Beautifully conceived and wrought essays that systematically address the wrongheadedness of the Catholic Church over centuries—and the space therein for Francis’ long-needed reforms.
A pope determined to admit change and renounce “infallibility”—is this possible? Pulitzer Prize–winning intellectual and leading Catholic scholar Wills (Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition, 2013, etc.) is guided by his close scholarly readings of the Gospels, as well as by modern commentators, examining how the church can right itself—as it has repeatedly over the ages in the face of bad decisions—e.g., the adoption of Latin for sacraments and documents. This is Wills’ first example of the church’s attempts at controlling the message, at excluding versus including: adopting Latin as a “secret code of the elect” rather than the vernacular of the people of God. From there, the early church was able to exclude forbidden books and even forbidden ideas. From arriving at a language understood by all, Wills moves into a compelling study of how the early church evolved from a marginalized sect of martyrs to a state organization sanctioned by the Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicaea in 325. The author reminds us that Jesus forbade his followers to have any pre-eminence among them (and rejected any earthly kingdom), yet by the third century, a “Vice Petri” or “stand-in” for Peter, the Rock of the Church, was established, essentially evolving into a monarchy by the 11th century. Wills also labels the long strain of anti-Semitism in the church as a “tragic absurdity," and he nods to the Second Vatican Council as a template for moving forward. He valiantly destroys the church’s unjustified stances (in the name of “natural law”) on birth control, abortion and the right of women to serve as priests.
A welcome, thoughtful menu for the new pope on how to proceed with reform.