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.

No comments: