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Historian attacks his Church.

Gary Wills, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
, Toronto, Doubleday Publishers, 2000, 326 pages, $37.95 (Cdn.)

Part I: Review by Fr. Leonard Kennedy, C.S.B.

This book is a chronicle of alleged papal sins of deceit, an account of popes who are said to have deliberately used arguments which they knew to be specious spe·cious  
1. Having the ring of truth or plausibility but actually fallacious: a specious argument.

2. Deceptively attractive.
, or have otherwise sinned, often in order to cling to past tradition. Some of the topics at issue are the relation of the Church to the Jews, contraception, the ordination of women In general religious use, ordination is the process by which one is consecrated (set apart for the undivided administration of various religious rites). The ordination of women  to the priesthood, clerical celibacy, episcopal control of who can be ordained or·dain  
tr.v. or·dained, or·dain·ing, or·dains
a. To invest with ministerial or priestly authority; confer holy orders on.

b. To authorize as a rabbi.

 a priest, auricular auricular /au·ric·u·lar/ (aw-rik´u-lar)
1. pertaining to an auricle.

2. pertaining to the ear.

 confession, clerical sexual sins, clerical homosexuality, the Blessed Virgin, abortion, in vitro fertilization in vitro fertilization (vē`trō, vĭ`trō), technique for conception of a human embryo outside the mother's body. Several ova, or eggs, are removed from the mother's body and placed in special laboratory culture dishes (Petri dishes); , and papal infallibility. Wills also claims that the Catholic clergy on the whole are aware of what has happened, and are secretly ashamed of their Church's doctrines. And he states, tongue in cheek, "I am not attacking the papacy or its defenders."

Wills, who claims to be a Catholic, condemns the teaching of the 1968 encyclical encyclical, originally, a pastoral letter sent out by a bishop, now a solemn papal letter, meant to inform the whole church on some particular matter of importance. Benedict XIV circulated the first known encyclical in 1740.  Humanae vitae that contraception is sinful. He doesn't mention the consequences of his dissenting position which Pope Paul VI Pope Paul VI (Latin: Paulus PP. VI; Italian: Paolo VI), born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (September 26, 1897 – August 6, 1978), reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of Vatican City from 1963 to 1978.  lists in Humanae vitae, which have all proven true, or a further consequence that contraception is the chief cause of abortion, which it often causes even in marriage. Besides, he thinks that abortion is not always wrong:

"But even though abortion is not murder, it is not a thing that can be proposed as an ideal. It should be avoided, principally by all safe measures of birth control--the one effective anti-abortion measure the Vatican will not allow. Though the fetus may not be a person, it is human life, it has the potential to become a person. It is something that should not be lightly done away with or deprived of all respect."

One wonders how much respect for the child can be present when the child is deliberately killed. One must think also that Wills is not aware that the chief cause of abortion is contraception. (Wills thinks, too, that, because St. Augustine a bout the year 400 didn't know when the fetus receives a human soul, we cannot know today.)

He contradicts the Church concerning the morality of in-vitro fertilization, the ordination of women to the priesthood, clerical celibacy in the Latin rite, the practice of bishops alone being responsible for calling candidates to priestly ordination. He seems to say that auricular confession should not be required, and here especially uses language insulting to the sacrament of penance and to the doctrines of grace, prayer, and indulgences.

He resembles a modern-day Arian heretic who uses scripture texts to disprove the divinity of Christ, which the Church decided forever in the fourth century. For many of the doctrines Wills denies (for example, concerning contraception, abortion, and the ordination of women to the priesthood) are now definitively settled, as was the divinity of Christ, long ago.

One soon becomes convinced that Wills has lost the Catholic faith. He finally claims that there is no true religion but that the Catholic religion is the best we can find. He must think that God wanted us to live perpetually in grave religious error.

Part II: Review of the reviewers by Fr. Al de Valk, C.S.B.

On June 10, the book section of the Saturday Globe and Mail devoted two long articles to Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by the American Catholic historian Gary Wills. The first was a review by former nun and lapsed Catholic Karen Armstrong, today a well-known writer on religion. The other was a compilation of extracts on contraception from Wills, meant to impress but, in fact, rambling in their disjointedness.


