Crimes of the Father, by Thomas Keneally

It is unusual for a reader to find an Author’s Note at the beginning of a novel that describes his own personal background. But that is exactly what happens here. This 2016 novel is about priests who abuse children. And Keneally describes in his Note how his own early years in a Catholic seminary gave him certain insights for writing this novel. But while he began to train as a priest, and still believes in the mission of the Church, he says he no longer practices his faith. But I don’t write this to complain about his Note or that decision. I write this because his subject is precisely what interested me in this novel. And to stress it offers an unusual start for a literary work. A kind of apologia.

This novel is about a priest who is popular and well-respected by the laity. But Frank Docherty was exiled by the archbishop of Sydney, Australia, in the 1970s for opposing the war in Vietnam, as well as for his liberal theology. Given the choice of leaving the priesthood and staying at home or remaining a priest if his order sends him elsewhere, he agrees to relocate to Canada, where he builds a richly deserved reputation.

As the book opens, he writes ahead to a new archbishop, a cardinal, and asks to be able to return home to Australia as an active priest, as well as to be with his elderly mother during her final years. In the first chapter, he arrives back in Australia in 1996 on leave and to plead his case. But what follows is a little confusing. He first encounters an argumentative and intelligent cab driver Sarah Fagan. Then we are introduced to Maureen Breslin. What is her connection to Father Docherty, we wonder. Then we flash back to the 1960s, and learn that her brother Leo Shannon, a monsignor, had recommended that she discuss with our Father Docherty the problem she has with the Church’s new encyclical on birth control.

To add confusion, we continue moving back and forth in time, especially between the 1970s and the 1990s, as Keneally introduces other people who seem to have no connection. Except, finally, the connection is made. And the novel quickly comes together, as it begins to explore the moral scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. For various people we have and will meet have been victims of such priests, and the novel grows in richness as the author proceeds to explore the attitudes and reactions of both the victims and the perpetrators, as well as those determined to expose them. And to dramatize this, the author sets up various confrontations that explore how the victims respond when their victimization becomes public, and how the Church deals with its pedophile priests.

There are also major coincidences that might invalidate another novel not so well thought through, so balanced, and so understanding of humanity. And this is that, first, Maureen’s brother, the well-respected and influential Monsignor Leo, turns out himself to be an abusive priest; and that, second, Maureen refers Father Docherty to a friend who has lost a son to suicide, and whose suicide note refers directly to Monsignor Leo. Moreover, it refers to another victim of the priest, and then Sarah Fagan confesses to Father Cocherty that her antagonism toward the Church was prompted by her own victimization as a child. Which was also at the hands of Monsignor Leo.

And so, finally, we understand why all these separate characters have been brought together, why we have been moved back and forth in time to establish their victimization, and why they all three see in Father Cocherty not only a way to achieve justice, but also a means to absolve themselves of their embarrassment and their guilt.

But once these coincidences are in play, the even-handedness of the author, the intelligence and decency of Father Cocherty, and the fair pursuit of justice results in a rich and powerful novel about pedophilia and the Catholic Church’s role in defending the indefensible. As The Times of London review said, the novel is “an impressive panorama…a convincing argument for the power of fiction to get under the skin of a great contemporary controversy.”

And yet, there are critics, like Randy Boyagoda in The New York Times, who found Father Docherty “not especially interesting, for he rarely feels genuinely unsure of himself,” but is fascinated by the combative and doubting Sarah Fagan, a significant but peripheral character. He identifies with the psychological pain of her victimization and her subsequent move from a convent life and a teaching life to becoming a cab driver. But like many people, he finds it difficult to relate to those facing spiritual challenges.

The tone of this book is of regret that this pedophilia occurred and that the Church defended the guilty priests at the expense of losing some of their faithful and, worse, much of their reputation as a defender of the poor and the innocent. Like the author himself, Father Docherty still loves the mission of a Church established by Christ, even as he faults the men who fear the Church will lose its reputation if it acknowledges the evil being committed under its own roof.

This is as balanced a treatment of this subject as I could have imagined. It is about men and women, and about priests and cardinals, once the evil is revealed, acting for what they think is good. And if I wondered how the author was going to finish this story, how he was going to resolve this confrontation of good and evil, I was completely satisfied.

For the climax is not about the results of the final confrontation between Father Docherty and the cardinal. It is about the internal life of the priest himself. Yes, we learn the outcome of the legal struggle, but the novel concentrates, wisely I think, on the internal impact on the mind of the priest. For this priest still believes that “if you do this to one of the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”

Keneally has tackled many subjects in a long literary career that covers 36 novels. And nearly every novel has a richness that has earned him a noteworthy reputation. Indeed, he has become one of my favorite authors, not least because we share the same perspective on both human failings and human redemption. But this work also hits closer to home for me, because it concerns spiritual failings and spiritual redemption. (September, 2019)

Conclave, by Robert Harris

On reading the Harris novel, An Officer and a Spy, I suggested his next subject might be a story of the Russian Revolution. But he has denied me twice. He has chosen as his subject for this 2016 novel the election of a new pope. And he has projected the election into the future, rather than as an event of the past.

He writes the story from the viewpoint of Cardinal Lomeli, the Dean of Cardinals, whose role as dean is to run the election. And from the opening pages, when Lomeli learns of the death of a reformist Francis-like pope, I was immediately caught up by the cardinal’s sense of responsibility, his dedication, his integrity, his worthiness. And I remained comfortable with this viewpoint for the entire novel, as Lomeli offers both a human and a spiritual insight regarding each event. Insights so appropriate for a dedicated man of the cloth that I projected that the author was himself raised a Catholic, since he reflected such a complete understanding of this man of faith.

But as Harris himself explained to the Catholic Herald, “I was never baptized. I have always mildly resented this, as I have felt one should be plugged in from birth, just like one is given inoculations.” And adds: “I don’t think this book could have been written by a complete atheist.” Indeed, that he first submerged himself in the Gospels, as well as in Pope John XXIII’s Journal of a Soul, adds to the dedication to and achievement of this novel. That he has so submerged himself into the subconscious of a Roman cardinal that he makes not only him but this portrait of the Church entirely credible. Indeed, even the fear of loneliness on being elected pope rises on these pages.

The initial chapters also drew me into an appreciation of the additional research Harris pursued in order to write this work of fiction. And of the degree of cooperation he received from the Vatican, which he cites in his Acknowledgements. For we are inside these men’s minds and souls, inside the Sistine Chapel as these 118 cardinals cast their votes, and inside the mission of the Catholic Church that the Vatican sustains. Even the repetitive procedures that apply to each ballot, and there will be seven ballots, increases the weight that is given to the burden on these men’s shoulders.

And yet this is also a novel. So new developments must evolve to sustain reader interest. These are built around the fortunes of each candidate, as their electability rises and falls. They do so as a result of certain character revelations, revelations based on sex or bribery, revelations which, however, are not truly original. This is perhaps where this serious novel veers toward the popular side rather than toward the literary side. And it concludes with acts of violence that may have a factual basis in the world of today’s reader; but they reflect more an external force bringing this novel to its climax, rather than any turning point in the lives of these cardinals.

As for the ending itself, it operates on two levels. On the cardinals’ eventual choice of the new pope, I was not surprised. It is somewhat telegraphed. On a second level, we are offered a final twist, which reflects for me too much just that, a final twist. It is like an add-on by Harris, in which he changes one of the characters. One even sees Harris writing it with a smile.

On the cover are the words, “The power of God, the ambition of men.” And the novel certainly reflects this conflict. Ambition drives the actions of up to a half dozen of the cardinals in the conclave. In fact, even those who would deny ambition succumb to it at the end.

The candidates are three Italians: Cardinal Lomeli, the conscientious leader of the election process; Cardinal Bellini, an ambitious reformer; and Cardinal Tedesco, an ambitious archconservative. In addition, there are Cardinal Tremblay, a media-savvy Canadian who is ambitious for his own sake; Cardinal Adeyemi, a charismatic Nigerian conservative; and Cardinal Benitez, an unknown, modest Filipino. And the fortunes of these men will rise and fall as the election proceeds, falling either because of discoveries of their past, or because of their own aggressiveness. One might also note that these changes in fortune occur conveniently between each of the ballots, meaning they are carefully placed by the author to build his suspense. As well as to prompt the next shift in the leading vote-getter.

Unfortunately, however, we witness each candidate’s rise and fall more as representatives of their individual ideology than as fully-fleshed human beings whose private beliefs are probed. Which is why, as we dig further into this novel, the outcome of the voting becomes more pertinent than the fate of these individual candidates. Except, one might say, for the winning candidate. Which, as I said, involves a change more at the instigation of the author than it is of the candidate.

All of this works, however, within the secretive atmosphere that Harris has brought alive onto the page. As a former political reporter himself, as well as a novelist fascinated by the hidden machinations of power (see his Roman era novels), Harris says his initial inspiration for this novel came when he compared the faces on the Vatican balcony—“worldly, cunning, benign”—as the recent pope was announced, to the faces he imagined in Cicero’s senate.

Harris understands how ambition and power function in a complex organization like the Church. Especially when its leaders are brought together to choose one among them to be their chief. He also uses Lomeli to spell out the history and traditions of past elections, as well as the implications for today. Perhaps most powerful of all, he emphasizes the seclusion of these cardinals and the ritual secretiveness that each cardinal accepts. Finally, he balances the institutional and personal needs that confront these men.

Nevertheless, this novel fits more into the thriller category than into the literary category. It is more concerned with the outcome than with any change the outcome brings—either to the Church or to these characters. And yet it is a fine novel, because of its texture of secrecy, its reflection of the Church’s past in its art, its overview of Church politics, its clear understanding of ambition and power, leavened at times by one’s conscience, and finally by the sincere humanity of these cardinals. (May, 2017)

Warburg in Rome, by James Carroll

This is a religious thriller, and a good one, from one of my favorite authors, James Carroll. But this 2014 novel is not the literary work that I had hoped to read. What happened? My theory stems from the fact that of Carroll’s recent works, only one was a novel, and, indeed, a literary one. Whereas, the others were works of history—with the emphasis on Church history and power, the Church’s relations with the Jews, and American military might.

This novel represents a blend of those issues, and I sense that Carroll either thought his subject here did not reach the scale of his previous non-fiction works, or thought it would reach a broader audience as a novel. And he did want/need a broad public to be aware of this slice of Vatican history.

The story he tells is ironic, that the Vatican, with the collaboration of the American army, established a pipeline to help Nazi military officers and government leaders escape to Argentina. They worked together, in history, because both groups feared that Soviet military power would establish atheistic Communism in Europe; and had determined that these escaping Nazis could become a bulwark to help prevent this from happening. While the irony is that the same U.S. government that is allowing the Germans to escape is, in Carroll’s fiction, also helping to fit into the post-war world the Jewish people whom those Nazi leaders persecuted.

And so, in addition to its exposure of Church duplicity at the highest level, this work also raises both refugee issues and moral issues. These include the violent acts of terrorists, by both Germans and Zionist Jews; the guilt of the fictional characters who become involved in the intrigue among the Germans, the Jews, and the Vatican; and the commitment of these various characters to their ideals, in the wake of these revelations.

The basic story of the Vatican pipeline is true, says Carroll. His fictional story to complement it involves five main characters. These are an American government official, David Warburg, a Jew; an ambitious priest, Kevin Deane; a Red Cross worker, Marguerite d’Erasmo; an American military officer, Peter Mates; and an English nun, sister Thomas Aquinas. Some of these collaborate with each other, some work at cross-purposes. Two couples emerge from this intrigue, but they reach different resolutions.

