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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too grim? Alas, the evidence suggests otherwise

As many readers have observed, The Faithful Departed is not a cheery book. Several reviewers have said that the book's chief flaw lies in my failure to indicate how we can move forward from here: how we can restore the vitality of the faith and recover a genuinely Catholic culture. I can accept that criticism as valid. I plan to spend the next several years in an effort to plot out that road forward, and invite loyal Catholics to join me in traveling it. (For details, watch the Catholic Culture site.)

In a friendly and perceptive review that appears in the November issue of New Oxford Review, Dan Flaherty makes that same criticism. OK; I'll cop a plea: Guilty as charged. I hope the court will agree to a sentence of "community service," because that's what I plan anyway.

But I'm afraid I'll have to pour cold water on another part of Flaherty's review, in which he suggests that I take an unduly grim view of Massachusetts history. The key paragraph involves my coverage of the local response to the Roe v. Wade decision. Let me take it in three sections:

In a previous generation, Mayor Curley would have immediately denounced the decision and any wayward Democrats would have fallen in line behind Cardinal O'Connell.

True. Mayor Curley and Cardinal O'Connell might not have cooperated-- they rarely did; their relationship was frosty-- but they would have worked separately toward the same end.

Here though, Lawler does overlook evidence that all was not lost in the early 1970s. Tip O'Neill, after some initial waffling on Roe, fell into line after a scolding from the clergy, and went on to compile a solidly prolife voting record until his retirement in 1987.

Technically true but thoroughly misleading-- at least for the purposes of my analysis. Tip O'Neill did everything in his considerable power to ensure that the House of Representatives never held a vote on any effort to ban abortion. Yes, he retained a pro-life record. And he made it possible for dozens of other Democrats to retain their pro-life credentials without lifting a finger to stop the slaughter of the unborn. My argument is that Catholics did not resist the decision; Tip O'Neill, alas, is a case in point.

It is impossible to imagine former Speaker of the House John W. McCormack, a man from Irish Boston and a devout Catholic who'd just retired before Roe, ever choosing Planned Parenthood over Holy Mother Church.

Absolutely true. But notice: McCormack was no longer on the scene as an active politician when the roof caved in during the 1970s.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The disease is contagious

Yesterday 53% of the American Catholics who voted in the presidential election cast their ballots for Barack Obama: the most radical pro-abortion candidate ever to win a major-party nomination.

But wait: According to those exit polls, John McCain won a majority among those Catholics who attend Mass each week-- that is, the active Catholics.

What lesson can we learn from the voting? I think it's simple: The people who have stopped paying attention to Church teaching on other issues have, not surprisingly, stopped paying attention to Church teaching on abortion as well. Why should we expect otherwise?

In other words, when Catholics stop acting as Catholics, and praying as Catholics, and thinking as Catholics, they will inevitably stop voting as Catholics, too. Does that theory sound familiar? It's the main theme of The Faithful Departed, of course.

I've made this same argument in a bit more detail over on the Catholic Culture site.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

It's election day. We're hanging on by a thread in this country to whatever cultural stability we have left. We've fought for so long against a nebulous enemy and on so many fronts.

What's on the mind of many faithful Christians is that when we seemed to be gaining...not victory by any means, but perhaps some measure of ground -- we will suffer today a loss that will set us right back to the beginning: right back to the late sixties and the ascendancy of the destructive socialist mindset.

Homosexual activists are very much involved in this destructive process. Somehow they've gotten a lock on the family and the priesthood, the cornerstones of society. They won't let go.

In The Faithful Departed Phil shows how homosexuals rose to the top in the Church, and he shows how compromising their influence has been. They are still very much in control, conditioning every relationship for the worse.

As discouraged as I am over the secular matters of the day, and as frustrated as I get when I see people acting as if the scandal is over, there are signs of hope -- hope that I believe has been nurtured by Phil's work.

Today on the Catholic World News site you will see a story about a Vatican official's explanation of why even celibate homosexuals cannot be ordained to the priesthood. This teaching is hopeful in its delicacy and careful affirmation of what is so needed today: a strong faith in the true nature of the priesthood as a spiritual fatherhood, one which mirrors the love of God the Father.
‘He can even be without sin. But if he has this deeply seated tendency, he cannot be admitted to priestly ministry precisely because of the nature of the priesthood, in which a spiritual paternity is carried out. Here we are not talking about whether he commits sins, but whether this deeply rooted tendency remains.
I give thanks for this teaching and hope and pray that it will help heal today's challenge, and the challenge of every day as we continue to battle for the truth.