I am Tom Freeland, a lawyer in Oxford, Mississippi. The picture in the header is my law office. I'm on Twitter as NMissC

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Great opening sentence from Gary Wills: “Pope Benedict XVI is the best-dressed liar in the world.”

Ouch! From the New York Review of Books blog, Gary Wills makes clear his dissent:

Pope Benedict XVI is the best-dressed liar in the world. And in England he presided over the best set-designed lie imaginable. He beatified the nineteenth-century Oxford theologian John Henry Newman, presenting him (in the penultimate step toward canonization) as a docile believer in papal authority, an enemy of dissent, and a rebuke to anyone who questions church authority. When the pope declared authentic the bogus miracle on which he bases the beatification—the claim that a deacon from Boston was cured of a spinal disease after praying to the cardinal—he said in a letter from Rome to England last February “In a social milieu that encourages the expression of a variety of opinions on every question that arises, it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” This is a Newman few who are acquainted with his radical views would recognize. …

Whatever his motives, the pope is blatantly defying historical truth when he says that Newman is a model of submission to church authority. Newman was a restive Catholic under constant scrutiny and criticism from Rome until a new pope (LeoXIII) bought him off with a cardinal’s robes when he was eighty and tamable.

Wills’s post is a great and firey tirade, well worth reading if you have a taste for such things.

17 comments to Great opening sentence from Gary Wills: “Pope Benedict XVI is the best-dressed liar in the world.”

  • JaneT

    Here’s a great sentence for you:
    Background: I got desperate for reading material and purchased a book on giant waves. There’s a chapter on Lloyd’s of London and in detailing the strange insurance contracts they’ve issued, the author mentions that Lloyd’s recently declined to issue a policy on a two-headed albino rattlesnake because the last two-headed albino rattlesnake they’d covered died.

    The underwriter’s report on the insured snake/s stated “An apparent disagreement between the respective heads had fatal consequences.”

  • Franklin

    “Great” in what sense? Bomb throwing, even by purported intellectuals, is still just bomb throwing.

  • NMC

    In two senses, Franklin: It caught my attention, and made me go on and read what his point was. Reading the piece, I found it a convincing as a beginning.

  • NMC

    Part of what caught my eye was the hyperbole from a writer I don’t expect hyperbole. He said what he said in the lede, and then convinced me he had a basis to say it in the course of the piece.

  • Franklin

    NMC–I suppose I accept at face value that Garry Wills somehow convinced you that he had a basis for calling the Pope a “liar” and a miracle “bogus” —though he quotes no specific false statement and offers no support for the bogusiness of the miracle—but surely you do not
    declare hyperbole Will’s observation that the Pope is among the best dressed in the world?

  • Anderson

    “it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate”

    Wow. The current pope is beyond the power of Protestants to satirize. “Dissent,” by definition, cannot be “mature”?

  • Johannes

    Gary Wills is absolutely wrong. I am a Newman scholar, a Protestant. Nothing to gain, so you can perhaps take my word for it.

  • Crispin Garcia

    Gotta love Cardinal Ratz.

    The Church hierarchy got entirely what it asked for in him, a reactionary placeholder. No steps forward for the Church and hopefully a few backwards to set things straight. He fully understands and lives, “Apres moi, le deluge.”

  • JaneT

    Speaking of Catholics, I was reading another book (about a Shakespeare forger) that mentioned that Hogarth had a print showing Mary feeding the baby Jesus into a meat grinder and little communion wafers coming out the other end. Those Muslims need to get some perspective.

    See p. 10

  • Franklin


    The letter that Wills rips out of context was directed to Catholic Bishops in England, not Protestants, and referred to internal “dissent” within the Catholic church to fundamental tenets of Catholicism, which surely falls within the Pope’s job description. The same letter otherwise encourages an eucumenical dialouge, particularly with Anglicans.

  • JaneT

    Why anyone would argue over the particular tenets of any individual religion is beyond me when the time-honored way to settle such things is just to start your own. Remember “follow the shoe” from “Life of Brian?”

  • Cicero

    This blog has simply turned into a place to bash Christians in order to appear intellectual. Yawn. I’m out.

  • Anderson

    Actually, Cice, I usually discuss Nietzsche when I’m trying to appear intellectual.

    But your comment appears based on little if any familiarity with NMC’s blog, so I guess *you* are trying to appear like something or other.

    Dogmatic, hateful “Christians” get short shrift here, but then, so do dogmatic, hateful anybody-elses.

  • NMC

    I was just puzzled, Anderson, which I usually am by “I’m out” type comments. The only posts “about” religion I could find since his first comment back in August was one where I expressed amusement that the campus newspaper had captioned a photo of me as being the minister of First Baptist Church, and a derisive post about a Sharon Angle quote about big government violating the First Amendment.

    Another puzzlement: The quote in the post above is from Gary Wills, a lifelong Catholic (who has written almost as much about his faith as anything else) who has written consistently in dissent about this particular pope.

  • JaneT

    Ok scholars, this thread made me think of a question. Ever since Christianity split into Catholics on one side and Protestants on the other (and this may be a generalization but just ignore for these purposes), Protestants have split into at least a billion different sects, religions, whatever and Catholics are still Russian Orthodox and non-Russian Orthodox (maybe generalizing but still). Why?

    And I assume Cicero is talking about my comments. I’ll admit to being an atheist and an equal-opportunity religion basher if that helps (but I still think Scientologists and Mormons are the weirdest although there are probably weirder ones out there). Even so, I’m fascinated by the Reformation.

  • NMC

    JaneT, I think Protestant splintering is a natural consequence following from one’s conclusion “I can figure this out for myself and don’t require a church hierarchy to tell me.” Never seemed a puzzlement to me.

  • JaneT

    I just think that the more religions there are, the more ridiculous is the claim that any one of them is the ultimate truth.

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