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The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture [Kindle Edition]

Philip F. Lawler
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The Faithful Departed traces the rise and fall of the Catholic Church as a cultural dynamo in Boston, showing how the Massachusetts experience set a pattern that has echoed throughout the United States as religious institutions have lost social influence in the face of rising secularization.

The collapse of Catholicism in Boston became painfully apparent in 2002, with the full explosion of the sex-abuse crisis. But Lawler brings an insider’s knowledge and a journalist’s sense of drama to show that the sex-abuse scandal was neither the cause nor the beginning of Catholicism’s decline in Boston. In fact, the scandal was itself a symptom of corruption that was already well advanced.

Full of colorful anecdote and gripping social history, The Faithful Departed will be of interest not only to Catholics and to those acquainted with Boston’s rich political tradition, but to anyone concerned about the interplay between religious faith and public policy. The demise of Catholic influence in Massachusetts is an especially vivid example of a secularizing trend that is visible throughout the United States.

Editorial Reviews


Philip Lawler's stunning book is a fresh look at the causes and consequences of the Catholic clerical sex-abuse scandal.

Ground zero was Boston. Lawler tells the story of the Church's role in advancing a culture of morality and excellence within the 19th-century immigrant community. But all of that good crashes into a mid-20th century wall of indifference, amorality, and hostility to orthodoxy and "the power of Faith."

The same story holds true throughout much of the country. Depressing repetition meets depressing repetition.

Lawler places the blame squarely on the laps of the shepherds, the bishops who were more interested in their public image and meeting the mortgage payments, than the safety of souls. His is a powerful story of a dismal period in the life of the Church. -- Frank Keating, Governor of Oklahoma, 1995-2003

About the Author

Philip F. Lawler is editor of Catholic World News. His writings have appeared around the United States and abroad, including the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe.

Product Details

  • File Size: 495 KB
  • Print Length: 281 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594032114
  • Publisher: Encounter Books (July 13, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003XNTTH6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,575 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
150 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sobering look at the Church in America February 15, 2008
This book's title claims that the book is about the history of the church in Boston but it is really about the Church in America as well. It tells this history with a mixture of facts, fascinating stories, funny anecdotes and sometimes alarming statistics. It details closely how the Church intersected with politics in Massachusetts but also in the country as a whole. Lawler shows how the Kennedys influenced Catholic political thought and how their carefully constructed views and the lack of response from bishops helped shape the political landscape. His book also touches on the "reforms" supposedly instituted by Vatican II, the liberal ideology of universities, feminism, woman priests, contraceptives, homosexuality within the priesthood, Roe v. Wade, stem cell research, gay marriage and abortion.

It goes on to demonstrate the influence of the media, particularly the Boston Globe, and how it has replaced a position held a couple of generations ago by the archbishop. It even helps explain one seeming paradox that has always puzzled me, namely why is Massachusetts both the most Catholic and most liberal state in the union? But the principle focus is on how a combination of silence and political posturing by bishops in this country has lead to the crisis in the Church of the evaporation of the Catholic faithful and the sexual abuse tragedy. This book sees the sex abuse scandal as a horrible symptom of the failure of Catholic bishops that were more interested in the earthly institution of the church than in living its faith and protecting that faith within their flocks.

None of it makes particularly cheerful reading for a Catholic, but it is definitely both fascinating and instructive.
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91 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, compassionate, insightful, apolitical February 14, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Many books on the scandal have been written with this simplistic narrative: evil self-hating homosexuals shielding child predators because Catholicism has incoherent and destructive doctrines on sexuality. This is not a book in this category.

This is the first book to detail how this is the scandal of the bishops as much as it is of criminal priests. They failed to act to prevent these crimes against children when it was their power and responsibility to do so. Lawler not only investigates this but can answer why this happened. He also connects the dots from the wider loss of faith by Catholics, to the isolation and morale of the clergy, and the ability of the scandal to be under the radar for decades. There is so much new material here that anyone with an interest in the scandal or the state of the Catholic Church today should read this book.
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60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Sign of Jonas. April 24, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I almost hesitate to recommend this book, since reading it was like tearing open a psychic scab. Still, I think that anyone who cares about the Catholic Church should acquire and read this, what I can only characterize as a masterpiece.

It is not simply a re-encapsulation of the scandal that broke in 2002-2003. Rather, it is an incisive history and analysis of the culture American Catholic Church entire, focused on the Arch Diocese of Boston as an archetypal case study.

Lawler's essential thesis is that the pedophilia scandals that are now scourging the Church are only symptoms of a deeper malaise, one that is rooted in the "suburbanization" of Catholic culture, and it's loss of focus. Instead of of hewing to her ancient prophetic charism, her essential mission of evangelizing and sanctifying, the Church has lost its way. And this didn't happen suddenly in 1968 or 2002. The tepidity and mediocrity began seeping in long ago, back when the Irish, Italian, French and German immigrants first began arriving here, and began attempting to fit into the American milieu.

