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Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit [Paperback]

By Garry Wills (Author)
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Item description for Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills...

New in paperback: from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wills comes a bestselling and occasionally stinging critique of the Catholic Church and its hierarchy from the 19th century to the present.

Publishers Description
"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.

"From the Hardcover edition."

Citations And Professional Reviews
Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit by Garry Wills has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -

  • Newsweek - 08/09/2010 page 55
  • New York Times - 12/23/2001 page 16
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 01/01/2004 page 86
  • Wilson Public Library Catalog - 12/31/2008 page 113

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Image
Pages   326
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.19" Width: 5.51" Height: 0.88"
Weight:   0.8 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Sep 18, 2001
Publisher   Image
ISBN  0385494114  
ISBN13  9780385494113  

Availability  1 units.
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More About Garry Wills

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Garry Wills is a historian and the author of the New York Times bestsellers What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, Why I Am a Catholic, and Why Priests?, among others. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other publications, Wills is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Garry Wills was born in 1934 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Northwestern University.

Garry Wills has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Emblems of Antiquity
  2. Penguin Classics

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living > Leadership
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Christian Living

Christian Product Categories
Books > Church & Ministry > Church Life > Roman Catholic

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Reviews - What do customers think about Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit?

Papal Sin: Book of Deceit  Apr 30, 2008
Gary Wills one of the biggest "anti-Catholic Catholics" outdoes himself in this book full of lies and utter trash. He spouts such anti Catholic garbage such as Catholics think the Mass is "magic", he mocks an elderly Priest who he used to serve at the Alter with by mocking the Priests reverence for the Mass. He makes outrageous claims like the last supper had women at it but they were censored out by the Church. He claims to be Catholic but has no respect for the Priesthood calling Priests "the peoples eunuchs". He mocks laymen who believe in the Papacy and the doctrine of transubstantiation. He flipantly suggests God creates abortions when women have a miscarriage. Wills calls St Edith Stein a false saint (she died at Auschwitz)saying she was a tool of the Church. The list goes on. Many liberal Catholics find this book as detestable as Catholics. It's one thing to have opinions regarding the Church but another to publish a book full of lies.
The real Catholic orthodoxy  Mar 31, 2008
Wills gives an honest, well written reflection on his own Catholic tradition and the conflicting voices within it. He chooses among those voices, deciding for himself which ones best reflect Jesus' teaching. Like many Catholics before him, he concludes we are called to use our freedom wisely, not give it up completely. We are urged to a personal relation with God, not blind submission to a human authority who claims to mediate between God and other people.

Wills also takes Jesus' teaching on forgiveness and sacrifice with the seriousness it deserves. Where Jesus argued "If you had known what that text means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice', you would not have condemned the innocent", Wills boldly concludes: "... Jesus is not a sacrifice. His Father is not the one whose aggressions need to be bought off. Jesus is not an item of barter in the exchange system set up by sacrifice. God does not accept victims. He sides with the victim against the slayers, reversing the whole logic of placation." (p. 307)

I think Wills stands for the real orthodoxy in Catholic faith, along with a whole lineage of other Catholic thinkers, leaders, or saints from the first century forward.
I'd look for more negative reviews before buying books of this kind.   Feb 25, 2008
Every time I am looking for critical analysis of long-held dogmas and beliefs, I would always look for books which garner the most negative reviews. I would never go wrong.
Understanding  Jun 7, 2007
With the growth of the anti-abortion movement (a good thing), some Catholics made their opinion known on other temporal matters, including contraception and papal Infallibility. Wills reminds us that the Catholic church is run by men, sometimes very good and sometimes very flawed. Each is burdened with the original sin of self-interest. Instead of our popes serving others with love and understanding, many fall prey to other all-too-human and all-too-fallible interests.
A great read.
Highly Unimpressive, Intellectually Dishonest, and Thoroughly Disappointing  May 24, 2007
If the reader is in search of a sophomoric rant, Garry Wills's "Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit" will not fail to please.

Yes, that is a strong statement, but it is hardly without justification. I begin by explaining why the book is a "rant" in print and then turn to the qualities which make it "sophomoric."