As Armstrong sees it, Wills is not dealing here with what she calls the "murdering" and "fornicating" popes of yesterday but with what is much worse--a series of popes over the last 150 years who have brought about a "denial of biblical scholarship, common sense, and simple charity." "This", she states, "amounts to a spiritual death, a rejection of Christ who claimed to be the Truth."

As her own contribution in showing the evil in the Church, Armstrong relates how, as a beginning member in the cloister cloister, unroofed space forming part of a religious establishment and surrounded by the various buildings or by enclosing walls. Generally, it is provided on all sides with a vaulted passageway consisting of continuous colonnades or arcades opening onto a court. , she was asked to write an essay on the Resurrection of Christ. She presented it as a rock-solid fact, she said, but when she offered personal doubts about the veracity veracity (vras´itē),
 of it all, her nun teacher reassured her by agreeing with her, but asking her "not to tell the others." Where is this nun now? Armstrong doesn't say. Meanwhile, she's quite content to present her as a representative for a lying and deceitful Church.

Canadian Press

The Globe's coverage presented Canadian Press with an opportunity to spread the Wills attack right around the country, with its review quoting Wills as saying, "The arguments for much of what passes as current church doctrine are so intellectually contemptible con·tempt·i·ble  
1. Deserving of contempt; despicable.

2. Obsolete Contemptuous.

 that mere self-respect forbids a man to voice them as his own." (For example, the North Bay Nugget The North Bay Nugget is a daily newspaper in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. It is owned by Osprey Media.

The North Bay Nugget was born in 1907 as the Cobalt Nugget during the silver boom at Cobalt, Ontario.
, June 17: "Book accuses Catholic Church of lying to protect its credibility"; Moncton Times Transcript July 1, 2000).

National Post

The National Post's review (June 24), no doubt lifted from its British sister paper The Daily Telegraph, was also written by a former Catholic, Anthony Kenny, now at Oxford. Kenny abandoned the exercise of the priesthood over Humanae vitae, after 1968. He presents Wills' list of topics mentioned above without additional comments, but he does wonder at the end "why Wills himself remains attached to an institution which he thinks has gone so badly astray."

Prairie Messenger

Another Catholic priest who quit his priesthood over the 1968 encyclical, the American Eugene Kennedy, writes a regular column, which in Canada is published in the Prairie Messenger, Saskatchewan's Catholic weekly. He proceeds in a cynical way, first raising Wills to sainthood (another John the Baptist John the Baptist

prophet who baptized crowds and preached Christ’s coming. [N.T.: Matthew 3:1–13]

See : Baptism

John the Baptist

head presented as gift to Salome. [N.T.: Mark 6:25–28]

See : Decapitation
 whose head will roll) and then damning any possible critics as "heresy hunters," the very source of political correctness. You get the picture!

Toronto Star

A fourth reviewer, this one in the Toronto Star (July 1), Stephen Bede Scharper, was perhaps the worst of them all. Scharper teaches in the Religious Studies Department in the University of Toronto Research at the University of Toronto has been responsible for the world's first electronic heart pacemaker, artificial larynx, single-lung transplant, nerve transplant, artificial pancreas, chemical laser, G-suit, the first practical electron microscope, the first cloning of T-cells, . He is an occasional contributor to the biweekly Catholic New Times.

In this long review, he tells us that "Wills slices through modern magisterial mag·is·te·ri·al  
a. Of, relating to, or characteristic of a master or teacher; authoritative: a magisterial account of the history of the English language.

 teaching on clerical celibacy, exclusion of women from the priesthood, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, papal infallibility, contraception, homosexuality, and abortion, unveiling a grand mosaic of official mendacity men·dac·i·ty  
n. pl. men·dac·i·ties
1. The condition of being mendacious; untruthfulness.

