The National Catholic Review


Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement on Feb. 11 that he will “renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome” stunned the church and set the media scrambling. America was no exception; we were equally surprised and just as frenzied. In the 48 hours after the news broke, our editors gave more than two-dozen interviews to the secular press.

Providing commentary and assistance to the media in times such as these is an important part of America’s mission to interpret the church for the world and the world for the church. America’s editor at large, James Martin, S.J., made several media appearances, including one on “The Colbert Report,” the satirical news program on Comedy Central hosted by Stephen Colbert, the actor and comedian who plays a dangerously dimwitted, reactionary version of himself on the weekly program.

Also appearing on the show that night was Garry Wills, a onetime Jesuit and protégé of William F. Buckley Jr., who has moved steadily leftward over the course of his Pulitzer prize-winning career. Mr. Wills has just published a new book, the thesis of which is easily gleaned from its title, Why Priests? A Failed Tradition.

Mr. Colbert asked the author why the priesthood is a failed tradition. Mr. Wills responded: “Well, they continue to pretend to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus, which doesn’t happen.” When Mr. Colbert mentioned that the Eucharist is “a mystery,” Mr. Wills responded: “No, it’s a fake.” A very awkward three-second pause ensued.

Some longtime watchers of the show noticed that a shocked Mr. Colbert, a devout Catholic in real life, nearly broke character. But Mr. Wills wasn’t finished: In the remaining two minutes of the interview, he went on to say that the priesthood and the papacy should be abolished and that the sacrament of the sick is “an invented sacrament.”

Now it should be obvious to even the most casual Roman Catholic that Mr. Wills’s views are definitely heterodox and probably heretical. I don’t use that last term in a desultory fashion. In fact, the word heresy is too casually invoked in popular ecclesiastical discourse. I am personally loath to say that any person—liberal, conservative, whatever—is or is not a Christian solely because of his or her theological beliefs.

But it is not really Mr. Wills’s unorthodox views that give us cause to question his Christian commitment; it is his manifest lack of charity. What Mr. Wills said on “The Colbert Report” was insensitive; frankly, it was insulting, not just to me and not just to priests but to millions of sincere, faithful Catholics. The fact that Mr. Wills is a Catholic is not relevant here; his baptismal certificate is not a license for incivility. We would not tolerate this kind of behavior in a non-Catholic. Why do we tolerate it in Mr. Wills?

Every day, in almost every conceivable language, millions of Catholics take part in eucharistic liturgies, in prayers before the Blessed Sacrament, in processions and eucharistic devotions, all manifestations of a deeply held, millennia-old belief that in the Eucharist mere bread and wine do indeed become the body and blood of Christ. This is our faith; this is the faith for which we live and for which many of our forebears died.

Mr. Wills may disagree with how the eucharistic mystery has been traditionally expressed in philosophical or theological terminology; he may even dissent from the substance of that teaching or from any Catholic teaching, for that matter; that is his prerogative. He is not entitled, however, to wantonly insult us with claims that our sacraments are “invented,” that our priests are merely “pretending” or that our most cherished gift is somehow “a fake.” Mr. Wills does not necessarily owe us an account of his unorthodox views. He does, however, owe us an apology.


Thomas Poovathinkal | 2/23/2013 - 12:49am

Mr.Wills (Ex-priest?) may have the intention of provoking some reflection and discussion like one Catholic Bishop (now retired but still full of life; and he acts and goes about like a vigorous young man; o my God, if only we had Popes like this Bishop, who would not relativise CHRIST THE LORD through too much of philosophy and theology - but it is made as of now practically impossible in the INSTITUTIONALISED CHURCH AND IN ITS POLITICAL BUREAUCRACY) who spoke of The Holy Eucharist as an anemic ritual once, while giving a talk or so and the news of it was reported in the static-thinking weekly of the diocese to which he belongs; reading this news item no-body seemed to have been scandalised.) in India.