It's now reached the point that most American Catholics - to include most of our bishops and priests - now conceive of the Church as primarily a political and civic association, rather than a mystical entity with radical and essential moral & spiritual claims on us all. There is a distinct lack of urgency, and a tendency to relativize and abdicate all accountability when it comes to any difficult aspect of the Faith. Most notoriously, that of course means any teachings involving sexuality or gender, but even issues related to violence and economics are fudged away. It's all go along to get along, and what many refer to as "cafeteria Catholicism" is now firmly ensconced as the order of the day.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haven't departed, but thoroughly demoralized February 26, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Philip Lawler has written a history of my life in the Boston church since 1941. I suppose many of the "faithful" were naive and had no idea of the political tensions over the years, but we did see the destruction of our places of worship in the "spirit of Vatican II" and the wholesale repudiation of Catholic piety and devotion valid for centuries. The 60's and 70's popular culture invaded seminaries and changed the thinking of church leaders. The sense of the sacred departed and capitulation to politically correct attitudes robbed the bishops of their moral leadership. The consequences were empty churches and a thundering stampede from convents, monastaries and the priesthood. This book is essentially a damning condemnation of the US cardinals, archbishops and bishops. The confusion and lack of leadership created the climate for defying moral authority, indifference to church pronouncements on divorce, contraception, and other moral issues set the stage for the sordid child abuse scandal. The covering up of scandal was the only motive and we all suffered immeasurably. In a way, we in Boston are going through purgatory at the present time. Mr. Lawler is optimistic that the church will overcome this, and I am too. The gates of Hell shall not prevail.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars How my Church died
An excellent chronicle of how the Catholic Church in America self-destructed due to a lack of leadership from a bunch of weasels masquerading as bishops.
Published 1 month ago by Richard F. Colarco
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent and intelligent read
well researched and committed to the the truth. Interesting for any Catholic who wishes to learn about faith and politics
Published 2 months ago by MASHA
5.0 out of 5 stars Boston
A gift for my aunt I did not read it but if you are into the subject she said it was a very interesting look at Boston Catholics
Published 9 months ago by Umizoomi fan
4.0 out of 5 stars How the bishops destroyed the Catholic Church.
The author, a former editor of the diocesan newspaper of Boston, relates in sad detail the decline of the that diocese from one of the world's most faithful to one of the most... Read more
Published 9 months ago by J. Michael
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, if not partisan history
I found this book on someone else's shelf. Being a Catholic , I had never read any book on the unfortunate scandals that have been front page fodder the last fifteen years. Mr. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Bart Baker
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read
This book is a fascinating account of the rise and fall of Catholicism in Boston, the latter caused by the fecklessness of bishops, archbishops and cardinals and influenced by the... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Lars Eleon Troide
2.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful analysis, but the victims of sex abuse are ignored.
This is a thought provoking read, and its historical analysis is well researched. As one who grew up in the Catholic Church, but like so many, have "Departed," I could... Read more
Published 22 months ago by TJ McC
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best post Vatican II decline book. ...But Very Good!
This is a good '"Decline of the Church via the Pedophile Scandal" book, but falls short of other better books in the category of "Post-Vatican II Catholic Decline" books which... Read more
Published on April 11, 2012 by RCB Catholic
5.0 out of 5 stars Soo that's what happened to my state.
Coming from Massachusetts and now living in the midwest, I have often wondered what happened to my "dear" Catholic Church. Read more
Published on November 25, 2011 by G. Macphail
5.0 out of 5 stars an important book for Catholics and religious alike
Catholics seldom escape the weight of their upbringing; daily Mass, weekly confession, black robbed nuns and collared priests, purple shrouded statutes, incense rising amidst the... Read more
Published on January 5, 2011 by Jedrury
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More About the Author

Philip F. Lawler is editor of Catholic World News (, the first English-language Catholic news service operating on the internet, which he founded in 1995.

Born and raised in the Boston area, Philip Lawler attended Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury, MA, where he won the state's debating championship. He graduated with honors from Harvard College in 1972, majoring in Government. He did graduate work in political philosophy at the University of Chicago before settling into a career in journalism.

Lawler's first career stop was in New Jersey, where he edited Prospect, a monthly magazine published by a Princeton alumni group. In 1979 he moved to Washington, DC, to become managing editor of Policy Review, a quarterly journal published by the Heritage Foundation. He was soon promoted to become Director of Studies at the Heritage Foundation, supervising the foundation's scholarly research.

In 1984 Lawler became editor of Crisis, a monthly journal of lay Catholic opinion. He returned to his native Boston in 1986 to become the first layman to edit The Pilot, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston. From 1993 through 2005 he was editor of the international monthly magazine Catholic World Report.

Philip Lawler has been active in political campaigns, as a speechwriter and organizer, on the local, state, and national levels. He was appointed to the Inauguration Committees for President Ronald Reagan in 1984, and for President George Bush in 1988. In 2000 he himself was a candidate for the US Senate, running against Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Lawler is the author of six books, of which the most recent is A Call to Serve: Pope Francis and the Catholic Future. He is now working on a new book, Countercultural Catholic, which explains how to build an apostolic Church in this post-Christian society. His previous books include The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston's Catholic Culture; Operation Rescue: A Challenge to the Nation's Conscience; The Ultimate Weapon (a study of the American Catholic bishops' pastoral letter on nuclear weapons); and Coughing in Ink (a critique of American higher education). He is the editor of When Faith Goes Viral, Justice and War in the Nuclear Age, and American Capitalism: The Catholic Challenge, and has produced several monographs on Catholic social teachings.

Lawler's columns have appeared in over 100 newspapers around the United States and abroad, including the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and Wall Street Journal. His essays and book reviews have appeared in dozens of magazines, including National Review, Crisis, The Critic, 30 Days, Modern Age, Policy Review, and the American Spectator.

Since 1979, Phil Lawler has been happily married to Leila Marie Lawler, who is known to thousands of readers as "Auntie Leila," the mainstay of the popular Like Mother, Like Daughter blog, which encourages women young and old to "preserve the collective memory" as they raise their own families. Leila and Phil have 7 children and 4 grandchildren.

Now living in rural Massachusetts, Phil Lawler is an amateur beekeeper, voracious reader, music lover, and passionate fan of the Boston Red Sox.

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