The book as rant: First, perhaps of least importance, the book contains no evident internal structure. The author jumps from topic to topic without any reasonably perceptible coherent plan or design, sometimes referencing recently discussed topics, sometimes referencing topics discussed much earlier, and sometimes telling the reader to "hang on" for additional information in later chapters. The conceptual disorganization is mind-numbing.

Secondly, the author feigns no attempt of having written a book designed to CONVINCE a fair-minded person of anything. From the first pages of his introduction, he sets forth as unchallengable truth his "conclusion," that is, in reality, his opinion, that the Papacy itself and the Popes of the last one and a half centuries are inherently and reflexively charlatans whose sole purpose is to hoodwink the Roman Catholic faithful on matters of dogma in an effort to consolidate power and to accrue unto any reigning Pope the status of a demigod. Certainly and very unfortunately, many people actually believe this thesis. The cardinal rule in debate and in persuasive prose, however, is to assume the sincerity, honor, and good faith of one's adversary. If the evidence adduced causes one to reach a contrary conclusion, then, fine. When one starts with assumptions of the insincerity, dishonor, and bad faith of his adversary, then, at best, he presents an impassioned statement motivated by personal opinion or political agenda, and, at worst, he, as a demagogue, seeks purposely to mislead his readers or listeners with with tautological argumentation that purports to be his "evidence" or "support." In other words, you know a guy has an axe to grind when he starts with ad hominem-styled attacks.

Now to the sophomoric nature of the author's method. First, my suspicions were heightened by seeing so many quotations which contained either an ellipsis, indicating the omission of primary source language, or a pair of square brackets, indicating the alteration of primary source language. (A conservative estimate is that one-quarter to one-third of all quotations make use of one of these conventions.) Whenever I encounter the repeated use of these devices of punctuation, the cynic in me immediately asks, "What is the author dropping -- or changing -- in the original text? How is he trying to twist it?" A supposedly scholarly work in particular should minimize the use of ellipses and square brackets if the scholar desires his work to be treated respectfully (let alone authoritatively) by others.

Secondly, given the quantity of footnote citations in the book, it is interesting to note when footnotes are NOT offered. There are several instances where Mr. Wills recites historical understandings and practices that differ from what he asserts to be pronouncements and practices promoted by the present-day Papacy. These go on for paragraphs and, often, pages at a time. Strangely, these recountings of history typically contain NO citations -- NONE. It's actually quite amazing. Regardless of what other learning the reader brings to the table, regardless of any other (contradictory) texts of which the reader is aware, the author clearly expects and demands his reader simply to accept unquestioningly The Church History of Garry Wills.

Thirdly, another fascinating point concerns the timing of Mr. Wills's citation of certain sources. For example, he fails to cite "The Catechism of the Catholic Church" until the reader has read two-thirds of the book. When someone is so single-mindedly bent on challenging and discrediting Roman Catholic doctrine, his readers (particularly those not intimately familiar with it) might reasonably expect him to present straightforwardly and simply an accurate, albeit brief, statement of the doctrine he challenges. Mr. Wills apparently finds this notion entirely unnecessary and dispensable. Actually, it's surprising that he had the audacity to cite "The Catechism" at all. A few chapters before he initially does so, he completely mischaracterizes the Sacrament of Reconciliation, i.e., Confession, as one in which the priest acts as the penitent's judge. That is plainly and patently wrong. Only God Himself is Judge; the priest, as the penitent's confessor, is God's agent who visibly and orally manifests God's forgiveness to the penitent. Had Mr. Wills consulted the discussion of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in "The Catechism" before setting pen to paper (or at any time before his book went to press), he would have been spared the embarrassment of such a misstatement of basic, fundamental Roman Catholic doctrine.

