Philip F. Lawler
Phil is the editor of, which brings you daily news headlines from a Catholic perspective. He is the author of The Faithful Departed, a history of the Church in Boston and the scandal of the abuse of children by priests.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too grim? Alas, the evidence suggests otherwise

As many readers have observed, The Faithful Departed is not a cheery book. Several reviewers have said that the book's chief flaw lies in my failure to indicate how we can move forward from here: how we can restore the vitality of the faith and recover a genuinely Catholic culture. I can accept that criticism as valid. I plan to spend the next several years in an effort to plot out that road forward, and invite loyal Catholics to join me in traveling it. (For details, watch the Catholic Culture site.)

In a friendly and perceptive review that appears in the November issue of New Oxford Review, Dan Flaherty makes that same criticism. OK; I'll cop a plea: Guilty as charged. I hope the court will agree to a sentence of "community service," because that's what I plan anyway.

But I'm afraid I'll have to pour cold water on another part of Flaherty's review, in which he suggests that I take an unduly grim view of Massachusetts history. The key paragraph involves my coverage of the local response to the Roe v. Wade decision. Let me take it in three sections:

In a previous generation, Mayor Curley would have immediately denounced the decision and any wayward Democrats would have fallen in line behind Cardinal O'Connell.

True. Mayor Curley and Cardinal O'Connell might not have cooperated-- they rarely did; their relationship was frosty-- but they would have worked separately toward the same end.

Here though, Lawler does overlook evidence that all was not lost in the early 1970s. Tip O'Neill, after some initial waffling on Roe, fell into line after a scolding from the clergy, and went on to compile a solidly prolife voting record until his retirement in 1987.

Technically true but thoroughly misleading-- at least for the purposes of my analysis. Tip O'Neill did everything in his considerable power to ensure that the House of Representatives never held a vote on any effort to ban abortion. Yes, he retained a pro-life record. And he made it possible for dozens of other Democrats to retain their pro-life credentials without lifting a finger to stop the slaughter of the unborn. My argument is that Catholics did not resist the decision; Tip O'Neill, alas, is a case in point.

It is impossible to imagine former Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, a man from Irish Boston and a devout Catholic who'd just retired before Roe, ever choosing Planned Parenthood over Holy Mother Church.

Absolutely true. But notice: McCormack was no longer on the scene as an active politician when the roof caved in during the 1970s.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The disease is contagious

Yesterday 53% of the American Catholics who voted in the presidential election cast their ballots for Barack Obama: the most radical pro-abortion candidate ever to win a major-party nomination.

But wait: According to those exit polls, John McCain won a majority among those Catholics who attend Mass each week-- that is, the active Catholics.

What lesson can we learn from the voting? I think it's simple: The people who have stopped paying attention to Church teaching on other issues have, not surprisingly, stopped paying attention to Church teaching on abortion as well. Why should we expect otherwise?

In other words, when Catholics stop acting as Catholics, and praying as Catholics, and thinking as Catholics, they will inevitably stop voting as Catholics, too. Does that theory sound familiar? It's the main theme of The Faithful Departed, of course.

I've made this same argument in a bit more detail over on the Catholic Culture site.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

It's election day. We're hanging on by a thread in this country to whatever cultural stability we have left. We've fought for so long against a nebulous enemy and on so many fronts.

What's on the mind of many faithful Christians is that when we seemed to be gaining...not victory by any means, but perhaps some measure of ground -- we will suffer today a loss that will set us right back to the beginning: right back to the late sixties and the ascendancy of the destructive socialist mindset.

Homosexual activists are very much involved in this destructive process. Somehow they've gotten a lock on the family and the priesthood, the cornerstones of society. They won't let go.

In The Faithful Departed Phil shows how homosexuals rose to the top in the Church, and he shows how compromising their influence has been. They are still very much in control, conditioning every relationship for the worse.

As discouraged as I am over the secular matters of the day, and as frustrated as I get when I see people acting as if the scandal is over, there are signs of hope -- hope that I believe has been nurtured by Phil's work.

Today on the Catholic World News site you will see a story about a Vatican official's explanation of why even celibate homosexuals cannot be ordained to the priesthood. This teaching is hopeful in its delicacy and careful affirmation of what is so needed today: a strong faith in the true nature of the priesthood as a spiritual fatherhood, one which mirrors the love of God the Father.
‘He can even be without sin. But if he has this deeply seated tendency, he cannot be admitted to priestly ministry precisely because of the nature of the priesthood, in which a spiritual paternity is carried out. Here we are not talking about whether he commits sins, but whether this deeply rooted tendency remains.
I give thanks for this teaching and hope and pray that it will help heal today's challenge, and the challenge of every day as we continue to battle for the truth.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

plain brown wrapper?

It's happened again. A friend of a friend-- we'll call him Mr. A-- asked about The Faithful Departed in a Catholic bookstore, and was told the store didn't carry the book. When Mr. A asked why, the sales clerk replied quite honestly that his boss didn't want to cause any trouble with his bishop.

Mr. A persisted a bit, telling the clerk that he'd heard good things about my book. At that point the clerk, after glancing over his shoulder, leaned over the counter and said that he'd read the book, liked the book, and just happened to have a copy available for sale-- not on the shelves, but right there under the counter.

So Mr. A got his copy, the bookstore got its sale, and I'll get my commission. Everybody's happy, right?

Yet I can't help thinking that something is wrong-- yes, even morally wrong-- when a store sells a book that it won't allow on display.

(I don't want to identify the bookstore, because I don't want to cause trouble for the clerk. It was not the National Shrine bookstore-- where the same sort of thing was happening a few months ago-- but it was a store located in a major East Coast city.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

Catholic University newspaper picks up story of Shunning at the Shrine

I myself never really made a connection between the fact that our daughter attends Catholic University and the banning of Phil's book. I thought of the Shrine bookstore as a separate entity from the University, to tell you the truth.