If Ex-Fr.Mr.Wills wants to clarify his presumed or real doubt, then let him come and meet Rani John of Kanjicode (belonging to Palghat diocese of India) and interview her about what Jesus the Lord did for her; thousands of people are also witnesses to what happened and there were also videos of the same.

Organised Christianity in her BIG CHURCHES are mostly taking care of mere pagans who do not feed themselves on the BREAD of GOD'S WORD and so the FLESH-BREAD remains useless and is not a lived and experienced reality among these pagans - THE LEADERS AND THE LEAD. BUT in appearance, ritual, dogma and drama things happen .…..

The key to the LORD'S KINGDOM is HIS WORD PROCLAIMED BY TRUE APOSTLES (and not by mere ritualistic Priests) AND HEARD BY PEOPLE OF GOOD-WILL, in whom the Word bears fruit - FAITH IN THE SON OF GOD.

Priesthood is included in APOSTLESHIP which The Lord gave us but APOSTLESHIP is not seen in PRIESTHOOD which is seen also in Pagan Religions.

TO SAVE THE WORLD WE NEED to promote APOSTLESHIP as Jesus The Lord did.

Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

Tim O'Leary | 2/23/2013 - 10:28pm

Thomas - thanks for all the capitalizations, especially the "BUT" and the "AND". Your ravings would have been impossible to decipher without them. If you believe in the Bible I suggest you re-read the sixth Chapter of John.

Jim Lein | 2/22/2013 - 2:41pm

Though he may come across as a bit of a knave, Wills doubtless sees himself as more a prophet. He does ask a good question of today's church: Why priests? More and more instead of Mass we have liturgy and word services, sans priest. We had a holy day service a while back with three women officiating, not even a deacon present. This seems to be our direction. I saw Wills recently on C-Span discussing his book and answering questions. He's been going to the same Catholic church for 34 years. Should it matter to others how he thinks -- or writes? He is thinking about a matter we need to give some consideration: the dwindling number of priests, which the church got along without for the first few centuries.

John Klotz | 2/22/2013 - 2:36pm

As an admirer of much, but not all, Garry Wills as written, I am disappointed in his latest effort. I have plowed through much of "Why Priests" and I found it to be mainly a rehash of old doctrinal disputes with little insight from the thrust of modern intellectual inquiry and theology. He buries Teilhard in a list of theologians that were rescued by the Vatican Council when, in my opinion, Teilhard's writings open a frontier for Catholic understanding and science that is epochal.

That is not to say that I am not upset and disoriented by the surge of Opus Dei influence in the Vatican. The fact that an Opus Dei member, a layman, who has taken a vow of Chastity, was appointed as spokesman for the Vatican on issues such as the pedophile scandal and women is an example of further detachment of the Vatican from the lives of Catholics as their lives are lived.

Also there was the death of a Hindu woman in Ireland when a catholic hospital refused a life saving abortion, the excommunication of a nun in San Antonio who as a hospital administrator approved an abortion to save a woman's life and the totally despicable excommunication of a nine year old child and her doctor in South America when he performed an abortion that was, in his judgment necessary to save her life from a pregnancy caused by rape by her step father. (Any corrections to these facts is welcome)

But when it comes to true presence, again the Vatican is its own worst enemy. In the heady post VC2 days we sang a hymn in at Mass: "We stand before your altar lord to share a common meal, a love has brought us here today, because love makes symbols real." Oops. A common meal, not a reenacted sacrifice. I haven't heard it lately.

The whole revision of the liturgy was aimed at reversing the trend of Mass toward the common meal away from the divine sacrifice.

Wills does a service by raising the history of some these disputes, but he fails miserably because he does not understand where religion and science are heading.

Let me propound a small thesis. Love is a quantum phenomenon of entanglement and love can make symbols real: even if when it only appears to be a piece of bread and some wine.

