“Paved with the Skulls of Bishops”

Richard John Neuhaus reviews Phil Lawler’s new book, The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture (my heading is taken from a statement from Chrysostom, cited by Fabian Bruskewitz endorsing Lawlor’s work, that “the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops”).

One might suggest that the book is really two books, one about what has happened to Catholicism in Boston and the other about the sex abuse scandal in the Church in America. Boston is the synecdoche for the telling of the much larger story.

Lawlor was editor of the Boston Pilot under Law, and thus has a unique perspective.

The account offered is devastating and the blame is clearly laid at the door of the American bishops. Lawler is outraged, but, to his credit, his outrage is controlled. His judgments are sometimes harsh, but, in view of the evidence, they could hardly be otherwise.

I’m not sure what to make of the middle sentence. What does it mean to praise “controlled” outrage in such a case? Probably another slap at Lee Podles, whose book Neuhaus didn’t like.  Podles was too angry at lies and rape, in Neuhaus’ opinion.

 “The thesis of this book,” writes Lawler, “is that the sex abuse scandal in American Catholicism was not only aggravated but actually caused by the willingness of church leaders to sacrifice the essential for the inessential; to build up the human institution even to the detriment of the divine mandate.” Bishops again and again responded to the crisis as institutional managers, employing public relations stratagems to evade, deceive, and distract attention from their own responsibility. Lawler several times invokes the terse observation of St. Augustine, “God does not need my lie.” The bishops lied, says Lawler, and many of them are still lying. This is offered not as an accusation but as a conclusion that he believes is compelled by the evidence.