But Elizabeth Grden, author of an article appearing in the Oct. 5 edition of The Tower, the student-run newspaper on campus, thought there was a connection, and her piece has a couple of quotes from Deirdre. According to Deirdre, Elizabeth thought it was a bit embarrassing on the part of the school.

As Phil says, the bookstore can carry whichever books it likes. It's an interesting question, though -- what constitutes building up the solution to the terrible problem of sex abuse in the Church, and what is detrimental, preventing true healing from taking place?

And another question. Is this what's really bothering the administration of the Shrine?

It just seems like common sense to me that if you want to know what causes a problem, you must do more than a) bandy about superficial explanations and b) put on a happy face. Everything I had read on this terrible topic left me with an uneasy feeling -- that feeling you get when you just know that the real issues are being hidden.

On the one hand, the liberal media promoted their own agenda by claiming that the problem was due to priestly celibacy. Well, that can't be true -- priests have been celibate in the West for centuries, and while this problem comes and goes, it hasn't been endemic by any means, and has never been so much a fabric of Church life as it is now.

On the other, conservatives alternated between two ideas. Some claimed a media conspiracy, which would truly be a feat -- neither Phil nor I can have a conversation about the Scandal without someone telling us that they know someone abused by a priest. The Boston Globe isn't behind that.

Some strong Catholics attribute it to a breakdown in doctrine. This latter explanation can't be the whole story -- so many of the perpetrators and their bishops were considered among the most conservative or orthodox among us. Whole Traditionalist and conservative movements were disbanded or compromised because of this problem.

I remember very well a good friend telling me a decade ago that she was convinced that the liberals were out to get Fr. Geoghan because of his liturgical rectitude.

Well, Geoghan turned out to be one of the worst, a man who molested hundreds of children right under their parents' noses. Cardinal Law was always called one of the most conservative bishops (I wouldn't agree), yet he is the most disgraced for his stunning refusal to deal with even the most brazen examples that flounced their way across his diocese. (You can read about examples in Phil's book -- you will be beside yourself with anger!)

Only Phil's book gets at the root of the problem and brings about what one friend termed "a catharsis" (I'll try to get her letter to post here -- it's masterful). Only Phil's book explores the breakdown in authority by the bishops and the abdication of religious and ascetic practice.

Think about it: you can believe what you want, but it's how you act that really lends conviction to your beliefs. And right action takes quite a bit of practice; practice in denial of self. Have the bishops been practicing this denial? Have the priests? Do we find the means to teach them denial in the seminaries?

These are the questions that The Faithful Departed answers. And these are the answers that will bring true healing.

To take the other option, namely, putting on a happy face, well, it can be done. I suspect in the Curious Case of the Shunning at the Shrine the higher ups want to use "healing" as an excuse to run away from the surgeon's knife as fast as they can!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Fancy Nancy, Writer Ordinaire

I had heard that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi had written a book and it was basically bombing- this in spite of the fact that her PR team was working overtime to promote it. She was on TV, radio and there was actually print advertising.

It wasn't even banned from bookstores.

I checked today to see how bad, bad was and found that the book: "Know your Power: A Message to America's Daughters" is Amazon ranked #83,999.

Phil's book, "The Faithful Departed" is ranked at #31,951. (not his finest showing, that was in the #2K range)

Nancy Pelosi's book has received an average of 1.5 stars.

Phil's book has received an average of 4.5 stars.

Now I'm not surprised by these statistics, especially after seeing how dreadfully Ms. Pelosi has performed as Speaker of the House. In fact I bet she is just as good a writer as she is Speaker, something right around 1.5 stars.

So contrast that to Phil who while very well known in that state of Massachusetts and D.C. does not have the PR machine (as evidenced by this blog)and had book signings canceled and the book banned has far exceeded the woeful 1.5 rating. And his book sales have far outpaced Ms. Pelosi's sad showing.

So if you have a choice between buying Ms. Pelosi's book and Phil's book, I hope you will make the right choice.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The bishops can't take it.

Yesterday's Washington Times carries a story about how some Catholic bookstores have banned Phil's book.

In particular, the National Shrine bookstore had invited Phil to a book signing -- then they reneged and pulled the books off the shelves! Someone thought the book was important enough to warrant a visit by the author. Then, someone higher up thought this would cause a problem.

It's so odd, because first, Phil's book is written from an orthodox Catholic point of view. Second, most readers agree that although it's painful to read, in the end it gives the hope that only really understanding a problem can bestow. Third, it's not as if Catholic bookstores refrain from carrying books that could be described as controversial, a point made on the NRO blog by Mike Potemra.

"Contradict our theology if you want to, but don't you dare criticize the hierarchy," writes Potemra. protecting bishops from any criticism such a high priority that those in authority are willing to risk the embarrassment of such a blatantly self-serving move? Um, yes, that's what it looks like! Pathetic and ridiculous.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bishop McCormack's legacy

Bishop John McCormack has been leading the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, for 10 years now, and that milestone earns him a remarkable favorable piece in the Union Leader.

According to a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, the bishop-- severely tarred by the sex-abuse scandal-- has "won back, I guess you could say, his credibility to lead the diocese."

How? By striking a plea-bargain deal with prosecutors, ignoring demands for his resignation, riding out the storm of criticism, and... surviving? Is that what passes for leadership?

The same sociologist argues that the bishop's deep involvement with the shuffling of predator-priests will "be like a passing incident or episode that has to be noted, but it won't end up defining his legacy."

What does define his legacy, then? Read on; the information is in the article.

When Bishop McCormack was installed, there were 130 parishes and 37 missions in the diocese. Now there are 102 parishes and 16 missions. There were 158 active priests. Now the number is under 100, headed for 75.

That's one legacy: a diocese in decline. As in Boston (where McCormack had previously handled priest-personnel problems-- with memorable results), so in New Hampshire the diocese is contracting. The Catholic faith is in retreat. The scandal and the contraction go hand in hand.

