Structures of Deceit

When America’s most prominent Catholic intellectual writes a scathing indictment of his church, it’s news. Whether it’s old news or not depends on the nature of the argument and the reliability of the evidence marshaled to support the case being made. Garry Wills’s new book, Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, is a passionate polemic that will please some, outrage others, and disappoint still more (see, Eamon Duffy’s review, page 24). Wills’s intellectual range is legendary and his forensic skills formidable, but he is not infallible; reasonable people can dissent from his particular ecclesiological and ideological agenda. That idea was conspicuously missing from the celebratory review Papal Sin received from the pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty in the New York Times Book Review (June 11). Rorty, well known for his hostility to institutional religion, objective morality, and all other putatively "conservative" forces, seemed an odd choice to assess the accuracy and persuasiveness of Wills’s book on Catholicism’s intellectual corruption. Not surprisingly, the only critical comment Rorty could muster concerned Wills’s failure to come to the logical conclusion that the church should be abolished altogether. Rorty seemed honestly befuddled as to why anyone would bother taking the Catholic church seriously in the first place.

It’s a point of view, but not a terribly helpful one, especially for the reviewer of a...

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