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He accuses a pope of "deliberate falsehood.'' He sayspriests live in a "shadowy underworld of secrecy and evasion andmisrepresentation.'' And he thinks the entire Roman Catholic system is builton "structures of deceit.''

Given these accusations in his latest book, "Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit" (Doubleday), has Pulitzer Prize-winningauthor Garry Wills ever thought of simply quitting Catholicism and joininganother church?

"No. Never. I would consider that deserting Christianity. There's so much Ilove about the church,'' Wills said in a telephone interview. "Disagreeingwith the pope doesn't disqualify you as a Catholic.''

Good thing.

Wills' jeremiad judges thechurch to be wrongheaded in its insistence on clerical celibacy and its opposition to birth control, abortion,homosexuality, artificial insemination, divorce and remarriage, and women in the priesthood.

As for theology, "the arguments for much of what passes as current churchdoctrine are so intellectually contemptible that mere self-respect forbids aman to voice them as his own,'' Wills writes.No wonder Catholics won't obey Pope John Paul II and don't want to becomepriests any longer, he says.

Wills, 66, a Northwestern University history professor, long-ago Jesuitseminarian, and author of a slew of books, including "Confessions of a Conservative'' and "A Necessary Evil," strongly identifies with his church and attends Mass each week.And he says the inspiration for the book was wholly traditional: twotreatises against deceit written by St. Augustine, the subject of a brief 1999biography by Wills.

Even those who agree may be taken aback by Wills' unremittingly bleak tone.The Vatican correspondent for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, JohnL. Allen, Jr., found "sweeping conclusions and finger-pointing that seemexcessive.'' Still, he concluded: "This is not Wills' best book, but it mayprove to be among his most important.''

As for conservatives, the onetime spokesman for the U.S. hierarchy, RussellShaw, writes in Crisis magazine that Wills decries deceit while committing"a multitude of dishonesties.'' Shaw accuses Wills of ``false reasoning,shoddy scholarship, and overuse of polemical rhetoric intended to slant theargument his way in the absence of compelling evidence.''

Wills has expressed many of these opinions in previous writings. So haveother Catholics, though rarely with Wills-level panache. What's new isWills' sweeping claim that all the church's problems emanate from deceit,including inability to honestly admit that the popes and the church havemade big mistakes.

He is particularly scathing on the lax way officialdom has treated priestlychild molesters. Wills says many priests also have relationships with womenthat are "known and kept quiet.''

So, too, with priests' homosexual relationships, which Wills contends resultin part from the current pope's insistence on the celibacy rule. "Manyobservers suspect that John Paul's real legacy to his church is a gaypriesthood.''

On celibacy, Wills argues, Pope Paul VI offered a "ludicrous andcompromising argument,'' which John Paul II has endorsed. Paul VI presentedshaky arguments, too, against artificial birth control in his 1968encyclical, "the most disastrous papal document of this century,'' inWills' view.

Reason? Paul VI, and John Paul after him, felt bound by prior papalteaching, he writes.

On women priests, Wills thinks the ban originated in Old Testament ritualpurity and subordination of females. But Rome doesn't admit the outmodedbasis for its policy, he says, and devises "weak'' and "tortuous''reasoning to justify it.

Similarly, he says, the church practices "lying fiction'' by opposingdivorce while granting American Catholics 60,000 annulments a year.

In Wills' bleak view, the best that can be said of today's church problemsis that they are an improvement over the days when popes were temporalmonarchs perpetually tempted by greed and power, murdering and torturingfoes, and appointing their illegitimate children to run the Vatican.

One of Wills' most important modern-day examples is the undying churchdebate over the Nazi Holocaust. British author John Cornwell, a Catholic layman,harshly attacked Pope Pius XII for not denouncing Hitler in his book "Hitler's Pope," while in two otherrecent books the Rev. Pierre Blet ("Pius XII and the Second World War") and Margherita Marchione ("Pope Pius XII: Architect for Peace") stoutly defendedPius.

Wills acknowledges that Pius feared provoking the Nazis to worse repressionand hoped he could play the peacekeeper if he remained neutral. Even if thepope was wrong, this "could have been an honest mistake.''

But inexcusable, says Wills, are Catholics' "false readings of history''since the war. He says Pius himself lied when he claimed in 1946 to havecondemned the "fanatical anti-Semitism inflicted on the Hebrew people.'' Pius presumably referred to his 1942 address which spoke of "hundreds ofthousands who, without any fault of their own, sometimes only by reason oftheir nationality or race, are marked down for death or gradualextinction.'' The pro-Pius camp says that obviously referred to Nazism, but Willsprotests that Pius "refused to name Jews or Nazis or Germansspecifically.''

Wills thinks the same moral evasiveness tarnished "We Remember,'' the 1998Vatican statement on the Holocaust orchestrated by Pope John Paul II. Romeconfessed that individual Christians had not resisted Nazi evil strenuouslyenough, says Wills, but did not acknowledge that Christians helped inflictthe Holocaust and that some bishops and priests supported the Nazis.

Thus the project was historically dishonest, he concludes, and "useful onlyto the fictions that the Vatican wants to maintain about itself.''

A more benign reading of John Paul II's Jewish policy appears in the recentpapal biography by George Weigel, "Witness to Hope," which makes the case that the pope hasconsistently shown sensitivity toward Jewish concerns.

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