But in New Hampshire there is more: As I explained in The Faithful Departed, Bishop McCormack reached an agreement with the state's attorney general, surrendering his own autonomy. The bishop accepted state supervision of ecclesiastical affairs as an alternative to prosecution because-- as he conceded in a legal document-- the state had evidence "likely to sustain a conviction" on criminal charges.

Now there is a legacy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meet Phil for Breakfast in Virginia!

Phil will be speaking at the Annual Brent Society Mass and Breakfast this coming Sunday, September 28.
There will be a Solemn High Mass at 10:30 with breakfast at 12:15 at St. Catherine of Siena parish, 1020 Springvale Rd. Great Falls, Va.

The topic is Building a Catholic Culture in an Often Hostile Environment -- and Phil always has a question-and-answer period and would love to discuss his book with you. There will be copies for sale and of course he would be happy to sign yours! Reservations are required: call 703-808-4277.

Phil's book has been selling well -- but people buy it at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon. It's not readily available in Catholic bookstores -- we've gotten comments from people mentioning that they asked for it at their local Catholic store and were told it wasn't there!

I find this puzzling, because as the topic of Sunday's talk shows, Phil is interested in working for a Catholic culture built on the firm foundation of truth and love. That's what the book is about. Fallen human nature means that facing faults squarely is the first step on this pilgrimage.

It seems to me that the establishment -- particularly here in the Boston area -- is more concerned with protecting their turf than with this perennial project of bringing Christ, the way and the truth, to every human endeavor.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Question for readers (and would-be readers)

Has anyone found The Faithful Departed in a Catholic bookstore?

Please let me know. I'm curious to learn how far the informal 'boycott' stretches.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

a generational perspective

My cousin, who's a bit older than me, reports that after reading The Faithful Departed she bought a half-dozen copies to give to her friends. She loved it; but then maybe she wasn't completely objective. Now she's getting feedback from her friends.

Those friends, my cousin tells me, are also mostly older than me; in fact their children are roughly my age. The friends, she says, found the book very helpful because it gave them a better understanding of why their children have "just given up" on the Catholic faith.

That's a common phenomenon, don't you think? One generation is disappointed by what's happened to our faith; the next generation just stops practicing. The parents keep going to church, and coming home disappointed. The children, when they become adults, stop going.

It wasn't always that way. It doesn't have to be that way. It shouldn't be that way.

To reverse the trend, however, we need a different attitude, especially among Church leaders. We need to make pastoral plans on the assumption that we are spreading the faith, not trying to manage its decline.

Years ago, after moving back into my hometown of Dedham, I asked the pastor whether he had any plans to re-open the Catholic grammar school that I had attended. No, he replied; that's impossible now. We'll have to let it sit empty for a generation, he told me, so that maybe the next generation after that could re-open it.

That's not how it works. If today's children aren't being educated in the faith (and they aren't), their own children won't feel the need for a Catholic school. They won't be thinking about how to re-open the school, because they won't be thinking about the faith at all.

It's really very good to know that I've helped some parents to understand why their children have fallen away from the faith. I'd feel much better, though, if I thought that The Faithful Departed was helping some of those younger Catholics to realize what happened to them-- to realize that they were offered only an anemic version of the Catholic faith, and the full-strength version is still available, if you know where to look for it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

more friendly criticism

One of the brothers lent me Philip F. Lawler's The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture, and I couldn't put it down.

Thus begins a very perceptive review by Brother Charles on his blog. He's a reader who understands the book-- largely because he understands the situation that the book describes.

Brother Charles has one significant criticism, which I can accept: that I should have been more careful in the use of the terms "liberal" and "conservative" as applied to Catholicism. It's true that those can be misleading terms. I'd have to disagree with Brother Charles when he claims the US bishops' pastoral letters on nuclear weapons and on economics were successful. (For a critique of the peace pastoral, see my book The Ultimate Weapon). But that's another argument.

Brother Charles is dead wrong when he describes his own entry as a "rantish and verbose review." Not at all. It's well written and insightful.

Monday, August 11, 2008

"a verifiable page-turner"

It's not an entirely favorable treatment, but the review in the Metrowest Daily News definitely encourages readers to try The Faithful Departed.

And even if you don’t agree with everything Philip F. Lawler has to say, you will still find this book verifiable page-turner with great history, personal stories and more than occasional moral dudgeon.

Monday, August 4, 2008

George Weigel reviews The Faithful Departed

Weigel, who is known to everyone (you can read a short bio here), has written and edited 19 books and is a Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center ,has reviewed The Faithful Departed.

Weigel aptly describes the author when he says:

"Finally, there is The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture, by Philip Lawler: editor of Catholic World News, Red Sox zealot, and maker of legendary mint juleps on Derby Day."

Yes, exactly, someone who understands what really distinguishes a man from his contemporaries.

In summary, Weigel pretty much agrees with us that you have to read this book because:

Lawler's account of the unholy trinity that brought Boston Catholicism to its present, unhappy state - clerical sexual misbehavior, episcopal irresponsibility, and homosexuality - is right on the mark, and explains a lot beyond the Hub. The tale is told in sorrow rather than anger; the lessons drawn are the proper ones. Many Catholics understandably want to put the Long Lent of 2002 behind us. No one should do so without reading The Faithful Departed.[Emphasis mine]

So, don't believe us, take it from George Weigel, who has written a few books of his own.

To buy it now before the kids go back to school and life becomes a morass of details, go here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Iconic Tale -- a Review in The Catholic Response Magazine

Not everyone gets Phil's book. The dumbest comment I've seen so far is from David Frumm, in which he takes Phil to task for misleading folks as to the book's content. Well, had Frumm read the book, he might not have been confused.

