Skip to comments.[ANDREW GREELEY barf alert] Criticism of pope no cause to quit church
Posted on 08/17/2002 1:41:20 PM PDT by Polycarp
Criticism of pope no cause to quit church
August 16, 2002
BY ANDREW GREELEY
Why are you still a Catholic, many people demanded of Northwestern University Professor Garry Wills after the publication in 2000 of his controversial best-seller Papal Sin. If you don't like the Catholic Church, why don't you leave, asked reviewers, pious Catholics and pious secularists alike.
In his new book Why I Am a Catholic, Wills responds. In effect, he says that, like many of the rest of us, he likes being a Catholic and has no intention of leaving. That the reviewers refuse to understand what he means demonstrates once again the pernicious determination of American secularists to misunderstand what Catholicism is all about.
Not only is Wills a Catholic, he is an old-fashioned Catholic, raised religiously in parish communities, nourished by such Catholic writers as Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Henry Newman, and G.K. Chesterton, and shaped by the spirituality of the Jesuit seminaries of the '40s and '50s and the teachings of the papal social encyclicals.
I read that last paragraph and realize that it is also a description of myself--especially the influence of Chesterton, whom most contemporary Catholic thinkers dismiss. Wills is aware of Chesterton's flaws, yet when he explains his attachment to the church in his new book, he repeatedly falls back on long and appropriate quotes from him. In my case, I do not think I could possibly write a novel in which the Chesterton influence would be absent. Maybe Wills and I do not get along all that well (and we don't) because the shaping influences of our lives are so similar.
Wills goes to mass every week and says the rosary, reads the Bible, studies his faith and prays every day. Like I say: an old-fashioned Catholic. Let those whose record is better presume to throw the first stone.
Why then does he attack the pope? Why are most of the chapters in the new book a lengthy and passionate historical critique of the papacy? Many Catholic historians will not, I think, agree with the details of the criticism. However, anyone who has read even a half-hour of Catholic history knows that the papacy, because it is human, has been a flawed (often deeply) institution, and the popes, because they are human, have been (often deeply) flawed leaders.
There is a certain kind of devout and enthusiastic Catholic who tries to deny or defend the flaws, or appeal to the Holy Spirit who, it is said, cancels out the humanity of the papacy and of the church. This is nonsense if not heresy. Moreover, it plays into the hands of the church's real enemies, who think that if they can uncover enough flaws, they will persuade Catholics to abandon the church.
Lotsaluck, fellas. You just don't get it.
All the Holy Spirit does is keep the church going in the long run, despite the idiocies of some of its leaders, and protect it from error in certain highly specific circumstances. That may not sound like much, but of course it's everything.
All right, some of the more sophisticated critics will say: Sure, popes make mistakes, but we must stand by and support the present pope (whenever the present might be). Wills is intemperate in his criticism of the pope, but one can understand his dismay that so many of the gains of the Second Vatican Council seem to have been needlessly squandered.
Yet listen to him, in truncated form, on the subject of the papacy:
''So when people ask why I do not go in search of a popeless church, I answer sincerely that I want the papacy. It is a blessing, a necessity--it is a requirement for the mystical body of Christ to remain one body. . . . If you want to reform the church, you need a church to be reformed. . . . The church gathers around the papacy, and supplies the resources for its rebirth and continued life. And, gathered there, the Catholic church has been highly successful in preserving the great truths of the creed. . . . It preserves the truth of the Incarnation, the actual embodiment of the Lord--including belief in his fleshly resurrection, his reincarnation in his mystical body at the Eucharist, the eschatological vision of his judgment and of life everlasting.''
Like I say, Wills is an old-fashioned Catholic--one might even say a conservative Catholic.
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What a load of horse hockey.
One decent line here though
You are right here. Thank you, God and Jesus, for sending the Holy Spirit, the other Paraclete.
Okay, everyone repeat after me:
Post-Vatican II good; pre-Vatican II bad.
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