Mary Keane | 2/22/2013 - 2:21pm

None of this should be surprising, particularly not to anyone who may have the mixed good fortune to observe the goings-on over at The New York Times. It is culturally acceptable -- and in some circles appears to be desirable -- to be as crass as possible in any discussion of anything concerning Catholicism. Any ugly or inane arguments can be bootstrapped into respectability by citing to "priest - pederasty" or homophobia or [insert agenda of one's choice]. Further this is not surprising as (IMHO) Mr. Wills has always seemed to me to be a little too fond of Mr. Wills. Considering his mentor, no surprise.

RICHARD DUBIEL PH D PROF | 2/22/2013 - 1:03am

Garry Wills, an accomplished classicist and historian, is not the last word regarding the nature of the priesthood (or the Eucharist). The book is a hubristic tour de force of his dissent. Yes, he has grounds for seeking reform, who would deny that. But to deny the priesthood and aspects of the Eucharist seems to be going over the line. I would love to see the Church line up some of its own classicists and biblical scholars to counter Prof. Wills. I can't help feeling the heat, if that's what it is, of his ego. His statements about the priesthod are about 500 years late. See Martin Luther. His use of Augustine as the key to Christianity is suspect given the totality of the Christian tradition. He cannot imagine that he is wrong even in the slightest. This ego came out in both the Colbert interview and his NPR interview on the Diane Rehm show, aired on Ash Wednesday.

While Wills seems to speak kindly of other churches, he seems incapable of imagining that he might actually belong to one either by choice or by default. Despite the fact that he has now written three books that lambasted the Church, he is determined to remain a steadfast member. My own conclusion is the same one I had when I finished reading Why I am a Catholic: His reasons for staying in the Church amount to his pleasasnt experiences while growing up Catholic and all the nice-guy priests he has known. Social conditioning triumphed over erudition and reflection. His claim that the Apostle's Creed is a central reason for remaining a Catholic doesn't wash. Every mainline Protestant church that I ever attended recited the same. And he knows this.

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/22/2013 - 8:32am

Are you guys sure you're not projecting?? I listened to Wills interview with Rehms and I don't hear this "ego" or righteousness, just a clear explanation of his research. Because he doesn't express Catholicism (or the "People of God"/"Body of Christ") like some others, doesn't mean that he should leave. (How can one leave the "People of God"?) I find that I agree with many of Wills' ideas, and appreciate hearing him articulate them. If he is "wrong", I would like to see Church theologians refute them in a scholarly manner, rather than petty attacks on his character or sincerity.

Carl Forgach | 2/21/2013 - 4:58pm

It seems Mr. Wills is in error as regards the view of St.A.

“Before consecration,” writes St. Agustine, “it, [the element] is bread and wine, the produce of nature; but after consecration the Bodyand Blood of Christ, which the blessing consecrated.” St. Augustine De Consecr., c. 41, dist. 2.
American Ecclesiastical Review, Volume 28 (Google eBook)

Mike D'Virgilio | 2/21/2013 - 4:38pm

I am not a Catholic, but have great respect for the Church and those that are part of it. When I was watching this little Colbert interview I kept thinking, Dude! Why don't you just leave the Catholic Church? You clearly aren't a Catholic, and (knowing that Will's had been drifting left over the years) the Church does not have to change to accommodate you!

But the end of the interview was classic. Colbert asks, "Where are you going from here? The Barnes and Nobel in Hell?" Gotta love that.

Jacob Appelman | 2/21/2013 - 4:28pm

"Mr. Wills does not necessarily owe us an account of his unorthodox views. He does, however, owe us an apology."

Actually, he has already provided an account of his views in the aforementioned book Why Priests? Rather than disparage a few remarks of his made on television, perhaps Fr. Malone would do better to round up some intelligent responses to the book in an issue of America. Many (Catholics included) will find Wills' book persuasive. So why not utilize the public sphere for real dialogue rather than cry "foul" when no rules of public discourse have actually been broken?

If anything, Wills has done the church a service by putting a doctrinal issue into the public limelight. Now it's up to the church to engage the issue responsibly and offer its own apologia defending its position. Had the church done this in the sixteenth century, rather than simply excommunicating (i.e. halting all communication with) the reformers, perhaps we would not have seen such a schism within the people of God.

