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Why National Shrine Rector Wants to 'Move On' From Priest Abuse Scandal

Msgr. Rossi, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

One morning in June 2008, the rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception walked into the shrine's bookstore, and after flipping through the pages of a recent release by Catholic writer Philip Lawler, he ordered all copies of it removed from the store.

The monsignor also canceled the author's book signing event, which was to take place in the shop in about two weeks. His actions created a bit of a stir in Catholic circles at the time.

When asked by a Washington Times reporter why he banned the book, the rector declined to discuss specifics. He said only that "he had received several complaining calls and had read through the book." As for the book signing: “That fell through the cracks ... [the event] should have been vetted.”

The book to which the monsignor had so strongly objected was The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture.

In the stunning expose, Lawler examined the causes and consequences of the Catholic clerical sex abuse scandal that rocked Boston in 2002, and how the scandal had reverberated throughout the United States.

To be sure, The Faithful Departed is not a fun read because of its disturbing subject matter, but as writer Brian Kelly pointed out in his review in Catholicism.org, it was popular with "priests who liked its journalistic style." It also provided serious analysis regarding the ongoing sexual abuse crisis that should have been of interest to all members of the Catholic clergy:

In fact, considering the toxic depravity of the sexual offenses that are recounted, the author nobly maintained a high degree of propriety without sanitizing the foulness of the crimes.

It was not written to exploit the clergy’s sex-abuse crisis in any way; it was written in order to give explanations as to the causes for the worst internal crisis in the history of the Church in America; it was written to provide correctives for the future; it was written for the sake of the victims; it was written for the sake of reparation to our offended God; and it was written to give readers hope in the strength of the Mystical Body, hope that good will triumph in a time when the scandal seems to have taken away all hope.

It is a prudently written, serious analysis of the collapse of all that contributed to a once-vibrant Catholic culture in the Boston diocese and the causes thereof.

Kelly argued that Lawler, a former editor of Boston’s Archdiocesan paper, was the only person who could have written the story with "such intimate and comprehensive objectivity":

It took a local Catholic writer, who lived through the worst of the sordid events that are recounted in these 258 pages, to present the painful history honestly and without attenuation. By the way, Philip Lawler didn’t last long as editor of the  Boston Pilot.

He explains in the second part of this book how Cardinal Law had hired him in 1986 with the impulsive marching orders to promote an “aggressive” Catholic front in dealing with public affairs. About a year later, he was forced to resign after he stirred up too much controversy, not, as he had first thought, for his editorial in defense of Humanae Vitae , but for his searing article opposing “gay rights” legislation. The official reason given for his ousting was “editorial conflict.”