Why Priests?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills talks about his book Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition and asks if their role is necessary in Christianity.

→Event: Garry Wills will be at the Barnes & Noble at 82nd & Broadway, tonight, Feb.12, at 7PM:  Event Information Here


Garry Wills

Comments [38]

Doris from New Canaan, CT

I do hope someone corrects the comment that Quakers burned witches. Quakers are a religion of non-violence and, contrary to persecuting others, were persecuted for their beliefs. Many people, knowing little of Quakers, confuse them with Puritans.

Feb. 17 2013 06:05 PM
MaryPat from Madison, New Jersey

It took me this long to post this and I've never posted a comment about any radio program before, but I had to second what Sheilah Hill already said about Quakers. I was driving on Route 80 when I heard the guest state very authoritatively that Quakers burned witches. I almost drove off the road! Quakers never burned witches or anyone else. Mr. Wills must have been thinking of Puritans, who did hang some people for witchcraft. Interestingly, Quakers have views about the priesthood very similar to those I heard Mr. Wills express.

Feb. 16 2013 05:19 PM
f.p. from Texas


Several possible reasons, many (ironically) involving the vow of celibacy:
-A career requiring celibacy makes a good cover for why he's not pursuing normal relationships.
-When ALL sexual relationships are forbidden, one tresspass is much like another. Might as well go all-out.
-If someone is going to break an oath of celibacy, there is an incentive to do so with people that are easier to control, to ensure their silence (e.g. children).
-If one is afflicted with an abhorrent sexual preference, a spiritually oriented person might feel a lot of pressure to make up for it, for instance through the more rigorous devotion required of a priest.
-Or if one embraces such abhorrent desires, the authority and trust given to the priesthood makes an ideal way to gain access to victims.
-Probably other reasons. People are complicated.

Feb. 15 2013 03:40 AM

"For example, priests are exactly the people through whom the grace of God flows from God to his people..."

Oh, there's something "flowing", alright!

Ask any alter boy.

Feb. 12 2013 06:45 PM


There is only one here that's COMPLETELY NUTZ!!

Hint: He's from Larchmont.

Feb. 12 2013 04:27 PM
Ed from Larchmont

A complete misreading or St. Augustine. He believed in the pope, he believed in trans-substantian. Complete misreading. No priests in the New Testament - are you nuts?? They were all priests. You're nuts. They're called presbyters. Nuts. Where is he getting this?

Of course the point of the priest is trans-substantion, but everyone believed that. You're nuts.

We are the body of Christ, but we are also eating His Body and Blood, you are nuts, that's how we become the Body of Christ. The Church is made by the trans-substantiated Eucharist.

Priests don't have special access, they have special abilities from Ordination- these Sacraments developed - but they were there in the early Church - in the New Testament. (Sacrament of Confession - confess to the Church). You're nuts, you're more Protestant than Luther or Calvin was.

If you're going to make a mistake, you might as well go right off the edge. Wow.

And in another place a non-priest takes on a devil. The result is not good, only priests can deal with evil (cf the Exorcist).

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Even Brian Lehrer sounds suspicious.

Pope irrelevant? What a shame. To Catholics, the pope is the central - Pope Pius IX didn't condemn democracy, etc. in the Syllabus of Errors, that's just what the enemies of the Church and mis-readers said of it.

Is he mentally OK?

There is no possibility that contraception will be allowed. Not because the pope said so, but because it has been the teaching from the Apostles.

The Church grows - Casti Connubi - yes, but this is the Ordinary Magisterium, which Catholics are bound to. Catholics in America don't follow it in general because they don't understand it.

Nonsense, indeed. And a Catholic priest who would affirm this - a scandal. A horror. Sacramental confession is only from a priest, but a person can be forgiven if they make a heart-felt confession to God, but it takes perfect Contrition. The Church has always taught this.

The need is for more priests, not to deny what priests are. Wow. Lack of understanding is complete.

Garry Wills is denying so many teachings of the Church - and he misreads Augustine -

Yes, part of the Body of Christ by Baptism. But they don't have access to the fullness of the faith and of the Church.


Sex is very important, and it's a human act, so it comes under moral teachings, and because it's so important it's important to use it correctly.

Do you really believe that Bishop Pacelli said this? Who wrote 'Brenninde Sorge'??? Nuts.

Feb. 12 2013 04:12 PM
beaglelover from Queens, NY

As a Catholic, I am very critical of the priesthood as we know it. However, humans have always craved a way to connect with the divine and have always had priests to facilitate that. No matter how much science teaches us about the universe, I don't think that the craving for the "divine" will go away. We will always have priests of some description.

Feb. 12 2013 12:48 PM

Susan - you are right - and he meant for it only to occur between a man and wife.