Warburg has been sent by the U.S. government to Rome to aid Jews who have escaped German and Italian internment, and to help them settle in the U.S., Palestine, or other countries. He meets Marguerite, who is helping all refuges in Rome, especially Jews, and Father Deane, who serves Cardinal Spellman, and is as ambitious as Spellman, but who also expresses sympathy for the plight of the Jewish refugees.

The novel’s fictional story concerns the discovery by this idealistic trio of the reality of the pipeline, the involvement of the Vatican in providing the Nazis with the papers to emigrate, and the Americans, such as Mates, looking the other way for their own purposes. Whereupon, complications ensue, for violence intrudes on this “discreet” Vatican scheme, first when retreating German forces murder Jews and then when vengeful Jews seek to advance their cause through terrorist bombings in both Rome and Jerusalem.

It is this violence that challenges the idealistic beliefs of our trio. For one the challenge is to a belief in a vague Jewish faith; for another it is one’s conviction to remain in service to the Church; for another it is the ability to remain an idealist in the face of corruption everywhere; and for another the challenge is to retain one’s vocation in the face of failure and betrayal. And it is here that the novel reaches for the level of literature. If it does not succeed in doing so, it does lend more depth to all of its characters.

As a former priest, Carroll is adept at capturing both the emotions and the consciences of both good priests, like Father Deane, and bad priests. Among the latter is Father Roberto Lehmann, a Franciscan who is the key Vatican contact for the pipeline. Carroll establishes the mood and the thoughts of Deane, both when he is saying mass and when his conscience grasps his involvement at the fringes of the Nazi pipeline. Meanwhile, Carroll explores the rationalizing conscience of Father Lehmann, even as he comes to understand he has been sexually seduced to betray his pipeline friends.

At times, the political maneuvering among the Vatican officials, the Nazi sympathizers, the Jews, and the Americans can become complex and confusing. Indeed, I find such maneuvering often to be confusing in a thriller like this. Which only re-enforces for me that this is a thriller, that the emphasis is not on the characters themselves, as well delineated as they may be. No, it is story that matters here—the maneuvers themselves, and the message that the story carries. Namely, that the Vatican was more than complicit, was deeply involved at the highest level, in a pipeline designed to help Nazi officials escape Allied justice after World War II—the purpose being to use these officials later to combat the advance of Communist Russia.

In passing, I would note that despite the complexity of the plot, each time I picked up this novel I needed little help in recalling the overall situation. This is testimony to Carroll’s skill as a novelist and to the tightness of his structure. But more significant are the moral issues that the novel raises. Is it right to bomb a building, even without killing people? Is it right to assassinate one evil person rather than kill scores of innocent people? Is one culpable when betraying a person in order to reveal evil? Or in betraying one person in order to save another? And how much should one accept/believe in an institution or a vocation which contradicts one’s own beliefs?

Another theme of this novel is love. Both the love of mankind and love among individuals. Both spiritual love and sexual love. Both idealistic love and practical love. Both love of self and love of others. And the diverse resolutions of the human loves here bring home the complexity of love itself.

I do not expect more literary fiction from Carroll, but I will welcome any works that offer further insight into the Church and its spiritual mission in a world of pragmatic human beings. (March, 2015)

Papal Sin, by Garry Wills

The Introduction to this 2000 work is marvelous. It should be required reading for all Catholics. It is not concerned with the personal sins of past popes: the sins of power, avarice, and concupiscence. That era has passed, Garry Wills says. What should concern Catholics now is the Church’s defense of its recent institutional acts.

He cites Pope Paul VI, who negated the decision of his commission on birth control, because he was persuaded that the Church could not admit it had been wrong in the past. That such an admission would expose to challenge all its doctrines of the past. Which is self-defeating, he says. For such thinking has driven both the clergy and laity away from the Church. It has led priests who stay in the Church to ignore the doctrinal messages from Rome (such as on contraception, abortion, celibacy), for they are too intelligent to pass on such teaching to the laity, and they know the laity is too intelligent to accept it. “This is a neglected factor in the many discussions of the way vocations to the priesthood have fallen off so drastically in recent years.”

