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.


Lynne said...

There's an eloquent piece written by a young mother on how she almost lost her Catholic faith. It's called "I Was Robbed". I'm much older than its author but I too feel robbed. Please note, the article is on my blog but I did not write it...


Tim Terhune said...


Good thoughts. I was wondering: where does one find the "full strength" version? I have no idea where to start looking. The sermons/homilies I hear in our local RC church have nothing to do with the scripture readings and their interpretation. Nothing about, you know, the Jesus guy... are we not Christians after all?

Denny said...

This Blog operates like the old Pravda....any criticism, no matter how valid and charitably put, is immediately censored.

Which is why it isn't taken seriously by most folks.

Phil said...

So Denny, were you censored? Did you have something to say?

Stephen said...

I read your book. My 18 year old did
too he said it sounded like me talking. I am one of the ones you hoped to reach. I've got 7 kids (so far) and people act like we have 37. Today I brought my Mother to the doctor with my 2 youngest. A woman of about 55 - a true Boston quasi-catholic baby boomer- in the office asked where we got the name Mary for the youngest. I said 'our Blessed Mother of Course' the poor woman is still scratching her head. 'are you serious? no really. Is he serious? no really...I loved the book and the confirmation that 'it ain't just me' The Latin Mass is key.
Regards and thanks for documenting our history.