Feb. 12 2013 11:12 AM

Susan from North Salem, NY ~

"The church is "unhealthily obsessed with sex." AMEN BROTHER!!! God made sex feel good for a reason, he made sexual attraction feel good for a reason, everyone get the hell over it already!"


Feb. 12 2013 11:06 AM
Henry from MD

As a Jew who survived Nazi persecution and lived in Catholic Vienna I saw how Christian history sowed anti-Jewish hatred and made Germany rife for the holocaust. While anti-Semitism is still doing well in Europe there is a welcome turn in Christian-Jewish relations. Radical Islam today is the greater problem.

Feb. 12 2013 11:03 AM
John A

There are always Hierarchies, its the way large groups of anything organize.

Feb. 12 2013 11:03 AM
rose-ellen from jackson heights

Artifical contraception goes against the ideal of being made in God's image-man,woman drawn in sexual erotic love for each other and open to the future and to life. That is the natural order.Though we live in a fallen world-since the fall of adam and eve[figuratively-as we know evolution is accurate]life gets messyand we are tempted away from the natural order. That does not mean however that the Church should abandon the ideal natural order-the prefallen template of man ,woman drawn to each other and open to love and new life which is good as it comes from God who is good.It does not matter that most catholics practice artifical birth control-it matters that the ideal is the holy family striving to live according to the pre fallen template.That template is ideally suited to our nature.

Feb. 12 2013 11:02 AM

yes dboy I'm with you - RELIGION: JUST SAY NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Feb. 12 2013 11:01 AM
Julia Wagner from Highland Park, NJ

What Garry Wills is suggesting is what the early Anabaptists were after when they rejected the Catholic Church during the Reformation. Certainly, there were limitations, most notably that women couldn't preach. Also, with the institutionalization of the Mennonite Church came a reliance on Ministers as a paid position.

Feb. 12 2013 11:00 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Will someone please explain/theorize to me what it is about priesthood that attracts so many child rapists? Would they become child rapists if they chose another career?

Feb. 12 2013 10:59 AM
Susan from North Salem, NY

The church is "unhealthily obsessed with sex." AMEN BROTHER!!! God made sex feel good for a reason, he made sexual attraction feel good for a reason, everyone get the hell over it already!

Feb. 12 2013 10:58 AM
MikeinBrklyn from Clinton Hill

I was hoping that the quest's suggestion to solving the Catholic church's shortage of priest would be that it should drop its absurd exemption of women to the priesthood. Disappointingly, his response perpetuates the male chauvinistic ideology within the Catholic church that relegates women to second class citizen. Lack of priest might not be the church's problem. More likely, its because it refuses to abandon its adherence to medieval practices.

Feb. 12 2013 10:58 AM
sheilah hill

This is refreshing and I concur on almost everything. However, here is an error: Your guest said that "Quakers burned witches." No, Quakers NEVER would do something like that. Historically, impossible. They instead were persecuted for their beliefs--example: Mary Dyer hung in Boston, for her Quaker beliefs. Please correct. Thank you,

Feb. 12 2013 10:57 AM

We we part of a 'brand new' parish back in the early 80's. We where able to convince a 'retired' priest to come out of retirement in order to lead this new "suburban" paris in NJ... The parish grew and flourished from 5 families to 50 families in a period of 15 years. The reason for this growth was both the dynamic young families that ran the parish and the sem-retired priest (with the magnetic personality) who welcomed all newcomers and was not afraid to at times "bend some rules" that he thought interefered with common sense... But, after he died, it was all downhill... The priests that where then assigned to the Parish just put in new rules and regulations that did nothing but "divide" the parish which eventually led to it's demise.... The good news is.. the "children" that grew up in the parish during those first 15 years.. have all become lifelong friends and productive and happy members of our society.

Feb. 12 2013 10:56 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Call me ignorant for not knowing much, well, ANYthing, about Christianity/Catholicism, but everything this guy is saying sounds like a bunch of INSANE nonsense. BS mythology from generations of sick, power-hungry minds.

Feb. 12 2013 10:54 AM

What is wrong with a guy's ability when he continues to indulge whilst he cognitively admits/identifies the absurdities of his religion??

Feb. 12 2013 10:54 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Catholicism believes that the flesh and hence any sexual practice, is a deviation from God. Therefore - celibacy, represented through priests and nuns etc, are the only path to God for good Catholics, who must "sin" to procreate.

Feb. 12 2013 10:53 AM
Susan from North Salem, NY

Ed from Larchmont: I'm listening to everything he says, and I avoid priests like poison. What kind of grace from God flows through them that makes them abuse young children? I call that an EPIC FAIL.

Feb. 12 2013 10:52 AM

The church is irrelevant in the modern world (North American & Europe.)
We only have to look at the shrinking size of the average catholic family or the Sunday empty pews.