In contrast, Fr. Phillip W. De Vous understands that

Lawler’s book is really two books in one. Lawler gives extensive
background on the historical foundations of Catholicism in Massachusetts,
placing it within the context of the historical anti-Catholicism
that has been so much a part of the Church’s experience in

In light of this history of the Church in Boston, as well as the development of
the cultural, moral, and political power the Church amassed over
the decades is where Lawler’s second book emerges – the story of
the priestly sex abuse crisis that has led to the most destabilizing
moment in the Catholic Church’s history in the United States. In
this regard, the history of Boston Catholicism’s “success” and its
subsequent collapse becomes the iconic tale through which the
general crisis affecting every corner of the Church in the United
States can find meaning and intelligibility. [my emphasis]
You might be interested in this perceptive review of Phil's book in Fr. Stravinskas' magazine, The Catholic Response. This review isn't available online except here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

the silent treatment

The Albany Law School library has announced some new book purchases, and The Faithful Departed is on the list.

What's so remarkable about that? Nothing, really. I assume that many libraries have bought my book. But I'm beginning to wonder whether any Catholic schools would be willing to announce the purchase of this book-- which is, after all, about the contemporary problems of the Catholic Church.

This past weekend, a friend went to the desk at the bookstore of a major Catholic university and asked for The Faithful Departed. The bookstore manager was happy to provide a copy-- from under the counter; it wasn't on the shelves. The book wasn't actually wrapped in brown paper, but the message was clear nonetheless. My book is being sold on the sly, so that the bookstore won't catch flak from the clerical powers-that-be.

My friend's recent experience is not unique. In a different church-owned bookstore, in a different city, another friend asked for my book. The cheerful woman behind the counter said that she would be happy to order it. But hadn't it been on the display rack just a few days earlier, my friend inquired? Wouldn't the store order a new shipment, if they'd run out? The clerk smiled and repeated that she would be happy to order it, pointedly ignoring the questions. Notice that the clerk didn't ask my friend to repeat the title, nor did she need to consult her computer records to determine availability. She was evidently carrying out a policy that had been recently established in that store. There too my book had been pulled off the shelves, apparently as the result of a call from Someone Important.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


[Interesting article about the abuse case which echoes many of the themes of The Faithful Departed.]

Why the Church Should Not Oppose Extending Statutes of Limitation

June 2008 By Charles Molineaux

The mission of the Catholic Church is evangelization -- the bringing of the Good News to mankind, the bringing of mankind to Christ. The word "evangelization" has been reclaimed from the tele­vangelists, but to put it in the vernacular, we might say that it is about public relations, about putting out a message. The Church has had a continuing evangelization disaster, a public-relations disaster, on its hands since 2002, when revelations surrounding its internal abuse-and-cover- up scandal first came to light, partly as a result of an inversion of episcopal priorities: placing concern for property and the institutional Church ahead of concern for souls. The present public opposition, by most dioceses, to extending statutes of limitation continues the same mindset and exposes the institutional Church to the charge of hypocrisy.

Statutes of Limitation: 'Equity Aids the Vigilant'

A statute of limitation is a legislative act that limits the time within which a legal action must be brought. Statutes of limitation are, in short, pragmatic and practical devices to preclude stale legal claims. In a sense, the idea of statutes of limitation embodies the maxim (and maxims are often merely slogans, not necessarily embodying legal principles, much less natural law): Vigilan­tibus et non dormientibus aequitas subvenit -- that is, the law aids those who are vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights.

To read the rest from New Oxford Review- go here.

Charles Molineaux, K.M., is an attorney, international arbitrator, and freelance writer living in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. His articles and poetry have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Georgetown Academy, the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, and The Catholic Lawyer. This article is based on a talk given at the October 2007 meeting of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists in New York. The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of organizations of which he is a member.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Symposium on Humanae Vitae -- Come meet Phil and get your book signed!

This coming Saturday, June 28, St. Brendan's Parish in Bellingham, MA, will host a symposium on Humanae Vitae. You can read about the offerings here (scroll down for the information).

Phil will be speaking on the effects of dissent from this pivotal document. It seems like a very worthwhile program in general, and of course Phil will bring a box of books for sale. Get your copy signed!

We’ll see you Saturday!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Just when you think the dust has cleared....

... tornado season hits.

Some objections that I hear to reading The Faithful Departed are-

1. Isn't the crisis pretty much over? Can we please get back to our regularly scheduled programming now?

Well if you've been following the story in Vermont (of personal interest to me since I grew up there and had not 1 but 2 pedophile priests in parishes from a total of 5! )you may be familiar with the latest blow. With only one judgment the Diocese is on the hook for $ 8.7 million. (This perpetrator has 17 more pending suits and in another show of stunning incompetence, they claim they have an insurance policy that will cover some of it but can't find it and have sued the insurance company for a copy. Really.)

2. Secondly I hear, "Isn't the book depressing? I mean we all know what happened."

I didn't know what had happened even though I've been following the story slavishly (as family commitments allow) and ever since I saw the jaw dropping press conference in Boston when the Archdiocese's files were finally released. And the lies were exposed. Finally.

This book identifies the way efficiency (with apologies to Frank Gilbreth) was substituted for ministry and led to an environment where such abuse was able to continue for years. Victim after victim, parish after parish, lawsuit after lawsuit.

3. Finally, with the pending closure of Holy Trinity in Boston scheduled for June 30th we are reminded that our loss will continue into the near and perhaps not so near future. And the future isn't bright, but as the conclusion of this book reminds us, Our Lord needed only a dozen men to evangelize the whole world. Surely we've grown some since then.

I don't know, this book fired me up to continue working for a transformation of the culture to reflect Catholic principles. It reminded me that the Church will prevail, she's worth fighting for, and is still something to be proud of.

I think there are still a few First Editions left. But I wouldn't wait.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Inside the Vatican review of TFD

My review of The Faithful Departed has just appeared in the June/July issue of Inside the Vatican magazine. That version was edited for space; here is the full-length version:

Dangerous Men: The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture, by Philip F. Lawler; Encounter Books; 2008; Reviewed by John Mallon


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Spectator review

Here's a review of Faithful Departed that appeared in the May 2008 issue of the American Spectator.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father's Day

I heartily recommend that you order a copy of The Faithful Departed today for a Father's Day gift.