He adds that, “the young, idealistic person, the kind who want to be priests, are just the people for whom matters of honesty with themselves are bound to be most challenging. How can one aspire to a high calling and yet accept low standards for his own truthfulness about what he really believes?”

Wills challenges the idea that “the whole test of Catholicism, the essence of the faith, is submission to the Pope….To maintain an impression that the Popes cannot err, Popes deceive—as if distorting the truth in the present were not a worse thing than mistaking it in the past.”

Wills subtitles his book Structures of Deceit. Because it is not the Popes who are the continuing sources of these decisions, it is the Vatican, it is in the structure of the Church.

Wills says he is not attacking the papacy or its defenders. “My book is a tribute, in part, to he honesty that has led so many priests to keep silent under the burden of deceptiveness called for by their superiors—and it is a plea that the weight be removed.”

What matters here is that this is not a book about the papal sins of history. (He covers that in another book.) This is about the Church today, about its history following World War II. It is not a history to be proud of, and the results can be seen in the empty seminaries, novitiates, and pews.

And its causes can be read in the papacies that followed John XXIII, when the windows were shuttered on the breath of fresh air. Fear drove the Church, as the Curia feared it would lose its influence, the popes feared they would lose their power, and the hierarchy feared change would be an admission that in the past they had been wrong. Meanwhile, the laity feared the Church’s failure to understand both the practical and spiritual issues they faced.

This book is about truth and honesty, about the failure of the Church to meet those criteria. Which is so contradictory for a Church that claims to be descended from the most holy man in history. But it is an organization of men, that is the rationale we hear today, and has been for 2,000 years. Which I can understand regarding the personal conduct of popes and cardinals of the past. But much less so when it comes to spiritual matters being addressed by the institution today.

But what troubles me most of all, and for which I have no answer, is how this Church can have been under the watchful eye of the Holy Spirit throughout its history, and yet conducted itself the way that it has: its defensiveness, its fear of change, its culpable Curia, even its alternation between liberal popes and conservative popes who seem to contradict one another. Perhaps it is more a human institution that we think, particularly if Wills is right and Christ did not make his apostles priests, and their successors did not themselves create new priests for four centuries.

I shall follow here my practice of summarizing a work when I find it both refreshing and convincing. These are ideas that needed to be expressed, and Wills supports them with pertinent quotations from scripture and history. He especially spells out instances in which the Vatican misuses or distorts the meaning of a scriptural passage.

Wills begins his book with the Holocaust.

He cites the 1998 document, We Believe, issued under Pope John Paul II. He says it separated anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism, claiming the former was a scientific matter not under the Church’s jurisdiction and the latter was a human failing not connected to the Church. Actually, he says, both fed on the other. The report also ignored millions of Catholics who supported the Nazis (claiming they were afraid not to), and cited only Church leaders who objected.

Wills makes the interesting point that since the Jew Jesus died for all mankind, his death should not be a source of racial confrontation, and discrimination, but of racial solidarity. He also points out that Vatican II, while it said the Jews of today were blameless for the death of Christ, did not acknowledge a past in which Christians persecuted the Jews. After a bitter dispute in the Council, a compromise omitted this historic fact.

Even before this, in 1938, an ill Pope Pius XI asked the American John LaFarge to draft an encyclical condemning anti-Semitism. But LaFarge felt he had to work through his order, and the Jesuit head and the Vatican Curia sabotaged the encyclical. It never reached light, dying with the Pope.

Instead, the Vatican emphasizes that Catholics were also victims of the Holocaust, an example of the structures of deceit. Wills cites the case of Edith Stein, a Jew who became a Carmelite nun. He tells how the Church dishonestly claimed she was executed not as a Jew but as a Catholic. And made her eligible for sainthood by attributing to her a miracle recovery from drug poisoning, a poisoning that her doctor said resulted in recovery 91 percent of the time.