Feb. 12 2013 10:51 AM

May be off topic: I am sick of hearing discussion about the Pope's retirement. I am more concerned about the 2006 lame duck Congress vote that in essence was designed to destroy a truly universal system that is more than 100 years old in the service of our people. I mean the United States Postal Service being sent to the ruins by the Republicans who demanded 75 years prepay of health benefits and pensions by the USPS!! UPS and FED Ex lobbyists paid Issa et al well. That is something I worry about in terms of survival of an istitution that does work and serve the people.

Feb. 12 2013 10:51 AM

The reason there were no "priests" in the days of Peter and Paul is because what we call "Christianity" was still a sect of Judaism at that time. The Temple was still standing in Jerusalem - and when you read the book of Acts - they all (followers of Yeshua/Jesus) visited the temple and were involved in the activities. The sect broke off when non-Jews (Gentiles) began to grow in number of the followers. You see in the book of Acts that is why Paul was ultimately arrested and sent to Rome (falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the inner areas of the Temple).
The catholic church does many humanitartian things that they should be commended for. However, it takes on many pursuits that are not from the bible, like creating a new earthly priesthood (and praying to saints - etc.).

Feb. 12 2013 10:49 AM

How can someone who is apparently very bright, at least celebrated as bright, BE SO CONSUMED WITH SUCH ABSURDIST PREOCCUPATIONS.


Feb. 12 2013 10:49 AM
john from office

Dboy you are always good to read.

I thought there were priests in the temple, before Jesus. They were the Levies, or levys No??

Religion always sound nuts when it is explained.

Feb. 12 2013 10:48 AM

A better question might be:

Why Hocus Pocus Cockamamy Ridiculousness?

Feb. 12 2013 10:45 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Since the invention of the printing press, the King James version of the bible, and the rise of literacy amongst the masses, I'm not sure if the rest of Christianity needs priests but Catholicism, which depends heavily on ritual, pageantry, hierarchy, and structure - probably still feels it does.

Feb. 12 2013 10:39 AM
John A

Get rid of absurdist headlines!
"Would Christianity Be Better Without Priests?"
Just get Hanna Rosin back on.
She'll get rid of all men, priests included, problem solved.
- - -
Bob Abernethy ran a segment 12-Jan-2013 on women catholic priests. Where's Gary on this issue?

Feb. 12 2013 10:28 AM

why myths?

Feb. 12 2013 10:14 AM
Wendy Wilson from Central New Jersey

I'm not sure that having a clergy is a problem, although the Society of Friends seem to do okay without. However, a PAID clergy may be a problem. I am a Wiccan and we have priests and priestesses but we are not paid and make our living in the real world. It gives us a better viewpoint.

Feb. 12 2013 09:11 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

Hey, Brian ... where’s the story on Imams and why Islam would be better off without their hate spewing sermons every Friday?

You are so disappointing.

Feb. 12 2013 07:44 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

I may be a Jew, but I can recognize Brian’s selective religion bashing when I see it. Catholic or Mormon? Then, look out ... you are fair game.

Moslem or outright Islamist ... drenched in blood and murders (or simple misogyny or tyranny) in multiple countries every single day in the 21st century ... in 2013??!!
No problem ... don’t worry. No story there for the BLS.

Brian is too cowardly (you might behead him, stab him a la Theo van Gogh, or bring a lawsuit through CAIR) or too politically correct to dare criticize you. Catholics are a convenient punching bag.

Western “progressives” are truly disgusting hypocrites.

Feb. 12 2013 07:40 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Of course it's completely predictable that the masonic Brian Lehrer would invite the most dangerous Catholic dissident (is he Catholic? not really) to his program the day after the pope's resignation.

Feb. 12 2013 06:02 AM
Ed from Larchmont

For example, priests are exactly the people through whom the grace of God flows from God to his people (see the 'Diary' of St. Faustina, for one). The idea of Christianity without priests - without a hierarchy ('The Church is hierarchical' as Vatican II says, hierarchy meaning ruled by priests, consecrated ones) - is what happened in Protestantism, it removed the priesthood, and so went most of the Sacraments.

Avoid this man!!

Feb. 12 2013 05:55 AM
Ed from Larchmont

If you are Catholic, please, please, do not listen to what Garry Wills has to say. He is probably a good student of early American history, but about Catholicism he is completely off-base and misleading, even damaging to one's faith. And what he says about the church is theologically and historically incorrect.

For example, 'Priests - a failed tradition' - how is it a failed tradition? Not so, Mr. Wills.

He must be a disgruntled ex-seminarian, though an unusually bright one.

Please avoid this writer as you would poison!

Feb. 12 2013 05:48 AM

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