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Why I Am a Catholic

Wills, Garry

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9780618380480: Why I Am a Catholic

In this provocative work, which could not be timelier, Garry Wills, one of our country's most noted writers and historians, offers a powerful statement of his Catholic faith. Beginning with a reflection on his early experience of that faith as a child and later as a Jesuit seminarian, Wills reveals the importance of Catholicism in his own life. He goes on to challenge, in clear and forceful terms, the claim that criticism or reform of the papacy is an assault on the faith itself. For Wills, a Catholic can be both loyal and critical, a loving child who stays with his father even if the parent is wrong.
Wills turns outward from his personal experiences to present a sweeping narrative covering two thousand years of church history, revealing that the papacy, far from being an unchanging institution, has been transformed dramatically over the millennia -- and can be reimagined in the future. At a time when the church faces one of its most difficult crises, Garry Wills offers an important and compelling entrée into the discussion of the church's past -- and its future.
Intellectually brisk and spiritually moving, Why I Am a Catholic poses urgent questions for Catholic and non-Catholic readers alike.

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About the Author:

GARRY WILLS, a distinguished historian and critic, is the author of numerous books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lincoln at Gettysburg, Saint Augustine, and the best-selling Why I Am a Catholic. A regular contributor to the New York Review of Books, he has won many awards, among them two National Book Critics Circle Awards and the 1998 National Medal for the Humanities. He is a history professor emeritus at Northwestern University.

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Introduction this book is an unintended sequel to my Papal Sin (2000)--unintended because I thought that book treated a narrowly defined and self- enclosed topic, the papacy's dishonesty in its recent (anti-modern) era. Some read the book as something else, which they indicated by changing the title, from Papal Sin to Papal Sins--as if I were covering the whole subject of papal misbehavior over the centuries. It is true that I dealt with a number of disparate things--from papal treatment of Jews to claims of priestly prerogative, from documents on gays to condemnations of artificial insemination. But these were brought up not for consideration in themselves, only for the way dishonesty was used, in recent times, to defend whatever papal position was involved. Some Catholics asked why I was exposing the church's "dirty linen," though I did not mention anything that had not been fully ventilated in public. The newspapers had been full of controversy over pedophile priests, or papal relations with Jews, or the dissent of Catholic women and gays. Those were all out in the open. I revealed nothing about them--in fact, some conservative critics of my book dismissed it as containing "nothing new."

What was, if not new, then somewhat different, was my argument that these matters should not be considered in isolation, as if exhibiting different vices within the hierarchy--its anti- Semitism, or antifeminism, or homophobia, or even a secret sympathy with pedophilia. I do not believe the modern papacy is afflicted with these attitudes. There has, on the contrary, been a sincere reaching out to Jews and women and gays--but all these gestures have been checked or rendered abortive by a continuing nervous insistence that "the church" (by which these apologists mean the papacy) never really taught anything erroneous about these people. That is a claim that can be made only with the help of tendentious readings of history, suppression of evidence, or distortion of the evidence.

These maneuvers are justified--by those who think they must shoulder, all alone, the Spirit's role of protecting the church--as necessary measures to protect the mission of Christ. One of the most common objections to the book was the "everybody does it" argument-- that is, leaders of every kind have to protect their organizations by stretching or evading or denying the exact truth about it. Those making this defense are the ones who do not really believe in the church, who think it can survive only by acting like any other political body. Admittedly, the rationale for such protective attitudes is different with church rulers--but only in the sense that they are protecting something more important than any mere earthly authority. This makes playing fast and loose with the truth more rather than less justifiable in their eyes. Anyone who doubts that this is the attitude should consider the long and energetic efforts of the hierarchy to cover up cases of priestly pedophilia. Abusing young innocence is not only a crime but a particularly vile crime, and covering it up is a crime added to a crime. Are the church authorities who did this moral monsters? What can have been their motive? They reasoned this way: since the saving truth of the gospel will reach more souls in need of it if they feel that priests bringing it to them are holy, it is necessary--for the good of souls and the honor of God--to maintain the priestly aura with deception. That is: the truth must be served with lies. There can even be a certain moral pride in the sacrifice of one's own repugnance to the crime, a sacrifice in service to the higher good of the corporate body. The Holy Spirit must appreciate this aid brought to the cause.

Any other explanation for their behavior, I submit, does them an injustice. They thought they were doing the right thing-- naturally, since covering up the truth is such an ingrained habit with them. I was often asked, about my book, "Do you really think the pope and the pope's men deliberately lie?" Not quite. That is why the book's subtitle is Structures of Deceit. Given the priority of protecting the divine aura, and the terrible consequences of allowing it to be tarnished, the authorities do not allow the separate issue of truthfulness to distract them from the exigencies of their task. It is a luxury forgone, kept out of view, to be postponed while they meet immediate emergencies.

My book traced the same attitude in other and less lurid suppressions of the truth. I did not claim, for instance, that Pius

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