Give a meaningful gift that won't sit in a drawer! Go to our sidebar and click on the Amazon link -- you will go directly to the order page for the book, and it's not too late, with overnight delivery, to get it for Father's Day!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Foreign sales

A welcome message has arrived from a priest serving in Tajikistan. He likes the book.

If you were wondering whether can deliver to Tajikistan, the answer is affirmative.

Monday, June 2, 2008

See Phil on Byron Barnett

Friday June 6th Phil will be on Byron Barnett, WHDH Channel 7.
The show is on at 9:00 a.m.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Belief: The Sine Qua Non

The main point I took from Phil’s book was the idea that Catholicism without faith, i.e. belief, can be a very dangerous thing. It is very easy to be distracted from what is essential, that is, maintaining your faith. For years Evangelicals spoke to Catholics about a personal relationship with Jesus, and many Catholics did not know what they were talking about. Now, thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI, long recognized as one of the Church’s leading thinkers and theologians, is now stressing that very same thing. He is constantly speaking about friendship with Jesus. This simple message is what it’s all about. This is not a private affair as Anonymous inferred in my previous posting, but a personal friendship lived out in a Church, i.e. in community, with other friends of Jesus. This community must be formed in the truth under the Magisterium.

Again, it is very easy to take your eyes off the ball of this core fact, and be distracted, even if you are a bishop and distracted from Christ by running the Church. “Church business” can be a huge distraction from maintaining one’s personal, central relationship with Christ. It goes back to C.S. Lewis’s essay “On First and Second Things.” Finally, it goes back to idolotry.

Through much of the 20th Century so much of the agenda of the Church in America was caught up in seeking acceptance and assimilation into American Society. That drive for acceptance has finally brought us to the scandal of Catholic politicians promoting abortion and surprised when they are called on it—and bishops reluctant to call them on it. Humanae Vitae was thought “unrealistic.” Dissent flourished under the rubric of “being open to other viewpoints” among people who really didn’t even know the Catholic viewpoint in a coherent way.

After 1968 and the Humanae Vitae protests, bishops were explicitly chosen who were men who “didn’t make waves” when what was needed were men who would recognize and stand against the dangerous currents in the culture. Imagine if the bishops took a united stand for Humanae Vitae in 1968. Or a stand against Roe v. Wade. Well they didn’t. And now we have to disassimilate from the cultural attitudes that embrace these things, and it comes as a shock to “cultural Catholics” who think showing up at Mass on Sunday is doing God a favor, and it’s no big deal to miss Mass.

By “disassimilate” I don’t mean leave the culture, but recover true Catholicism i.e. Friendship with Jesus. Only then can Catholics be a leven in society.

The attitude that the Church was a social and political phenomenon, instead of a spiritual reality, and an accessory to one’s life rather than the center of one’s life led to a widespread loss of the True Faith even while going through all the motions. Thus, the need not for remedial catechesis, but evangelization—perhaps for the first time—for many Catholics. A recovery of true friendship, true spousal love with Christ through prayer and personal conversion. When Benedict spoke to the US bishops he stressed fundamental basics. It’s sad that he had to do so.

Otherwise you have pro-abort Catholic pols and priests abusing children and bishops who are impotent, hamstrung and confused and don’t know what to do about it—if they even recognize there is a problem. I think this is the larger problem Phil’s book points out.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Unconvincing...*Updated comment

David Frum of National Review has a short notice of Faithful Departed on his own blog, and says he's not convinced by my overall thesis.
Fair enough. He's entitled to his opinion. Frum isn't writing a full review and he doesn't indicate where he finds my logic flawed or unconvincing. He just announced that he isn't sold. That's an unanswerable argument. All I can do is appeal to the other readers. Did you think that I made a convincing case?
Wait a minute. Here's how Frum sums up my argument in a sentence:
His thesis is that the Boston archdiocese was fatally infected early with excessive regard for the Catholic Church as an institution, too little for the Catholic church as a community.

No, that won't do. I'd be sorry to think that anyone who read the book carefully-- or even read the first chapter carefully-- would come away thinking that I was distinguishing between the Church as an institution and the Church as a community. Let me borrow one of my favorite lines from Flannery O'Connor: If the Catholic Church is just a community, to hell with it.

update David Frum has added a few paragraphs to his original post, in what he characterizes as a response to my thoughts above. But I don't think his response is, well, responsive. He says:
Without having checked, I would think it a very good working assumption that the collapse of Boston's Catholic culture can be shown in measureable ways to have commenced sometime between 1965 and 1975.

Good working assumption, maybe. And/or maybe it's not coincidental that Frum has made a similar argument in his own book, which I confess I haven't read. But if you've read The Faithful Departed, you know that by 1965 the corrosion was already well advanced.
The question is whether my book provides a convincing argument that the collapse of Catholic influence in Boston can be traced to the failures of Church leadership. On that score, Frum says:
I notice that Richard John Neuhaus agrees with my assessment: Lawler wrote a fine reportorial account of the misdoings of the Boston Catholic hierarchy - but that is a different thing from what his publisher advertised.

Is that really what Father Neuhaus said? Read his comments in First Things and draw your own conclusions. I'll say only this: On the basis of their comments it's clear to me that Father Neuhaus read and understood the thrust of my book and David Frum didn't.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hearing from New Hampshire

Here's a review from the St. Benedict Center in New Hampshire.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

losing money, too

Rich Leonardi mentions Amy's review of Faithful Departed, so Google Alert dutifully called my attention to his post entitled "You can ignore? So can we." He isn't actually writing about the book, really, but he's making a point that should be familiar to any Faithful Departed reader. It's about the difficulty many pastors have in raising funds for their parishes. As Leonardi notes,

...stewardship, not to mention tithing, is predicated on fidelity. If priests and bishops aren't serious about Church teaching, should they really expect the laity to be serious about them?

If the pastor takes care of the essentials-- administering the sacraments, providing solid religious formation-- the fundraising should go smoothly, because parishioners will recognize the need to support the central mission of the Church. But if he concentrates on inessentials-- the bake sale, the ski trip, the parishioners lose sight of that central mission and consequently lose the sense that this should be a high-priority item in the family budget.

