Garry Wills Pulls No Punches

He blasts the church's "old silly arguments" against abortion, contraception, and priestly marriage

"Telling the truth is a value you must protect all the time," says Garry Wills, author of "Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit." "The teaching part of the church is relying on these old silly arguments; they ring hollower and hollower.''

Wills could never be accused of faintheartedness. He argues that celibacywas imposed on priests in the fourth century to compete with the authorityof desert ascetics; that women were excluded from the priesthood based onGreek and Jewish notions of female inferiority and impurity; and that banson contraception are not supported by Scripture.

The papacy, he insists, is more concerned with preserving consistency thanrecognizing truthful teachings. Such a "structure of deceit'' is creating aCatholic majority that loves Pope John Paul II but ignores his dictates oncontraception, abortion, and masturbation, he contends.

In conversation, Wills speaks gruffly and sparingly. He praises his Catholiceducation, although he says, "The church gave the impression to me it neverchanged an iota, that everything we did in the parish was done in the earlychurch. That's so absurd it's easy to make fun of it.''

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Not only has the church changed, it has changed without losing credibility,Wills says, citing the switch from the Latin Mass.

Wills decided to write ``Papal Sin'' while finishing a recent biography ofSt. Augustine, whom he considers a model of truth-telling, and whilefollowing the case of a Texas priest accused of molesting children. Hedevotes a chapter to his claim that institutional deceit made it difficultfor priests to police themselves, writing: "Looking the other way is adeeply ingrained habit and necessity, a tactic of survival, for men whoselives are honeycombed with furtive acts.''

Wills described Pope John Paul II as "an engaging, courageous person'' whohas fostered openness toward other faiths. But he argues the current pope'sallegiance to the past has put him at odds with social and cultural change.For example, he said, John Paul's "conception of Mary is what makes himthink that women should be subordinate. Mary was obedient. He said womenshouldn't want to be priests because Mary wasn't a priest.''

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