Wills also exposes false attempts to claim that Pius XII criticized the Holocaust

Wills next tackles the encyclical of Paul VI on birth control. He said it was not about sex, but about authority, about a denial that Church teaching could change. However, he points out that earlier, when the rhythm method was approved, it marked the first time that it “put a sacrosanct mechanics of sex above the motive of the actors, reversing the normal priorities of moral reasoning.” Indeed, the reasoning of St. Augustine.

I have read before Wills’ views on Humanae Vitae. He describes how the Curia and Ottaviani tried and failed to control the Commission, that the final vote was 54-12 in favor. What I did not know was that his encyclical also condemned artificial fertilization, and yet his successor, Pope John Paul, who lived only a month, congratulated the “English baby girl whose conception was produced artificially. As for her parents, I have no right to condemn them….They could even deserve great merit before God.”

How unfortunate that that Pope was succeeded by John Paul II, who immediately and strictly enforced Humanae Vitae. While for Paul it was a matter of authority, for John Paul II, Wells says, it was a matter of authority and sex, that the new Pope considered himself an authority on sex. He cites this Pope’s commitment to the Virgin Mary and her virginity. “He wants to introduce the aura of virginity even into marriage, where concupiscence toward one’s own wife is forbidden.”

On women as priests, John Paul II’s answer, Wills says, was “that the twelve apostles were men so all priests must be men. But all had wives, Wills claims, so could not today’s priests be married. He contrasts the presence of women at key moments in Christ’s life and death, how he cured “unclean” women, associated with prostitutes, and how they were the ones who announced his death. He traces the negative portrait of women and their qualification to subsequent centuries in which men said that they were inferior to men from the moment they were conceived, that they were not clean (they menstruated), and that they were not made in the image of Christ. He concludes: “But not to realize it now, when the evidence is so overwhelming, when the opportunities for redress are available—to perpetuate the wrongs to women as a way of maintaining that the church could not have erred in its treatment of women—that is the modern sin, and it is a papal sin.”

On married priests, Wills cites the letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul says, “Have I not the right to take a Christian wife about with me, like the rest of the apostles and the Lord’s brothers, and Stone (Peter)?” Which Paul VI ignored in his encyclical on married priests in 1967. ”Omission of this most relevant text, just because it is inconveniencing,” Wills says, “is an example of the intellectual dishonesty his book is studying.”

To further separate the priest from worldly life, Wills cites the priest’s need to say the mass, even by himself, the Latin language that few understood, the communion rail that separated the clergy, and the priest alone causing the consecration of the bread and wine. He says that originally what was meant was that the congregations receiving the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ, not that the bread and wine itself does.

Thus, there was resistance at Vatican II to the priest saying mass in the vernacular and turning to face the laity, and to the laity shaking each other’s hands—all took away from the mystical rite of the mass. Which, in turn, challenged the ritual purity of the priest himself, and his need to be celibate. Finally, Wills challenges the “greater availability” to the laity claimed for unmarried priests. He compares it to a married doctor’s availability, a married teacher’s, a married rabbi’s, even a married politician’s, including our president.

Wills cites the decline in the number of vocations, and traces it to the Vatican’s insistence that priests follow its prescriptions regarding contraception, homosexuality, married priests, etc. He contrasts this with the early centuries of the Church, when it was the community, the faithful, who created its own priests and bishops. Indeed, he says there is no scriptural claim that the original 12 apostles were priests, that Rome assumed that prerogative gradually, as political leaders began appointing church leaders and bishops.

After a long presentation of pedophilia, in which he describes how the Church concealed and transferred the perpetrators, and defended its treatment of them, Wills discusses all types of sexual activity by priests: “Whatever one thinks of the morality of any of these acts, such [research] figures are obviously related to the thesis of this book, that the life of the church authorities is lived within structures of multiple deceit.” And: “My point here is not to judge the priests but to return to the dissonance [the gap] between papal claims and lived reality.”