So oddly enough, if the pastor concentrates on fundraising and lets the sacramental life of the parish "run itself," he's likely to have trouble raising money. If he concentrates on the sacramental life and tosses in an occasional reminder about financial needs, he'll probably do well.

This is actually a different verse of the song I sing in Faithful Departed. There the issue is political influence. When the Church seeks influence first, and neglects spiritual matters, the net result is a loss first in spiritual vigor, and then consequently in political influence. When you take care of the essentials, the other things take care of themselves. Put inessentials first, and you don't only lose what's essential; you forfeit what's inessential too!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Faithful Departed: Review by Amy Welborn

May 5, 2008 by Amy Welborn

First of all, this has got to be one of the best book titles, ever.

Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, has written an account of the Catholic Church in Boston that focuses on the collapse of visible Catholic life in the area as well as the clerical sexual abuse crisis.

For those who have been following the Boston scandals since 2002 (or even before, with the Porter case, which was not Boston, but in the area, and reflective of the culture), there is not a whole lot new here. Some, but a great deal of the book is dedicated in detailing those particular cases. In this respect, Lawler provides a useful primer for those who don’t know the awful details and a helpful reminder for those who do.

But in another respect, Lawler does something more. He reaches back through the history of Catholicism in Boston and tries to understand exactly how and when bishops in this area lost their nerve. When and why did they start accomodating with political culture, in particular, that held so many goals in opposition to Church teaching?

If you’re interested in the answer to the question, let Lawler take you on the guided tour. It’s illuminating. Some of it might be familiar territory, but others - such as the Church’s role in the bussing wars of the 1970’s - ordering area Catholic schools to put a cap on enrollment so they couldn’t be used by parents avoiding bussing - was new to me.

To read the rest go to Amy's blog here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

from New Zealand...

... a friendly blogger offers an encouraging comment about The Faithful Departed:
"I now have the next book in the series to read, Eclipse of the Sun. But it will have to wait until I finish a riveting book by Philip F. Lawler, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture."

It's gratifying to know that the book is turning up in other countries. I'd love to hear about sales in Ireland, where I've had several newspaper columns published in the last month.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Unbelieving Priests

RE: "I'm not sure how good it is for people to to know that their shepherds lack faith, especially given how tenuous the faith of the faithful is."

If my faith depended on the faith of priests, I'd be in big trouble. Everyone's faith is their own responsibility. That's a bit patronizing. There are more priests than I care to count who leave me absolutely baffled as to why they were ordained. Whether they thought they would find faith if ordained, or if their mother pushed them after noticing they weren't very interested in girls and wanted junior to have respectability, I don't know. Thank God for the priests with true vocations who have to live in this environment. This is heroic virtue. We are in this mess because men were ordained who never should have been. I am fed up with unbelieving priests who treat the priesthood as a cozy cover for whatever their real agenda is.

See this:

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

not just for Catholics

Nice to see that my book was useful to a Lutheran priest:
"In short, alert Lutherans can resonate quickly to what he writes here for we likewise are struggling with what he describes here as 'the essential'."

See more of his comments here.
And here is another review from a friendly blogger.

Better not to know?

In a comment left on Phil's post below, TSO says:
"So I'm not sure how good it is for people to know that their shepherds lack faith, especially given how tenuous the faith of the faithful is."

What do you think? The premise behind publishing The Faithful Departed is that it is better to know -- otherwise Phil wouldn't have gone there, as a faithful Catholic who has only the good of the Church at heart.

But is he mistaken? Is it ultimately destructive or not helpful for us to know?

I'd like to read further discussion on that topic (discussion from readers, as opposed to those in the Chancery, who perhaps have a vested interest in the faithful not knowing...).

Does this sound like a consensus?

From CWNEWS - Apr. 24, 2008

Ideological allies? Absolutely not. But although they disagree on many other things, these voices are singing in tune on one topic. See if you can pick out the dominant note:

* Voice of the Faithful press release:

Voice of the Faithful has publicly called for the Holy Father to ask for the resignations of all bishops who put the interests of the institutional Church before the safety of Catholic children.

* Sister Maureen Paul Turlish (writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer):

Not one bishop has been removed from office because of his own complicity, collusion or cover-up of the church's continuing sexual-abuse problems. Nor has anyone been forced to resign for violating Canon Law or criminal or civil laws.

* Victims' lawyer Mitchell Garabedian (quoted in the Boston Herald):

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who has represented hundreds of clergy abuse victims, said Benedict needs to do more than meet with victims. He needs to remove the notorious bishops and supervisors who knowingly shuffled pedophile priests from parish to parish, allowing abuse to continue for years.

* CWN editor Phil Lawler (quoted in a Dallas Morning News editorial):

Mr. Lawler, a conservative Catholic and Benedict supporter, told us yesterday that he's comforted by the pope's admission of shame over abusive priests but that it isn't enough. Said Mr. Lawler: "It would be truly liberating to hear him acknowledge that he is also ashamed of the bishops whose negligence – and even complicity – allowed the scandal to fester and undermined public confidence in the church."

* Victims' spokesman Peter Isely (quoted by AP):

"It's easy and tempting to continually focus on the pedophile priests themselves," said Peter Isely, a board member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It's harder but crucial to focus on the broader problem - complicity in the rest of the church hierarchy."

* Bishop Accountability project (quoted in the New York Times):

Anne Barrett Doyle co-director of Bishop Accountability, a Web site that documents the sexual abuse scandal, expressed similar skepticism. She said that what the pope did not say is more important that what he did. “Rather than shifting attention to pedophile priests, he needs to focus on the culpability of bishops,” she said. “The crisis occurred because many U.S. bishops were willing to hide their priests’ crimes from the police with lies.”

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What if...?

What might have happened if, years ago, the right person had confronted a priest who was abusing children, and stopped him before further scandal erupted?

