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, September 26, 2008

The bishops can't take it.

Yesterday's Washington Times carries a story about how some Catholic bookstores have banned Phil's book.

In particular, the National Shrine bookstore had invited Phil to a book signing -- then they reneged and pulled the books off the shelves! Someone thought the book was important enough to warrant a visit by the author. Then, someone higher up thought this would cause a problem.

It's so odd, because first, Phil's book is written from an orthodox Catholic point of view. Second, most readers agree that although it's painful to read, in the end it gives the hope that only really understanding a problem can bestow. Third, it's not as if Catholic bookstores refrain from carrying books that could be described as controversial, a point made on the NRO blog by Mike Potemra.

"Contradict our theology if you want to, but don't you dare criticize the hierarchy," writes Potemra. protecting bishops from any criticism such a high priority that those in authority are willing to risk the embarrassment of such a blatantly self-serving move? Um, yes, that's what it looks like! Pathetic and ridiculous.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bishop McCormack's legacy

Bishop John McCormack has been leading the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, for 10 years now, and that milestone earns him a remarkable favorable piece in the Union Leader.

According to a sociologist from the University of New Hampshire, the bishop-- severely tarred by the sex-abuse scandal-- has "won back, I guess you could say, his credibility to lead the diocese."

How? By striking a plea-bargain deal with prosecutors, ignoring demands for his resignation, riding out the storm of criticism, and... surviving? Is that what passes for leadership?

The same sociologist argues that the bishop's deep involvement with the shuffling of predator-priests will "be like a passing incident or episode that has to be noted, but it won't end up defining his legacy."

What does define his legacy, then? Read on; the information is in the article.

When Bishop McCormack was installed, there were 130 parishes and 37 missions in the diocese. Now there are 102 parishes and 16 missions. There were 158 active priests. Now the number is under 100, headed for 75.

That's one legacy: a diocese in decline. As in Boston (where McCormack had previously handled priest-personnel problems-- with memorable results), so in New Hampshire the diocese is contracting. The Catholic faith is in retreat. The scandal and the contraction go hand in hand.

But in New Hampshire there is more: As I explained in The Faithful Departed, Bishop McCormack reached an agreement with the state's attorney general, surrendering his own autonomy. The bishop accepted state supervision of ecclesiastical affairs as an alternative to prosecution because-- as he conceded in a legal document-- the state had evidence "likely to sustain a conviction" on criminal charges.

Now there is a legacy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Meet Phil for Breakfast in Virginia!

Phil will be speaking at the Annual Brent Society Mass and Breakfast this coming Sunday, September 28.
There will be a Solemn High Mass at 10:30 with breakfast at 12:15 at St. Catherine of Siena parish, 1020 Springvale Rd. Great Falls, Va.

The topic is Building a Catholic Culture in an Often Hostile Environment -- and Phil always has a question-and-answer period and would love to discuss his book with you. There will be copies for sale and of course he would be happy to sign yours! Reservations are required: call 703-808-4277.

Phil's book has been selling well -- but people buy it at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon. It's not readily available in Catholic bookstores -- we've gotten comments from people mentioning that they asked for it at their local Catholic store and were told it wasn't there!

I find this puzzling, because as the topic of Sunday's talk shows, Phil is interested in working for a Catholic culture built on the firm foundation of truth and love. That's what the book is about. Fallen human nature means that facing faults squarely is the first step on this pilgrimage.

It seems to me that the establishment -- particularly here in the Boston area -- is more concerned with protecting their turf than with this perennial project of bringing Christ, the way and the truth, to every human endeavor.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Question for readers (and would-be readers)

Has anyone found The Faithful Departed in a Catholic bookstore?

Please let me know. I'm curious to learn how far the informal 'boycott' stretches.