Examples are too numerous to recount individually, but one other merits special mention here, in light of the subject matter of the book. Early on, Mr. Wills states that Pope Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council, i.e., Vatican I, "to have himself declared infallible," and he snidely remarks at select times throughout the book that this Pope or that Pope felt that he couldn't possibly be wrong about this point or that point because he was infallible. While Pope Pius IX did want Vatican I to render a statement on Papal infallibility, the discussion, as well as the doctrine adopted, make perfectly clear that the PERSON of the Pope is not infallible, unerring, sinless, or perfect -- since only God Himself is all of these -- but that the Pope AS POPE, when speaking EX CATHEDRA (from the Chair of Saint Peter) on MATTERS OF FUNDAMENTAL FAITH AND DOGMA applicable to the whole Church, could not err BECAUSE SUCH STATEMENTS ARE THE INSPIRATION OF GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT and the Holy Spirit would not lead Its own Church astray. This was hardly a novel or revolutionary idea in the Roman Catholic Church in the nineteenth century, despite Mr. Wills's attempts to make it appear otherise. The doctrine and the Vatican I deliberations are neatly explained and summarized in Eamon Duffy's "Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes," which, incidentally, Mr. Wills manages to cite elsewhere but not in this context. One last point on infallibility: Mr. Wills also fails to mention that, since Vatican I's formal declaration in 1870, there has been a grand total of one -- yes, just ONE -- instance where a Pope has invoked infallibility. (It was Pius XII in 1950, with respect to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

On the topic of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would be remiss if I did not comment on Mr. Wills's view that the Vatican has "politicized" Mary and has caused her to displace the Holy Spirit as the third person of the Divine Trinity. This is absurd for two reasons: (a) "displacement" of the Holy Spirit from the Trinity would dislodge the basis of the doctrine of Papal infallibility (which, by the way, Mr. Wills sees as the primary tool used by the Papacy in its never-ending and insatiable campaign of self-aggrandizement and consolidation of power), and (b) Mary's SPECIAL relationships with the individual members of the Trinity, especially with the Holy Spirit, are the sources of the unique reverence (but not worship or adoration) due to the Blessed Virgin Mary -- in other words, she is not "only" "Daughter of the Father" (every human being is a child of God the Father) but she is also "Mother of the Son" and, of particular relevance here, "BRIDE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT" (which, in the first place, allowed her to become "Mother of the Son").

Finally, with respect to so many of the issues on which Mr. Wills spends so much time (clerical celibacy, the male priesthood, teachings on abortion and contraception, etc.), Mr. Wills has a frankly annoying penchant for constantly citing public opinion polls (including polls only of Catholics) as justifications for changes to Church teachings. As a society, we often lambaste politicians who rely on polls because such politicians are too timid to think for themselves, take positions, defend them, and, in the process, actually lead. Politicians guide governmental institutions of clear human significance. How much more worthy of disrespect and disrepute would adherence to public opinion polls be for leaders of an institution which, by its own terms and to its own faithful, seeks to understand issues of not only human but also divine and, hence, timeless and eternal significance? Can any Christian seriously imagine Jesus Christ Himself tempering, i.e., watering down, His teaching just to be more popular or to "put Himself right" with the Sadducees, the Pharisees, or the High Priests? No, He accepted persecution and death instead. As one who professes (somehow) to remain a Catholic, Mr. Wills should be mindful of unfair and ungrounded persecution and recall the words of Jesus in Chapter 5 of Saint Matthew's Gospel: "Blessed are you when they persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven will be great."

Let me make two obvious but significant points before concluding: First, people have had honest and sincere disagreements and debates about theological matters and will continue to do so. When these arise in an atmosphere where each participant at least concedes each other's goodwill (unless such is clearly disproved), the disagreements and debates can prove valuable to all. Secondly, the Church may not have always adhered to this principle throughout the last two millenia, but the Church, as an institution requiring day-to-day governance, is a human institution and, thus, an imperfect institution -- like all others. Believers hold that its fundamental teachings and practices are treasures; that the guidance of the Holy Spirit, exercised on and through the Popes for two thousand years, has ensured the integrity and legitimacy of those teachings and practices; and that this is a benefit and a cause of the evolution of Church governance by the Popes (instead of an evolution of a "Church by Congress" governance model).

Mr. Wills comes across as an angry, bitter man, guilty himself in this book of the transgressions of which he accuses the Papacy (a true statement with, perhaps, interesting and unfortunate psychological ramifications), because the Church is holding fast to its own traditional, genuinely held, sincerely developed, and carefully refined beliefs, instead of preaching "The Gospel According to Garry."

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