Book Review: Papal Bull: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church

Papal Bull by Joe Wenke

Papal Bull: An Ex-Catholic Calls Out the Catholic Church by Dr. Joe Wenke is shows a side of the Catholic Church that few know about. Wenke is the oldest of eleven children from a strict Catholic family from Philadelphia. He received his BA in English from Notre Dame, a MA in English from Penn State, and his PhD in English from the University of Connecticut. Wenke previous book is You Have to Be Kidding: The Cultural Arsonist’s Satirical Reading of the Bible.

A word of warning: This book is not for everyone. Some will find it very offensive. But get real. Papal Bull is a play on Papal Bulla. Bulla being the seal used on a formal announcement of policy from the pope. They are commonly know as “bulls.” A Papal Bull by Alexander VI divided South America between Portugal and Spain (Alexander was from Spain, so you know who got the better deal). Secondly, the cover art features a transsexual dressed as the pope. That sets the tone for the book. For some reason, I kept falling into a George Carlin voice as I read the book. 

In his preface, I could relate to many points Wenke makes about growing up Catholic. Large families and not enough room to live in. Public schools were not acceptable and although not well off there was always money to go to Catholic school. (I had to get a paper route to pay my way through school, even though I would have preferred J.B. Hart and South High). Of course there were the nuns and their system of discipline. I could also relate to the quality of the education. I don’t think we ever got through a single text book in the five years I went to Catholic school. We did get in plenty of prayer time, church time, preparation for the sacraments. It seemed like I lived a parallel life with the author. 

Wenke shows that there is quite a bit of Bull in the Catholic church. He takes a realistic look at the history of the church from the crusades to the popes and anti-popes. The first thirty-five popes became saints including the anti-pope Hippolytus. The church has a long history of saints, both real and imagined. There is a whole section of events and people called “According to Tradition ….Legend has it.” 

Doctrine is examined. Wenke has some questions for God come judgment day. Why does God need to be constantly worshiped? There is no such thing as freewill if God is omnipotent, so any personal failings are are God’s fault not yours. God knew your whole life path before you or even the universe existed. Why are we held bound to Adam and Eve’s sin (mostly Eve’s fault according to the church) until a priest pours water on us and says magical words. What about a baby who dies before being baptized? Purgatory is invented for that and for people who need to get punished a bit before going to heaven. There is also the story of Joey and a baloney sandwich and a partial lists of common sins that will bar your way to heaven. 

If you are a former Catholic you will probably love this book especially if you were brought up in the latter half of the twentieth century. The satire is heavy. You’ll laugh and probably say “Huh!?!” several times through this book. Although Wenke offers his personal opinions on the Church, the historical information is documented. For some this will be a fun read, for others eye-opening, and yet still for others kindling. I enjoyed the book and am a little sad that George Carlin isn’t around to read the the audiobook version. 

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