Review: Why I am a Catholic by Garry Wills

Wills wrote this book after his best-selling Papal Sin led many to believe he’d abandoned Catholicism. He remained a devout Catholic, and wanted to explain why.

The first fifty pages describe his upbringing as a devout Catholic. He wanted to become a priest, and attended a seminary, but rejected its conservative viewpoint and left. But he remained a devout Catholic.

The next 250 pages review papal history, a stream of sin, corruption, and incompetence. Wills notes that when Lord Acton—one of his heroes, and a devout Catholic in Protestant England—said “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he was speaking of the Renaissance papacy. Wills concurred, and added that medieval popes were even worse. In fact, the only pope Wills praised was John XXIII, who served less than five years. Wills also omitted the fact that John’s mandate of secrecy contributed greatly to the Church’s coverup of clerical pederasty, an atrocity that Wills addressed at length.

In the final few dozen pages, Wills explains that he loves the Church because it upholds the Apostle’s Creed, and believes it does so better than other Christian alternatives. He believes this more than compensates for its profusion of sin, crime, and error. I suspect that very few non-Catholics share his opinion, and I am unaware of anyone converting to Catholicism because of the Apostle’s Creed. In fact, I think the apostles would have serious reservations about it.

While Wills intended this book to justify Catholicism, I think it is better viewed as Volume Two of Papal Sins, an elaboration of the Church’s failings. Wills continued devotion to Catholicism reminds me of someone who idealizes his mother’s cooking, even when few outside his family find it commendable.