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.

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.


M. Alexander said...

I often wonder about the inaction. I know when I'm confronted with an injustice or a crisis it seems like it just eats me up inside until I can take some action to try to correct the situation. That trait seems to be missing for so many bishops.

Jerry Benitz said...

Uh oh. You questioned John Paul the Great. There go your EWTN appearances!

Denial. Yes. When Bob Delery and I exposed Cdl. Law's sex-ed programs, a common response was denial. Denial, even from those who watched Cdl. Law destroy the PP Rosary. But denial is what the destroyers like Weakland, Mahoney, Bernadin and Law counted on. Deniers keep putting money in the basket.