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.

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!