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The Reactionary Utopian
May 29, 2009

Eccentric Catholicism
by Joseph Sobran

[Improving Christ’s Church]

Next to the peerless Tom Wolfe, perhaps the most brilliantly gifted living American writer is Garry Wills. Immensely learned and versatile, Wills has written award-winning books on many subjects, from Macbeth to the Gettysburg Address. Some of these suffer from a bit of illogic, though they are largely redeemed by his stylish and scholarly prose.

In recent years, he has written several best-selling books on religion, perfecting the liberal Catholic technique of calling himself a Catholic while he attacks the Catholic Church. Why I Am a Catholic might better have been titled Why I Am Not Really a Catholic.

Critics — liberal ones, anyhow — have hailed Wills’ work in such terms as “provocative,” “stimulating,” “startling,” “iconoclastic,” and “heterodox,” all of which he well deserves, though we may note the absence of one possibly crucial word: “true.” His success shows that a Catholic author can now achieve great fame and fortune in this country, as long as his books are sufficiently anti-Catholic.

Wills has continued his assault on the Church in his volumes Papal Sin, What Jesus Meant, and What Paul Meant, in which he denies that Jesus founded the Catholic Church (or any church at all); accuses the Church of (inter alia) fraud and anti-Semitism; rejects such doctrines as natural law, transubstantiation, papal infallibility, apostolic succession, the Immaculate Conception, and the perpetual virginity of Mary; and adopts such causes as contraception and abortion, never mentioning that the latter is condemned in one of the oldest summaries of Christian moral teaching, the Didache. In his other writings, he has moreover been favorable to “gays” (never mind what Moses and St. Paul said) and hostile to reports of Marian apparitions, from Guadalupe to Lourdes to Fatima.

In short, it appears that the risen Jesus, after promising to be with his followers to the end of the world, allowed them to be gravely misled for 2,000 years; since then, what Wills terms “modern scholarship” has at long last been able to set things straight. It would seem, then, that Jesus, like Mozart, left this world too young, before he could realize his full potential. The Sermon on the Mount was a promising start for this precocious young man; but, alas, his career was nipped in the bud before he could vent his startlingly progressive, even heterodox, ideas on such issues as gay rights, anticipating those of moderns like Hugh Hefner.

Query: If a man looks at another man with lust, has he already committed sodomy in his heart? And if so, is there anything wrong with that? It is one thing to say Jesus was a man of his own time (though his own time, as G.K. Chesterton noted, nailed him to a cross); but it is far less plausible to suggest that he was a man of our time, and a trendy liberal one to boot. We might do better to begin by observing that Pontius Pilate was a man of his time, and a very well-adjusted one. None of Pilate’s many detractors, as far as I know, has ever charged him with homophobia.

But here perhaps I am digressing. The gospel of John (14:12) reports Jesus as saying that his followers would do even greater miracles than he did. This prediction has been fulfilled in the lives of many Catholic saints, such as Padre Pio (now St. Pio of Pietrelcina), St. Jean Vianney (the Cure of Ars), and other such wonder-workers, none of whom Wills acknowledges, though they have been orthodox and submissive children of the “institutional church” he rejects. Why should we accept his faith — or, as liberal usage now says, “religious preference” — rather than theirs?

Wills’ eccentric brand of Catholicism has no authority, not even the heaven-binding authority Jesus left to the Twelve, and it disparages his mother, denying her the exalted place the Catholic Church has always accorded her.

The key to Catholicism is the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, which requires the priesthood, the hierarchy, the Magisterium, apostolic succession, and all the rest. Eliminate the Eucharist, and every form of heresy and license follows naturally; this is the history of Protestantism in a nutshell. “Reforming” Christ’s Church nearly always turns out to mean relaxing her morals.

Countless people have become believing Catholics because of Padre Pio; I know of none who have become believers through the influence of liberal Catholics like Wills. How can you have the Catholic faith without the Blessed Virgin Mary?

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