Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit

Article excerpt

Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit. By Garry Wills. New York: Doubleday, 2000. 326 pp. $25.00 (cloth); $14.95 (paper).

Given the notoriety that Papal Sin provoked when it was published in June of 2000, many readers of the ATR will already have heard about the book, perhaps read a review of it or even read the book itself. Not surprisingly, many (although not all) reviews by Roman Catholics have tended to be negative, some even suggesting that Wills's disloyalty to the papacy ought to require him in conscience to leave the Roman Communion. Non-Roman reviewers have indicated that, however one may view the evolution of the papal office, Wills has clearly demonstrated the dangers in the type of authoritarianism into which it has evolved, particularly in the past 150 years, that is, since the pontificate of Pius IX.

It is this latter period with which Wills is concerned, and not with the moral lapses of the flesh of earlier popes which for Wills are far less scandalous than what he sees as the grave misuse of authority and the incapacity of the Roman leadership in the Vatican to acknowledge past errors. In this context, we should note, the recent acknowledgement of Pope John Paul II of the sins of the Church against the Jews not only during the Holocaust but throughout history is, at least in this instance, a dramatic reversal.

In other areas, however, such public contrition has been sadly lacking. For non-Roman Christians, the point is not that popes should be condemned for human fallibility, but rather that in practice the dogma of papal infallibility has formed an aura around the papacy in which, in effect, not only any dogmatic statement but also matters of policy and discipline must be treated as though they, too, were infallible. As Wills looks at the effects of this, he notes what Hans Kung was the first to call "trickle down infallibility." The result is that error cannot be acknowledged and must thus be hidden under the cloak of the papal claim. …

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