Eric Styles | 2/21/2013 - 12:46pm

I may have been too harsh, but here is what I wrote to author Anne Rice on reviews of Gary Wills new book:

Ms. Rice, I have not and will not read Gary Wills' newest book. Here's why: I have found him, over the years to become more and more intransigent, more and more reactionary in his liberalism, more and more convinced that his is THE way. I am surely, left of center politically, a member of GenX, having greatly benefited from Civil Rights Generation. But Dr. Wills represents to me a kind blind faith in liberalism that renders all that is good about it useless. He got on television and quite frankly insulted sooo many Catholics by summarily dismissing -with his superior intellect- that which we hold to be central to our way of life. The only way he could get away with it is claiming that he himself is a Catholic. It's like me a black person getting on television and insulting the most cherished ideas of my community, without sound qualification, and claiming that because I'm black, I am allowed.

Wills is only useful to those who are, like him, intransigient liberals who look for legitmizing scholarship like his to say, "yes, yes of course what we believe its correct."

Further, and with all due respect, after having fallen away from regular practice for many years, you made a very public "comeback" to Catholicism, only to make an equally public repudiation of the same tradition. What makes you think you are in a position to weigh in on its central tenets? You have declared yourself no longer a member of the family. I wish you hadn't, but you did. I wish Gary Wills would leave Catholicism and just leave us all alone. I wish he would find something else to beat up on. Instead, he uses his publishing power to inundate unsuspecting, well-meaning readers with ideologically corrupt so-called scholarship.

I'd be among the first to say that the Church is in constant need of reform, that it's humanity often obscures the divinity that gives it meaning. But I also know there could be no other way. Our job as Catholics is to have faith in Christ and love the Church because it is the Body of Christ, not because it changes and grows to meet our expectations.

Lastly, I believe the priesthood, the real presence in the Eucharist are absolutely central to Catholic Christianity. Central to Orthodox Christianity as well, even with a different way of explaining it. Both Eastern and Western Christians of the highest intellect, even today among the most prominent Vatican II minded theologians, have maintained and encouraged this central teaching. Gary Wills should take his marbles (the few that he as left) and find a more appropriate playground to play in.

Abe Rosenzweig | 2/21/2013 - 3:07pm

People on the internet be straight up cray-cray. I don't know what else to say about it.

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/21/2013 - 1:01pm

"I'd be among the first to say that the Church is in constant need of reform, that it's humanity often obscures the divinity that gives it meaning. "

Isn't that dualism, though, Eric? Heaven/spirit (God) above is good; Earth/bodies (humanity) below is bad.

Eric Styles | 2/21/2013 - 1:13pm

My statement is not meant to be a definitive treatise on the nature of God, humanity and the church. Please seek the larger point here. The church WILL never meet all our expectations and it (or she, whatever your preference) will always be plagued by the realities of sin and grace. The church is a human institution. Dualistic? maybe. True? Without doubt.

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/21/2013 - 1:18pm

Well said, Eric. Your letter to Anne Rice on Amazon intrigued me so I looked it up. She is really holding forth on her defense of Wills over there. I appreciated her gracious responses.

Bill Mazzella | 2/21/2013 - 1:40pm

" But I also know there could be no other way. Our job as Catholics is to have faith in Christ and love the Church because it is the Body of Christ, not because it changes and grows to meet our expectations"

Eric, what you say above is true. The Body of Christ is what the Eucharist is about, with the people of God present. Not positing magic priests who alone can do it. The people are the church, the Body of Christ, not the presider. The Eucharist is the offering of all that we are and do, together, in unison with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The hierarchy has made the Eucharist about them and not the Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. That is the issue. So Wills is right here. Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist in his whole life with us.