2. A lie; a falsehood.
, twisted biblical exegesis exegesis

Scholarly interpretation of religious texts, using linguistic, historical, and other methods. In Judaism and Christianity, it has been used extensively in the study of the Bible. Textual criticism tries to establish the accuracy of biblical texts.
, distorted historical facts, and outright prevarication PREVARICATION. Praevaricatio, civil law. The acting with unfaithfulness and want of probity. The term is applied principally to the act of concealing a crime. Dig. 47, 15, 6. ."

Wills, he says, "has done a marvellous job of chronicling the papacy's structured deceit." Then he criticizes Wills for examining the issues from the theological aspect when he should have investigated their perversions from their social, political, and economic context. According to Scharper, that's the real source for these "webs of deceit."

Scharper, too, would have us believe that Wills remains a Catholic. Is this because Scharper, too, thinks of himself as a Catholic?

Is Wills a Catholic?

The Globe's extract concerned contraception, which is really at the heart of Wills' fury. The two sections in the book which are devoted to this subject centre on the 1968 encyclical which, as argued so often in Catholic Insight, is the great watershed in modern Catholicism. The idea that Paul VI acted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in virtue of through the force of; by authority of.

See also: Virtue
 his office is, of course, never acknowledged. The very idea of divine guidance appears foreign to Wills and his reviewers. Wills has nothing good to say about the encyclical. He calls it "the most crippling, puzzling blow to organized Catholicism in our time, . . . a most disastrous document" (p. 73).

The two essays seem to have been written some time ago, perhaps ten years or more, because while Wills traces the support of Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Italian: Giovanni Paolo II, Polish: Jan Paweł II) born Karol Józef Wojtyła   for Humanae vitae, he stops midway in the nineteen eighties and, for example, never mentions Evangelium vitae (1995).

What is much more revealing, however, is that he never quotes from these encyclicals, including Humanae vitae, with one possible exception. It suggests that he may have never read them, or read them long ago. The end-notes all refer to secondary sources (or what other people have to say about the documents or events). This may explain Wills' sentence that Humanae vitae "is not really about sex. It is about authority" (74). This judgment totally misses the true concerns of the encylical, not to mention that Pope Paul's insights on sexual matters were very perceptive, so much so that, over 30 years later, his four prophecies about the dire consequences of the contraceptive mentality have all come true (see CI, July/Aug., 2000, p. 20).

Wills' book is ultimately about his faith, or the lack thereof, rather than about papal deceit.


The source of his attack on the Catholic Church, I believe, may be found in his very last chapter, "The Truth that Frees." Here he explains a friend's theory that "the whole fabric of social life is essentially a structure of deception, beginning with self-deception" (304). That is the reason, he adds, why Jesus calls Satan the prince of this world, the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44). Jumping from St. Augustine's idea that spiritual sins are worse than bodily ones--lying is worse than fornication--he concludes that the popes of modern times and the whole Church with them, have distorted the pure Truth of Christ, in other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
 poisoned the well.

Thus the book has become an interpretation of history, the essence of which goes beyond the surface events he discusses, to a denial that the Church is the guardian of the truth revealed by Christ. Gary Wills is no longer a Catholic because he no longer understands the Church Christ founded. He resembles the Pharisees Pharisees (fâr`ĭsēz), one of the two great Jewish religious and political parties of the second commonwealth. Their opponents were the Sadducees, and it appears that the Sadducees gave them their name, perushim,  who, when Christ cured a dumb demoniac de·mo·ni·ac   also de·mo·ni·a·cal
1. Possessed, produced, or influenced by a demon: demoniac creatures.

, accused him of casting out devils by the Prince of devils (Mt 9:34).

P.S. The American Jesuit magazine America carried an approving and admiring review of the Wills book by John O'Malley, S.J., professor of church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a graduate divinity school and an ecclesiastical faculty and theology that trains men and women, both lay and religious, for service, especially for the Roman Catholic Church. , Cambridge, Mass. In 1968, America rejected Humanae vitae and since that time has dissented regularly from Catholic teaching, of which this review is further evidence.
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Title Annotation:Review; Gary Wills' 'Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit'
Author:Kennedy, Leonard
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2000
Previous Article:March of Women: Part III.
Next Article:Mulroney and Machiavelli.

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