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.

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.


Paul said...

Thanks! I'm glad someone orthodox has put together a resource on the happenings in the Boston Archdiocese.

I "picked" this review on PickAFig, the Catholic "Digg" site.

Vote for this post on PickAFig

Anonymous said...

A review from The MetroWest Daily News (

No exit from sadness in 'Faithful Departed'
By Margaret Smith
GateHouse News Service
Posted Jul 31, 2008
Boston — 'The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture,' by Philip F. Lawler. Encounter Books. Hardcover.

You might not think of a church history as any kind of page-turner.

You may have been disappointed by Garry Wills’ s “Why I Am A Catholic” with its warmed-over litany of various incompetent and shady popes, (this ground was already covered in Russell Chamberlin’s engaging book known aptly, as, “The Bad Popes,”) and little of the soul-searching promised by the title.

You may have been irritated by Thomas Cahill’s “Mysteries of the Middle Ages,” full of its own cleverness with jabs against various historical church figures – and modern ones in the maelstrom of the sex abuse crisis.

Yes, a lot of people have a lot to say about what’s wrong with the Catholic Church, and whether it can be repaired.

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.

As a former editor of Catholic World Report and of The Pilot -- the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston – editor of Catholic World News, Lawler isn’t the person to go to for objectivity.

But, unlike some commentators, he does deliver an intense and passionate account of the apogee and now it seems, receding Catholic culture in the greater Boston area.

Before you even finish the introduction you’ll get a good sense of where Lawler stands, and from that it would be too easy to conclude that Lawler thinks that everything would get better if Catholics stopped sleeping in late on Sunday and put more dough in the collection basket.

He does make those points, but also believes, as many critics do, that the real fault lies with church leadership’s failure to hear the concerns of the laity.

The sex abuse scandal may be the most glaringly central tragedy in the church in recent years, but Lawler points to other precipitating factors.

Some of the people who disagree with Lawler’s arguments are his fellow Catholics who respect church teachings but feel reform is not about merely bowing to the latest fashions, as Lawler and other self-described traditional Catholics assert. Indeed, Lawler all but comes out and says there are “good” Catholics and “bad” Catholics, and the “bad” ones are invariably the ones who might question church teachings on – well, anything.

Even the bygone folk Mass, felt banners and all, ends up singed by Lawler’s scathings.

This is where Lawler verges on cranky and in danger of falling into the worst of conservative clichés. (Let’s get this out of the way now, in case anyone sniffs “liberal bias” here -- there are plenty of liberal clichés – a staggering number, perhaps running to googol. )

Speaking of liberal bias, one has to wonder: Why did Lawler, who is down on the so-called “liberal” Boston newspapers, turn to them over and over as sources in his research?

Lawler’s at his best when he refrains from the role of lay preacher and looks deep into the heart of Catholic Boston’s past, and the figures at its epicenter.

It’s a past peopled with vibrant characters, including religious leaders such as Cardinals William O’Connell and Richard James Cushing -- giants who molded Catholicism in the Boston area in the 20th century -- and secular political ones, such as John Francis Fitzgerald, also known as “Honey Fitz,” Congresswoman Louise Day Hicks, and of course, James Michael Curley.

He also gives great and compassionate insight into the lives of ordinary Catholics past and present, and draws from his own personal experiences of growing up in this culture.

Regardless of what the reader believes is the root cause of the Catholic Church’s problems, the clear message in this book comes from the heart: It’s the sorrow felt by Lawler, no mere observer, but one who cares deeply about a religious and social institution that is a part of his daily life and not just an interruption on Sunday.

Catholics with opinions different from Lawler’s care, too. After reading “The Faithful Departed,” one wonders what Catholics of many viewpoints could do for the future of a church they love if they could work together.

Margaret Smith is Arts and Calendar editor for Community Newspaper Company’s northwest unit. E-mail her at

Anonymous said...

The gratuitous and insulting description of Pat Buchanan as a "renegade" left me wondering if Lawler had all of his other accusations straight, or was simply one more crank taking advantage of the situation to write a book. I'd also suggest he could have used more proofreading of his book for grammar and spelling errors, although I have to say that even with these faults the book was an interesting read.

Phil said...

Pat Buchanan is a friend, and I've admired his work for years. This comment sent me back to my manuscript, looking for the spot where I'd said something about him that could have been interpreted as insulting. I find the reference that Anonymous is apparently citing, and he's simply misunderstood. I said that voters who supported Buchanan were "renegades" in the sense that they abandoned the major parties. Having run for office as a 3rd-party candidate myself, I certainly wasn't making a pejorative comment.

Kjndeaux said...

I have not read the book. But from personnel experience in my own archdiocese, the sexual licentious that the leaders of the church let run rampant has not subsided in our former parish.
We have an active homosexual in charge of the Music/Liturgy Ministry, and nothing has been done or is being done about it, though the priest and archbishop have been made aware.

The former parish priest repeated the mantra that it is a pedophile issue. Yet, the John Jay report stated that most of the victims were post-pubescent teenagers and young men. That qualifies it as a homosexual issue.
Why do the church leaders insist on continuing to use misleading language? I believe it is becasue they do not want to upset the still entrenched active homosexuals involved in church positions.