Why I Am a Catholic

Why I Am a Catholic
by Garry Wills
Houghton Mifflin, $26, 390 pp.

Garry Wills, perhaps the nation’s widest-ranging man of letters or, as the phrase now goes, "public intellectual," has never concealed his Catholicism. But he has usually worn it discreetly, indeed keeping a mocking distance from self-consciously "Catholic" intellectuals who made their church too much of their public identity.

Two years ago, however, he published Papal Sin, to which Why I Am a Catholic, he says, is a "sequel." Subtitled "Structures of Deceit," Papal Sin argued that the besetting vice of the modern papacy was not personal immorality or corruption but an ingrained, institutionalized unwillingness to tell the truth, a sticky spider’s web "of all the past evasions, the disingenuous explainings, outright denials, professions, deferences, pieties, dodges, lapses, and funk."

That Papal Sin stirred outrage among Catholics who equate their faith with the papacy was not surprising. What was surprising was the negative reaction among many who had been regular critics of the papacy, often on the same topics that exercised Wills: the church’s sins against the Jewish people, its clericalism, its destructive opposition to contraception, a married priesthood, and the ordination of women.

Wills, it seemed, just didn’t know where to stop. He moved from Pius XII to pedophilia to celibacy to priesthood to Eucharistic theology, always sweeping away other points of view as "intellectually contemptible...

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About the Author

Peter Steinfels, co-founder of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture and a former editor of Commonweal, is the author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.