Writing in Inside the Vatican a few years ago, our friend John Mallon asked that question-- specifically with reference to John Geoghan. He also responded to the many people who have argued that because of this mess the Church should change-- in other words, that the scandal illustrates the inadequacy of Catholic teaching.

It doesn't, of course. Far from it. The teachings of the Church provided plenty of guidance for anyone who was willing to confront the problem. For that matter the Code of Canon Law gave bishops plenty of authority to curb the abuse.

Now the last line of defense for the bishops who ignored the problem is that they didn't understand the problem. But in the 1940s, the priest acknowledged as America's leading expert on sexual abuse was warning anyone who would listen that clerics who abused children could never be trusted in ministry again. So what happened between 1940 and 2000 to cause bishops to forget that advice?

These aren't rhetorical questions. The answers are in The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sexual abuse and liturgical abuse: connected?

After a week of interviews with radio, TV, and newspaper reporters, most of them concentrating on the sex-abuse crisis, I'm more convinced than ever that most American-- even most Catholics-- are missing a vitally important point.

Most people see the sex-abuse crisis as an isolated problem, like a malignant tumor that appeared on an otherwise healthy body. Now the tumor has been removed (or so the line goes), and we can get back to normalcy. But you know what? Malignant tumors generally don't appear on healthy bodies. When the tumor appears, the doctor looks for an underlying cause.

There are some people who think that the real disease is the Catholic faith itself. They've been having a field day, because they claim the ability to explain something that most Catholics aren't explaining. If we expect to counteract their anti-Catholic rhetoric, we'd better come up with an explanation of our own. That's what I tried to do in The Faithful Departed.

So: Is/was the sex-abuse crisis isolated? Now that priests who prey on children are being removed from ministry, can we feel confident that the same failures of leadership won't crop up in other areas?

Let me put the question in more concrete form. Suppose you encountered a pattern of clerical abuse in a completely different field: gross liturgical abuse, let's say. There wouldn't be any civil crime involved, so the courts wouldn't enter the picture, as they eventually did with sexual abuse. The newspapers wouldn't help; they wouldn't really care. So we'd have to rely on Church leaders-- our bishops-- to resolve the problem.

Now let's say that there are gross liturgical abuses occurring in your parish. (Perhaps this is really the case; abuses are not rare.) You dutifully bring the problem(s) to the attention of your pastor, who ignores them. So you report them to the bishop.

What kind of response can you reasonably expect?
  1. The bishop immediately intervenes to stop the abuse and/or discipline the priest(s) responsible;

  2. The bishop gently assures you that the abuses didn't really occur, you were probably mistaken, and maybe you should stop being so critical and support your priests; or

  3. The bishop completely ignores your complaint.

Option 1 is the proper one, obviously. But Options 2 and 3 are more common. They're also the options which, when applied to reports of sexual abuse, allowed the tumor to swell to such frightening size.

If the sex-abuse crisis was "sometimes very badly handled"-- not much debate on that-- and if liturgical abuse is now being handled the same way, it's time to recognize that there is an underlying disease.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Rod Dreher comments:

I keep telling people that if they want to understand the sex abuse scandal in a fuller context, they need to read "The Faithful Departed." The bishops having sold out abuse victims and their families is only the worst manifestation of a broader sellout, which Phil explains so well in his book. It's been my view for some time that the episcopal class, all the way up to John Paul II, was so psychologically insulated from its own culpability that it couldn't grasp what it was doing in the sex abuse scandal, or anything else.

I remember something a Boston Catholic of my acquaintance told me in the spring of 2002, as the Boston Archdiocese was melting down. This man, a good and intelligent Catholic, is a personal friend of Bernard Law's. He admired Cardinal Law very much, and for all I know still does. He could testify to Law's good works, as Phil does in his book (Law is far from a stock villain). Yet this man had personal experience of serious sexual corruption in a certain clerical institution of the archdiocese -- sorry, but I need to be oblique here -- of the sort that was as close to diabolical as I can imagine short of actual occultism. When the man told me about what he knew, I said, "Didn't you tell Cardinal Law?!"

"Oh yes," the man said.

Cardinal Law did nothing. And this man's view of Cardinal Law did not change. I've thought about this a long time, and I think what was going on here is both Cardinal Law and the man in question figured, subconsciously, that Cardinal Law is not the kind of archbishop who would tolerate that kind of thing, therefore it must, in some sense, not be happening.


That's what explains John Paul's actions in the scandal, or lack of action. John Paul was a great and good man, and probably a saint. But he did little or nothing to fight the scandal -- a scandal aided and abetted in many, many cases by bishops he appointed. Some Catholics like to tell themselves that John Paul couldn't have known what was really going on, or perhaps he was too sick and weak in 2002 to address it. Nonsense. Even if he had no idea at all prior to 2002, he was still well enough to meet with the US cardinals personally about the scandal, and admonish them on it. But he never dealt with it publicly in any effective way. Just like he rarely if ever dealt with the assault on authentic Catholic doctrine and tradition from within the Church's own ranks.

I don't mean to be too hard on John Paul. A pope can only do so much. But I suspect history will show that John Paul was a fantastic evangelist, but a very poor governor of the church, and that cost the Church a great deal. The sex abuse victims have only borne the worst of it, but as Phil so carefully explains, their pain and suffering and betrayal is part of the larger puzzle.

Anyway, I am very pleased indeed that Pope Benedict had the courage and humility to meet with Boston victims. John Paul lacked that quality, it must be said. I can tell you from personal experience that you can read as much as you can stomach about the scandal, but nothing will prepare you for talking to an actual victim, and listening to their stories. Benedict was in denial too for some time, as Cardinal Ratzinger, but I am certain being in the CDF after the Boston scandal broke, and having to deal with his fax line becoming an open sewage pipe as US dioceses kept sending him reports from their archives, changed him. I hope and pray too that his remarkable meeting with suffering Bostonians will spur in him a new zeal to take the American bishops to the woodshed, and push as much authentic reform, within the framework of doctrinal orthodoxy, as he can in the time he is given.

