Second Vatican Council. See here. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve struggled with a book which argues from the opposite end of the Catholic belief spectrum; “Papal Sin,” by church liberal, Garry Wills.

In this book, Wills is critical of several aspects of the historical papacy and the conservative end of the Catholic belief system, including:

  • The church’s attempt at historical revisionism by portraying itself as a victim of the Holocaust rather than the prime agent of anti-Semitism in the West and a sometimes collaborator or neutral observer in regards to Hitler’s genocide.
  • The banning of any and all forms of birth control.
  • The debasement of marriage and sexual relations within marriage
  • A sacrificial priesthood distinct from the laity.
  • The transubstantiation of bread and wine
  • The obligatory celibacy of the clergy
  • The prevalence of pedophilia and homosexuality among priests
  • The rise and popularity of Mariolatry
  • Pope Pius IX’s condemnation of modernism (including freedom of religion and democratic forms of government) in his Syllabus of Errors, and his definitions of the “immaculate conception” of Mary and papal infallibility.

Wills is so critical of so many of the standard doctrines and practices of Catholicism that it’s mystifying why he still chooses to identify as a Catholic.

The author justifies his freedom to critically analyze Catholic history and dogma by presenting two cases involving Augustine (354-430 AD) in which the bishop of Hippo defended truth over ecclesiastical correctness. Firstly, Augustine openly opposed Jerome, who had posited that Peter wasn’t actually in disagreement with Paul regarding his infamous compromising with Judaizers at Antioch, cited in Galatians 2:11-14 , but was only feigning compromise as part of a pre-arranged script. Augustine would have none of it.  Likewise, Augustine opposed Consentius who argued that it was fine to infiltrate heretical groups and lie using mental reservation (i.e., casuistry – a method later made famous by the Jesuits) as means in defending a greater good.

This book had many interesting arguments, but I must admit it was difficult to trudge through. Few books have taken me as long to read. While Wills effectively pooh poohs the legalism and traditionalism of conservative Catholicism, his loosey goosey, wide-is-the-way universalism is no better of a substitute. Sigh. Neither side of the Catholic spectrum proclaims the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

I see that Wills also wrote “The Future of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis” in 2016 in which he further criticized the church and hoped the current pope would institute necessary reforms. I can’t find any recent comments from Wills regarding Francis’ controversial lifting of the ban on communion for remarried divorcees. Perhaps he is no longer able to contribute to debates over these types of issues at the age of 83? For many conservative Catholics, Garry Wills has been the church’s #1 arch-heretic, but Francis is quickly gaining ground.

For those wishing to read more about papal indiscretions and heresies, see “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy,” by ex-Jesuit priest, Peter De Rosa. See my review here.

23 thoughts on “The Catholic Left speaks!

    1. Thanks, Maria! The book’s title really stuck out on the library shelf and it did have a lot of interesting historical material in its criticisms of the papacy, but Wills’ Berrigan Bros. brand of Catholicism is just as empty as Karol Wojtyla’s. Yes, so many baptized Catholics are loyal to Catholicism to some degree – mostly as a family or “tribal” identification – but believe nary a word of it.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yes, both brands are as empty, one is for the religious person the other for the worldly. My former tribe is meeting for our 50th highschool class reunion this weekend. I would love to see them but can’t go. Time and again I’ve asked the school – Mater Misericordiae – to remove my name from their mailing lists but they refuse to disown me.

    Enjoy your workweek, brother!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shortly after I trusted in Christ, I received a mailing from my Catholic high school alma mater and I asked them to remove me from their list. They complied! Thanks, sister! Have a good week yourself! My boss was on vacation today (his wife is a schoolteacher), so I got to work from home. Always a pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hey, I looked up your old high school and I see it was staffed by the Sisters of Mercy, same order that ran my grammar school. We used to hear about founder Catherine McAuley quite a bit. Those poor nuns. So much spiritual blindness.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We often visited the convent and I remember her portrait in one the visitors’parlors, Tom. That’s amazing – we both were educated by a now notorious order. Yes, these poor women! Poor souls. I was in junior high when Vatican II was held and they escaped their frightening attire. What a shock for the students. Enjoy being home today! Lord bless you!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We must be right around the same age because our Mercy sisters got rid of the medieval habits when I entered 7th grade, but that was in 1968, a few years after Vatican II. Yes, it was quite a jolt to see the old girls in halfway normal attire and their faces not squeezed by wimples, but still with veils.

        Thanks, I enjoyed WFH today. But my job is so stress-free that going into work is actually pretty good too. Lord bless you, also, Maria!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Tom, I started first grade at 5 1/2 and so was 17 when I graduated high school. You are my younger brother, as I turned 67 in March. Have a restful evening! The nuns are no longer hurrying along the school corridors and keeping us in line. Only one ever chastised me, and so I know that she was capable od genuine love. God help them to come out and believe the truth about what Jesus did for us!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Sorry, Maria. I wasn’t trying to be Sherlock Holmes with my comment. I was only curious because the nuns at our school didn’t implement the change in habits until 1968 when I entered junior high. Every once in awhile I think about those poor nuns who had completely dedicated themselves to their works gospel. I can see where it’s possible that some Catholics realize they cannot adhere to their church’s religious laundry list and eventually just beg Jesus for His salvation, without a plea of their own. Most of the nuns we had were nice but always in control of the classroom. A few were outwardly troubled.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing to me how people will go to every extreme necessary to avoid Gods sovereignty over salvation. Either we can earn it by works, or it’s free for everyone and no one needs to worry. They truly have eyes that do not see. When I’m reading the OT I tend to become frustrated with the Israelites, I mean you have a column of fire for Pete’s sake! But then I read the headlines of today, when we have Christ preached, and the hearts of man have not changed all that much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. RE: They truly have eyes that do not see.

      Yes, that’s the mystery of it. Many Catholic traditionalists on the one end and many liberals like Wills on the other end perhaps study the Bible much more than I do, yet they do not “see” the narrow way of salvation through faith in Christ alone. So this ability to see/understand the Gospel is a gift of God and I’ll stop right there on the brink of a Arminius vs. Calvin discussion.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the article, Maria! Yes, I am very interested in how pagan beliefs and practices entered into the early church as it became increasingly institutionalized. The book I just reviewed by a liberal Catholic referred to the tensions between monastics and secular clerics in the early church. I’ve been eyeing the book below at Amazon that would appear to be right up my alley. So many books to read and not enough time!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Tom, this book sounds promising. This quote from the summary is intriguing:

        “Why it has been previously thought that Constantine was a Christian is not because what he believed was Christian, but because what he believed came to be called Christian. And that represents ‘the triumph of ideology’.”

        Alistair Kee is new to me.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. From his obituary (d. 2011) it looks like he was a liberal religious unbeliever, but he may still shed some amazing light on the institutionalization of the early church, similar to Geoffrey Ashe’s book on the rise of Mariolatry.

        Liked by 1 person

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