PW: Your new book begins by responding, in a very personal way, to those who asked why you remain Catholic in spite of your criticism of the church. Did you feel a certain amount of discomfort in approaching the book this way?
GW: Sure. Why talk so much about yourself when you're talking about big things like the claims of our Redeemer? But it would have been arrogant in a different way to say, "Here's the truth, it's an abstract truth, you have to obey it, etc." That's not what people were asking me. They often told their personal stories in writing to me and were asking me to strengthen them by telling mine, which is a parallel.
PW: What did the letters and other comments you received after Papal Sin tell you about Catholics today and the state of the church?
GW: That there are many, many people out there yearning for a way to square their own beliefs with the apparently dissonant approach of the pope. We know that from polls. We know that 80% of the people don't agree with the pope on contraception, married clergy [or] women's ordination. There are two things you can do: Ignore the pope and try to dismiss the problem and keep it out of your mind, or try to analyze that dissonance and see what are the limits of the claim of papal primacy over the centuries. It seems to me a lot of people would like to do that, but don't have the time or resources to do that, so I felt that I was doing it for them.
PW: You mention in the introduction to Why I Am a Catholic that when Papal Sin came out, the news was full of reports about the clergy sex-abuse scandal. Now, your new book is being released early in part because of yet another wave of news about this crisis. What do these latest reports mean for the church?
GW: Well, I'm glad I wrote the book before all that happened. This one was turned in last August, well before the latest round of scandals came up. My basic position remains the same. I don't want it to be seen as just reacting to what's happened. But what's happened does sharpen the feeling that the people I'm addressing have: that they have to defend their Catholicism against the excesses, perversions and corruption of the hierarchy. I see the crisis as a deep, deep, deep corruption of the hierarchy. They're fooling themselves trying to fool us. They think they can just continue in the old way and be harder, stricter. And they're making a terrible mistake. What angered them before was the indifference of Catholics to what the pope was saying. Now [Catholics] are not indifferent, they're angry.
PW: What hopes do you have that this scandal will bring about change in the church?
GW: I have every hope in the world. I don't know the mechanics of the change, but you can't go on with a dwindling priesthood, with opposition to the most talented and loyal women in your body. It's just impossible. There's a bright side to what's happened recently. Six months ago, if the pope had died, it's possible that someone of his same mentality would have been elected. I think now—or a month or two months or a half-year from now—it's impossible. They're scared. They're rightly frightened that it hasn't worked and enough of them know that it hasn't worked that they're not going to give us another John Paul II.