#3736- Today's Amazon rank

Right here.

And the average review is 4 1/2 stars.

Do you have your copy yet?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Today on Howie Carr (second interview)

Go here.

Rod Dreher in the Dallas Morning News

Here is Rod Dreher's editorial today on the news that the Pope is "deeply ashamed" about the clerical scandal. Rod calls The Faithful Departed Phil's "important new book" and wishes that the Pope would provide "real consequences" for the scandal.

What do you think?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

NECN appearance tonight

Phil's media appearances- update

Wednesday evening:
7 pm: "The Chet Curtis report" on New England Cable News
8:30 pm: "CNN Today" on CNN International (note: This is the international version, not available on regular local outlets)

Thursday afternoon:
5:30 pm: The Howie Carr Show on WRKO radio.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

spoiling for a fight

In my conversation with Dan Rea on WBZ last night, and in the calls that came through to the station afterward, I was struck by the deep reservoir of anger in Boston. That anger is prompted by the sex-abuse scandal (or at least that's what people think, although my book might prompt some people to have second thoughts about the ultimate cause of the problem) and directed against the Catholic Church.
In itself the anger shouldn't be a surprise. We all knew that people in Boston are angry with the Church. But now it's manifested in odd ways.
First, people are angry that the Holy Father isn't coming to Boston. Not just disappointed: outraged! They feel that he should have come to Boston, because he could... he could... he could...
Well, what could he have done to calm this anger? I can't think of anything that he could say or do that would ease the sense of betrayal, frustration, and disillusion that so many people feel. One more apology? One more acknowledgment that Bad Things happened? That wouldn't heal the wounds; that would only confirm what we already know too well.
The raw anger, the hair-trigger sense of outrage, confirm my earlier belief that it would have been a terrible mistake for the Pope to visit Boston. His enemies are dedicated, organized, and energized; his allies are shaken, scattered, and nearly numb. It might have made for an ugly scene.
When you know that someone's itching to pick a fight, you have a couple of options. You can plunge right in, ready to start swinging. Or you can wait until he cools down a bit and you can talk rationally. I think the Pope made the right choice this time.

Analogy between the Church and the Individual

The thing that troubles, scares or warns me is the analogy that exists between the Church and the individual. Just as the churchmen lose focus and wreck the train when they are overly busy with the affairs of the world, so it is with us individuals. The worldly activities are counterfeits for the pure action that is required of us, complete surrender.

The surgery that is required to correct the imbalance is embarrassing, humbling, humiliating, and searingly painful. I think we have to get over not liking it -- and I don't like that either! Nonetheless, lest we lose heart, there is an up-note and that is blessedness just around the corner, and in the end, it will be in plain sight. So it is not just about the Church; it is about us - as individuals.

First Things review

One of the earliest notices was from First Things. You can read it here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Real Fan of Faithful Departed

I like the way Mike Gauvreau begins his review of the book- "They got away with it."

Yes, they did.

To find out who "they" are, you'll just have to read it now won't you?

Listen and see!

Here are upcoming engagements:


Taped interview with Greg Wayland on NECN (New England Cable News) -- I have to get back to you on the time. --ETA: 9:25 pm.

Interview on WBZ with Dan Rea at 9 pm.


Taped interview on WBUR -- I'll get back to you with the time. --ETA: The Morning Edition show, which is kind of long but he'll be on that one. He'll be on at either 5:35, repeated at 7:35 or 6:35, repeated at 8:35. Thereafter, the interview will be on the website!


Chet Curtis report on NECN, 7- 7:30 pm.


Interview with Byron Barnett on WHDH-TV, 9 am (or so).

Catholic Answers radio live at 6 pm.

These are Eastern times. I'll try to get links to these shows in case you miss them.

And do check in on the Howie Carr interview -- Thanks, Mary, for finding the link! Everyone was excited about that interview, including Howie, who went overtime with Phil and told him he'd have to have him on again!


[I posted this in Off the Record on today as well.]

Newsweek columnist Lisa Miller doesn't have a high opinion of Pope Benedict, and I don't have a high opinion of her column on the impending papal visit. Still one passage caught my attention:
What American Catholics want now—to generalize for a minute—is to feel something, a catharsis, a connection to their tradition, a sense that their leaders see and hear how difficult it can be to be a Catholic in this imperfect and chaotic world.

That reference to "catharsis" struck me because a friend had recently told me that my book, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture, had "elicited this catharsis in my soul."

Catharsis, my friend explained (citing drama classes) is "the desired result of every great tragedy." In this case-- the case of the Boston archdiocese specifically and the American Church in general-- the tragedy has already occurred. We know the unhappy particulars.

That's why I disagree with those who see The Faithful Departed as a sad or pessimistic book. That the events occurred as described is indeed sad. But we already knew that. By retracing the steps, I'm hoping that readers can experience a sort of emotional cleansing, as well as reach an understanding of why the tragedy occurred.

Howie Carr interview of Phil about "Faithful Departed"

You can go here.


...and thanks for the invitation to join your blog.

I had pre-ordered Phil's book, got it quickly and read it through immediately. There is a lot of good stuff in it; I especially like the way he shifts focus at different points. What he has accomplished is a work that moves consistently from point to point, can easily be followed but delves down beneath the surface to explore causes and issues.

I'm re-reading it through now, much more slowly. I'm very struck by the exploration of how the foundations in the good ole' days weren't as strong as they appeared. I have my own thoughts about that but will save them for later in my reading.


I'm glad you found us! On this page we will keep you up to date on Phil's speaking engagements, book signings, and interviews.

We also hope that you will contribute your questions and comments to the discussion. Phil has written a book like no other -- not only about the scandal of the abuse of children by priests, but of the history of the Catholic Church in Boston and the effect that history has had on today's headlines.

In addition, Phil has probed the still open wound of the bishops' dereliction of duty -- and the effect their betrayal has had on the faithful.

What do you think? Have you read the book? Do you agree with Phil? Do you have questions you'd like to ask him? We look forward to hearing from you!