Eric Styles | 2/21/2013 - 2:21pm

Bill, let me clarify that I believe the ministerial priesthood is an essential aspect of the priesthood of all believers and the historicity of the Eucharist. I do not believe that the ordained priest's role is a magic one. And I do believe it will and should be maintained. As much as I might, at times, lament something the "hierachy" has done or is doing, I see it as also essential to the unity and governance of the Church. Surely our understanding of how that is lived in the day to day is subject to serious growth. One must hope! But Bishops, priests, and deacons are subject to all the delusions that you and I are, especially about the importance of our ideas, lol! They are should be subject to the forgiveness that you and I are; like with us, God gives it often before they even know they need it.

Like I said, I have not and will not read Wills' book. Of all the books I want to read, why would I waist my time. If I wanted a critique of Catholic doctrine on priesthood there are plenty of others who I rather read. Like Martin Luther, for example. Wills' agenda is, in my opinion, is about his ego and about staying in the media limelight. Why should I help him persist with that?

D M | 2/21/2013 - 12:45pm

Dont know if last comment posted.
Does Mr Wills abstain from the Eucharist? Does not his parish priest, if he know Mr. Wills views, have a responsiblity to withhold communion from him?

Melanie Statom | 2/21/2013 - 11:23am

Transubstantiation, Incarnation, Resurrection... stumbling stones of fiction for the faithful or substantive, mysterious truth of the One Cornerstone?

Eric Styles | 2/21/2013 - 1:09pm

Nicely put. But "transubstantiation" does not belong in the same category as Incarnation and Resurrection. The latter two are mysteries of the first order, events claimed to have occured in the life of Jesus. You could speak of the Real Presence in that way. Transubstantiation, as laudable as it has become over the centuries, is a Thomistic explanation and elucidation of the Real Presence.

Real Presence is the real doctrine and dogma. Transubstantiation is still prevailing explanation. Sometimes I do believe Catholic theology has depended on it far too much.

Bill Mazzella | 2/21/2013 - 11:49am

Perhaps some of the Roman apologists here will gain some perspective if they consider or learn that Jesus was anti-clerical and continually upbraided the officials in religion---"Beware the leaven of the Pharisees" and "The harlots and publicans will enter the kingdom of heaven before the scribes and Pharisees."
Keep adoring the priestly caste which has and continually covers up the abuse of children.

Abe Rosenzweig | 2/21/2013 - 3:04pm

Bill, you always proceed as though the structure of the Church parallels the religious structure of 1st century Judaism. The Pharisees and scribes were not "clerics," and the bishops and priests of your church are not scribes and Pharisees. They are just nothing alike.

Tim O'Leary | 2/21/2013 - 2:42pm

Bill. It is Wills who is the fake Catholic, not the consecration. Jesus was harsh to those Pharisees who were hypocrites, and gentle to those who were not (Nicodemus, etc.). There indeed are some in clerical garb today, as well as as many more laity, who claim they are Catholic but who are openly unfaithful, as Gary Wills is. Anyway, dragging in the argumentum ad pedophilium is a sure sign of running out of arguments on the communion question.

Tammy Gottschling | 2/20/2013 - 9:22pm

Every Catholic is baptized, prophet, priest, and king. I'll have to read Wills book. I'm curious what he states about prophet and king regarding the second person of the Trinity, Hellenistic culture, and historical context. Regarding the Eucharist – the words sarx and soma could be why he refers to Augustine regarding the body, which I think is dualistic theology. That said, Fr. Jim might be spot on regarding how the rest of the world perceive Catholic Americans.

Tim O'Leary | 2/21/2013 - 12:48pm

Tammy. I didn't know every Catholic was a king. If so, where would my kingdom be, and who are my subjects? And does my wife get to be queen or does she have her own kingdom? This all sounds very lonely, more like the Mormon idea of everyone having to manage their own planet.

Molly Roach | 2/21/2013 - 4:29pm

Mr. O'Leary, in the second anointing at an infant baptism, the person is anointed "priest, prophet and king" with Christ. This is the sacramental configuring of the baptized person with Christ, uniting the newly baptized with Christ as well as indicating their ministry. The kingship of Christ is a kingship of service not one of being a head of state or possessing an earthly kingdom.

