July 24, 2019
By Phil Lawler
For more than 25 years now, I have been reporting and writing about scandal within the Catholic Church. Yesterday, as I wearily wrote one more article about episcopal corruption, I realized how much the topic has come to nauseate me. I can’t do it anymore.
Since the 1990s I have been digging in the muck, uncovering more and more of what Pope Benedict XVI aptly termed the “filth” in the Church—the filth that obscures the image of Christ. It hasn’t been pleasant work. It isn’t the work I would have chosen. It isn’t edifying. The daily dealing with appalling ugliness—week after week, month after month—has taken a heavy toll: on my health, on my family, on my spiritual life. In warfare, good commanders know that even the toughest troops need a break after weeks in battle. And believe me, this is—always has been—a spiritual battle.
I’m not going to walk away from that battle. Far from it. I’ve devoted my life to the cause of reform in the Catholic Church, and I fully intend to continue speaking and writing on that topic. But I need to step back, to take a new approach, to fight this war on a different front. I can’t continue plowing through the documents, chasing down the leads, dredging up the facts. Fortunately, in the past few years many other reporters have joined the hunt for the truth. I’ll comment on the facts they unearth; I’ll provide my perspective. But in order to have a healthy perspective, I have to escape the miasma, to raise my sights.
How long have I been on the front lines? In November 1993, nearly a decade before the Boston Globe arrived on the scene, as editor of Catholic World Report I ran a cover story on the sex-abuse scandal. (Seven years later I published an even more provocative cover story: “The Gay Priest Problem.”) I was slapped with a libel suit (later summarily dismissed) for publishing a story that questioned the work of clinics that “treated” predator priests and cleared them for return to ministry.
In 2002 I broke the story that Pope John Paul II had summoned the leadership of the US bishops’ conference to Rome to discuss the scandal. I was the first person in Boston to call for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, and when he finally did resign, I broke that story, too.
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