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Garry Wills: Papacy should ‘fade into symbolic ireelevence like Queen Elizabeth’

What follows is an excerpt from Sally Quinn’s interview with Garry Wills, author of the new book, “Why Priests? A Failed Tradition.Read an earlier excerpt here.

Quinn: “What do you think should be done with the papacy? Do you think it should be abolished?”

Wills: “No, it should just fade into symbolic irrelevance, like Queen Elizabeth, you know. Keep his palace, gorgeous palace, keep his gorgeous costume, and don’t have, have some kind of sentimental ties with the past. And the Vatican is good museum if you don’t care about the Gospel. So I think in time, he will … he’s an anomaly, he’s a monarch in a democratic age. It’s very, very hard to sustain real power that way. Symbolic power of some sort fading will be the role of the queen and the pope. They can get together and compare fabulous pasts.”

Quinn: “All right, but the problem is that, you know, he does have a lot of power over people’s lives, because he can say this is a sin, or that’s a sin. And he can ruin homosexuals’ lives, he can ruin women who[don’t] want to have babies.”

Wills: “We can’t hope for him to change. We just have to ignore him. It’s to say he has no power over the natural law, none at all. And for him to claim that is absurd. And more people are doing that, and more will do that. Even they have a hard time keeping up pretense.

“For instance, when I was young, if you met a bishop, that was a big thing, and you genuflected and you kissed his ring. If you try to do that to a bishop now, he’ll say, ‘Oh, cut that out, cut that out.’ Because he knows, those monarchic airs don’t work anymore. So that more and more, I think, he’ll fade.”

Quinn: “So what does that mean for the Catholic Church?”

Wills: “It means that we have to continue what we’ve always done, live by the Spirit. Support … You know, the Church does wonderful things. It heals lots of people, it teaches, it promotes education. All those things go on, and can go on forever without a pope or without any priests being involved.

“You know, the nuns have done all the wonderful work, and the pope tries to stop them, and you notice there’s a big surge for support for the nuns in America.”

Quinn: “I know.”

Wills: “That’s the real church. That’s what Catholics are saying, ‘What are you doing? You’re not being the real church, the church that goes out and tries to deal with people with AIDS.’ You know, the papacy tried to quash that at the beginning. You can’t do that, because that recognizes the legitimacy of homosexuality.”

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