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.

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.