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.