Tim O'Leary | 2/21/2013 - 9:42pm

Molly - the exact wording in the CCC (1241): "The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king." I still think being incorporated into Christ is not equivalent to becoming a king. Christ, after all has a kingdom "my kingdom is not of this world..."), and it is sufficient for me to be incorporated into his kingdom.

Tammy Gottschling | 2/22/2013 - 8:23am

It was a bit of irony in my original post, Mr O’Leary. There is one priest and that is Jesus the Christ. All ordained priests act in persona of the Christ at the Catholic Mass (ex opera operato [by the work of the work]). My point is what does Wills' state about Jesus the Christ as prophet and king investigating ecclesiology since Catholicism frames on and/both not either/or?

I very much enjoy the study of Catholic history and cultural historical context—two thousand years of history.
A wonderful text required in a Christology course was Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times by Joerg Rieger. Excellent source re the Roman economic system that I am persuaded the early Jewish movement was refuting before Christianity became a religion. The Romans had no problem with “our lord” because there were lots of lords running around. They did have a problem with Paul and others proclaiming “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Why? They were challenging the authority of Caesar and the economic structure of Rome (social stratification [see: paterfamilias])! It’s great to engage with thinking Catholics and thanks for your comment!

Tim O'Leary | 2/20/2013 - 3:12pm

It should not be hard to accept that the God who has the power to create out of nothing the whole universe with a single thought, or a human soul ex nihilo at conception, could use priests to transform bread and wine into flesh and blood. Or with a word, raise Lazarus from the dead. His own self-resurrection is a far greater feat, which Wills doesn’t seem to challenge (for now).

It is worth re-reading the sixth chapter of John, where Jesus unequivocally and repeatedly emphasizes the reality of eating and drinking his flesh (5 times) and blood, and connects this central action of our faith with amazing promises: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” And then, in Mt 26, Mk 14 & Lk 22, Jesus establishes both the consecration and the priesthood. The Church’s philosophical term transubstantiation is only secondary, but captures the realism of our Lord’s words, and protects the radical teaching of Jesus from those who find the teaching “a hard saying.” It is the words of Jesus that Gary Wills is rejecting.

And yet, Wills calls this “a fake”, a word that implies some willful deception by the priests of the Church (as opposed to an error, etc.). Luther and Calvin were far more orthodox than Wills is now, although they all share a hateful anticlericalism. As regards the episcopacy and the presbyters (priests), they are both described in chapter 44 of the first letter by St. Clement (88-97 AD), the 3rd successor of St. Peter, as he uses his authority to admonish the Church in Corinth. Not exactly a recent institution. Interestingly, chapter 44 begins with the following: “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate." Envy is a powerful motivator.

Anne Chapman | 2/20/2013 - 4:34pm

Mr. O'Leary, it may not be an issue of questioning the words of Jesus, but rather questioning the interpretation of those words.

Bob Baker | 2/20/2013 - 5:31pm

Let’s see...Augustine, Ambrose, Origen, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Ignatius of Antioch, etc, and a few Church Councils (have all written about the Real Presence) versus Gary Wills. Wonder which group most people might choose?

Michael Bazemore | 2/22/2013 - 1:53pm

On Wills' side we have Ratramnus of Corbie and Berengar of Tours. Kind of hard to muster an all-star list on Wills' team when the view had been suppressed in the main since Berengar's condemnation in 1059.

Marie Rehbein | 2/20/2013 - 2:45pm

OK, so does Mr. Wills go to church and, if so, does he take bread and/or wine? I get the Stephen Colbert was probably too shocked to ask this, but has anyone asked or observed this?

Marie Rehbein | 2/21/2013 - 12:42pm

I have to say that as a person who goes to Catholic Church regularly but is forbidden from partaking of the Eucharist because I prefer to continue with the belief I was taught as a Lutheran that the bread and wine convey the body and blood of Christ but are not transformed into them, I would be offended that Garry Wills is permitted to partake.