Wills next discusses gay people and the Virgin Mary. Of interest to me was only the matter of Mary’s immaculate conception, that she was conceived without original sin. How, Thomas Aquinas then asked, can she be considered as part of the line of David, all born with original sin, from which line Jesus claims descent? Pius IX ignored such thinking, Wills says, when he proclaimed her Immaculate Conception; it was a power move, he says.

Of great interest is the chapter on abortion. For Wills, it comes down to when the soul is infused into the person. Is it done all at once, or gradually? Is it done when the egg is fertilized, at some point in its development, or when the child is born? Wills points out that we do not baptize a fetus when it miscarriages or is aborted. He seems to conclude that since we do not agree on when the human soul enters the body, that a woman should have the right to control what is happening inside her body. I am not persuaded. While I favor birth control, as Wills does, I cannot accept abortion. My basic belief is that this fetus is a person. If we do not know when it obtains a soul, but agree that it does, I prefer to err on the safe side, at the point the egg is permanently fertilized in the woman’s body, when the being there can become nothing else.

Wills ends stating that “woman have the legal right to decide whether to have an abortion,” but that women still must face “a moral decision-making task that goes deeper than the law.” To make his point, he adds: ”I cannot be certain when personhood begins, any more than Augustine was certain when the soul was infused. But against all those who tell us, with absolute assurance, when human life begins, we should entertain some of his knowledge of our limits.” And he quotes Augustine: “When a thing obscure in itself defeats our capacity, and nothing in Scripture comes to our aid, it is not safe for humans to presume they can pronounce on it.”

Wills offers interesting history on how Pius IX got his Vatican Council I to pass the dogma of papal infallibility. He tells it largely through the viewpoint of Catholic layman Lord Acton, who strenuously opposed it. Highly respected and close to many bishops, Acton quickly lost the respect of the Pope and the Curia, whom he saw as acting dishonestly when they curtailed all debate and steamrollered the process. He remained a Catholic, but the multiple excuses given for condoning dishonorable action, Wills says, “offended him in the church because it should be the friend of truth, not an enemy”

Wills contrasts Lord Acton with John Henry Newman, Acton was aggressive in his opposition, Newman cautious. In the end, Newman accepted the dogma, when he felt the Church as a whole accepted it, not just the Pope, and that when the Pope claimed infallibility he was acting for the Church, not just for himself.

Wills begins his conclusion by addressing a dispute between the apostles Peter and Paul in order to discuss lying and any possible validity.

This has a thematic connection to the rest of this book, because the book itself is charging the Vatican with lying to further its mission. He concludes: “The greatest betrayal is to lie about the truths of religion.” And he compares St. Augustine’s adherence to the truth with the conduct of today’s bishops and popes, such as how the Vatican dealt with the Holocaust, the contraception issue, the celibacy issue, the infallibility issue, the banking scandal, the role of woman, the celibacy issue, the pedophilia scandal, etc.

He finishes: “Christ, Augustine said, is the way to the truth and is the truth….that is why the church lie was the worst lie in his eyes—the falsehood to proclaim the truth. He would have said that the new papal sin, of deception, is worse that the vivider old sins of material greed, proud ambition, or sexual license. It is a spiritual sin, an interior baffling of the Spirit’s access to the soul. It is a cold act, achieved by careful maneuvering and manipulating, a calculated blindness, a shuttering of the mind against the Light.”

In sum, this is a remarkable book, a truth-telling book that in former days would undoubtedly have ended on the Index of Forbidden Books. It not only challenges the Church, it does so effectively. It uses the Church’s own words and its own actions to expose its dishonesty. Moreover, there is context here, to show that the words and actions are not being taken out of context. One hopes, that in the era of Pope Francis, Wills will be inspired to continue his challenge to the Church’s position on a wide gamut of sexual issues, plus further promote the fact that the Church is its people, its faithful, and is not its hierarchy. (July, 2014)