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Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

Garry Wills

"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

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