Tim O'Leary | 2/21/2013 - 9:29pm

Marie - You have taken the more honorable way.

Tom Schneck | 2/21/2013 - 2:30am

You can only say that his theology is sound if it is viewed from the Protestant perspective. Wills has evolved from his Why I Am a Catholic book to a new position that could be entitled Why I Am a Protestant. The Colbert interview was provocative and unfortunate. I have not read the subject book but a book review in the NY Times Book Review of 2/17/13, p. 11, indicates the biblical bases for Wills positions. As always, Wills positions are interesting, but not acceptable to Catholics. Thus, the evolutionary result is the same.

Tim O'Leary | 2/20/2013 - 5:54pm

Bill - I hope for his sake he doesn't still do that. Surely, he has more fear of God than that? Or has he lost that too?

Kevin McDermott | 2/21/2013 - 2:15pm

Could be he doesn't live in fear, TIm.

Tim O'Leary | 2/21/2013 - 2:58pm

Kevin. You are mixing up two meanings of fear. "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10, Psalm 111:10), meaning wonder and awe. Fear of the Lord is one of the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Bill Mazzella | 2/20/2013 - 2:10pm

The preoccuppation with the apology is an unfortunate distraction from the theology involved. Will's theology is sound
and Vatican II began to straighten that out until Ottaviani and Co. started to modify the documents. So this is nothing new. This is why Vatican II talked about "presider" rather than priest. TheBody of Christ is really the church which is what Jesus meant when he said that the second commandment, Love your neighbor, is equal to the first, Love God with all your being. The harmful sacralization of presiders is a principal reason why there is so much error surround this office. At one time there were priests solely for the purpose of saying Mass, nothing else, so they can monetize the stipends. The fallacy that each Mass saves a thousand worlds is related to this. Nowadays a terrible practice of sending Nigerian and Indian priests here is an apt example. Worst of all because these men are needed to minister to their own people so many of whom are living in squalor. The idea for sending the priests here is to continue the Eucharist. The fact is that the community makes the Eucharist, not the priest. That terrible error is allows millions in the missions to go without the Eucharist. It is not celibacy that prevents the Eucharist from happening. It is the fallacy of a regal priesthood. The priesthood and bishops are the creation of an Empire church. The hierarchy always got away with this faulty theology because of an uneducated and intimidated laity. Now that the guillotine cannot be used by the church as a weapon we see more clearly. The cover-up of sex abuse should have given us the definitive answer. The bishops and pope were more concerned about their reputation than the welfare of children. We do need officials in the church. But we need to center on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which th Eucharist is. Not the symbol of power and domination. So stop calling the pope , bishops and priests "Father" because you have one Father in heaven as Jesus admonishes. Keep church officials responsible and remind them that they are servants not rulers. Then your scandals will be minimized.

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/20/2013 - 12:18pm

I hope that I do not come across as heretical, and I do believe the Real Presence to be central to the Catholic Faith -- but I understand that to mean that Christ is with us (Real!) in what we eat and drink - our bread and wine - and in our very cells. Our liturgical celebration of this mystery does, indeed, bring this mystery into focus, but like Wills, I'm not inclined to believe that the act of consecration is the be-all of the Real Presence Mystery. That would be merely a "magic trick". The Body of Christ and our bodies interpenetrate during our earthly existence (maybe forever) - mystery and truth that extends beyond the liturgy (though contained in the liturgy).

I think that Wills writing is meant to move us beyond superstitions that can stagnate spiritual growth. He might have overdone it this time, though.

Anne Chapman | 2/20/2013 - 2:46pm

Your assessment seems on target. I haven't read the book yet (I plan to order it), but it seems possible that his "quarrel" is not with the concept of Real Presence but with transubstantiation. Studies done by the team at Catholic University show that while most Catholics believe that Christ is present in communion (and in our very cells as you note), that presence is a mystery - the majority do not necessarily accept transubstantiation as the explanation for the mystery. In the early church, there did not seem to be a priesthood of the type we have now. Leadership was called from among the members of the community not "ordained" from above.

Perhaps Wills is challenging what some priests believe of themselves and that the official church has often taught - that somehow the ordained clergy are superior to all other members of the church. John Paul II was a big promoter of ontological superiority of the priesthood and unfortunately it seems that some priests buy into this notion as well. Priests who believe that they are in some way superior to all others would naturally be offended by Wills' comments. In the interview he comes across as somewhat self-effacing and unfortunately Colbert did not ask intelligent follow up questions that might clarify what Wills is saying.

It is unfortunate that some priests might be offended by this interview. It seems a hasty reaction given that the interview lasted about 2 minutes and the book surely gives a much more complete explanation of Wills' views. I have found Wills' to be very clear in his explanations, and his work is extremely well-documented, as one would expect from an historian and college professor. They DO know about citations and documentation! Perhaps everyone should first read the book before making judgments and demanding apologies?

Colleen Spiro | 2/20/2013 - 11:47am

Amen. I saw the show and I totally agree with you. Thank you.

Thomas Rooney OFS | 2/20/2013 - 8:32am

There are many doctrines that can be argued and discussed by Catholics in good faith. In my opinion, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist ain't one of them. most of you who've seen me post know that I usually find myself on the "left side" of most of said discussions, but that's neither here nor there. I don't get to decide who calls themselves "Catholic". But when you think the sacraments, the priesthood, and the papacy are all a sham, really...why bother? Perhaps "I was brought up Catholic" or to use my non-practicing wife's quote "I am a retired Catholic." would be a better qualifier?

I just don't understand why someone would want to remain identified with a Church whose central teaching...the Real Presence of believes to be fake. I'm honestly foozled.

Rick Fueyo | 2/20/2013 - 11:37am

I thought he was intemperate and insensitive, and never appreciate that approach. But he is an intellectual
are accustomed to making written arguments, and this book stands up rather better.

His syllogism, which I don't agree with him, is that a miracle transubstantiation of causes us to revere priests too greatly and get away from the social form in the early church. He supports his arguments fairly well in the book, at least as a textual exegesis.

I loved "Lincoln at Gettysburg", still one of the great short historical works. He also has some illuminating things to save his religious writings, so long as you accept that he gets rather extreme in his conclusions as to what flows from his scholarship. He responds too much in anger

Tom Schneck | 2/20/2013 - 1:50pm

Gary has an editor for his books, some of which I have enjoyed. It looks like he needs an editor for his interviews, or he will lose his fan base, including me.

Tim O'Leary | 2/20/2013 - 12:41am

Gary Wills is a perfect example of the futility of using religious self-identification as a means for determining in opinion polls what Catholics believe. A Harris Poll in 2003 found that only 79% of Catholics believed in God and a Pew poll had it at 18%! So, it is no wonder that many still self-identifying “Catholics” have long ago taken themselves out of the faithful.

To think they are still Catholic while denying such a central tenet as the Real Presence is perverse - either an irrational stupidity or a duplicitous knavery. I fear with Mr. Wills that it is the more damning knave, since he not only used the old pagan slur of cannibalism (“take a chunk out of my arm”) on the show, but he also tried to defame St. Augustine as a non-believer in the Real Presence. Here is just one quote from that Doctor of the Church (Sermons 227): “That Bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ. That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the Blood of Christ. Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins. If you receive worthily, you are what you have received."

Abe Rosenzweig | 2/19/2013 - 10:22pm

He should try and conform more closely to the long-standing Catholic tradition of speaking respectfully of religious beliefs that he rejects.

STEPHANIE SIPE | 2/19/2013 - 6:33pm

Mr. Wills' comments to Stephen were not just disrespectful but wreaked of arrogance. I'll continue watching the Colbert Report; however, I will not purchase another book by Mr. Wills. Oh, and I won't be holding my breath waiting for an apology.


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