I’ve just finished reading Philip Lawler’s new book, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture. It’s an excellent overview of the clergy-abuse scandal, specifically in the degree to which it documents and strongly condemns the corruption of the American hierarchy. But it’s more ambitious, stepping back to take a wider view of how the Church has declined since the alleged ‘good old days’ before Vatican II when bishops had real clout. The truth is, as Lawler points out, the church was already ossifying from a lack of spiritual leadership among bishops that were too much caught up in the institution of the church as a secular corporation. In many ways the scandals that followed over the decades were predictable, if not inevitable.
The book suffers from a thin index and a complete lack of notes. Lawler is a veteran journalist, so I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, right smack in the middle of the book he unloads a real howler, which I have to say is astonishing in someone who, according to the back book flap was “born and raised in the Boston area.”
From p. 113, where Lawler is discussing the unpopularity of pro-life politicians running for office in Massachusetts, he writes:
Shamie, Hyatt, McCarthy, and McNamara had something else in common: they were all pro-life Catholics. And in the Boston of the 1980s, who would come to the defense of a pro-life Catholic Republican? Neither political party was hospitable. The Globe was an implacable enemy, the Herald at best an inconstant friend. There were liberal op-ed columnists and talk-show hosts aplenty around the Boston area, whose intellectual hegemony was contested by a few feisty libertarians. There were two tradition-minded Jewish columnists (Don Feder and Jeff Jacoby), and a conservative Baptist (Joe Fitzgerald), but not a single prominent newspaper columnist or talk-show host who could plausibly be described as a Catholic conservative. [emphasis mine]
Huh?? I almost threw the book at the wall. Let me see…you could ask Globe op-ed columnist Ellen Goodman if she thought my late father, David J. Farrell –who was an op-ed columnist for the Globe from 1972 until November 1985– could not plausibly be described as a Catholic conservative. Ask her colleague Joan Vennochi, or Don Feder and Jeff Jacoby. Or ask Mike Barnicle. Dave Nyhan, RIP, isn’t around, but he’d chime in too, if he could.
And David J. wasn’t alone. David B. Wilson, who retired from the Globe just a year or so before my dad left the paper (if I recall correctly), also wrote regularly against abortion among other things (although Wilson’s a Protestant).
Sheesh. I don’t mind saying, this made me take the rest of the book’s facts, sans notes, with just a grain of salt. I don’t know what Lawler was reading during the 1980s, but I guess it wasn’t the Globe.