- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2008

Does the Index of Prohibited Books still exist? Officially, the list of publications forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church, starting in 1559, was abolished by Pope Paul VI in 1966. But an incident at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception bookstore makes one wonder whether censorship is still in effect.

My story - which I’ve assembled from several sources - concerns a book by Philip E. Lawler, editor of Catholic World News and an editor of the Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper, during the late 1980s.

He was in a prime spot to research “The Faithful Departed: The Collapse of Boston’s Catholic Culture” on the clergy sex abuse crisis. Released earlier this year, the book was a popular read and many of its buyers were priests who liked its journalistic style.

One morning this June, Monsignor Walter R. Rossi, rector of the shrine, walked into the bookstore. It was about two weeks before Mr. Lawler was slated to have a book-signing there. After thumbing through a copy of the book, the monsignor ordered it out of the store.

The book-signing was canceled, and the blogs lit up.

Some said former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced out of his archdiocese because of his mishandling of the crisis, was on the board of the shrine. However, the cardinal resigned from the board in 2002.

Others speculated that visiting bishops at the shrine complained about the book.

Learning that Mr. Lawler is set to speak Sunday at a Brent Society brunch at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Great Falls, I ordered a copy and decided to find out Monsignor Rossi’s reasons for banning the book. I dropped by his office Wednesday unannounced.

The monsignor declined to discuss specifics but said he had received several complaining calls and had read through the book. I asked him why the book-signing had been canceled.

“That fell through the cracks,” he said. “That should have been vetted.”

In his April 18 homily at Nationals Park stadium in Washington, Pope Benedict XVI encouraged bishops and laity to “foster healing and reconciliation and to assist those who’ve been hurt,” Monsignor Rossi said.

“Benedict over and over again said it’s time to move on,” the monsignor said of the sex abuse scandal. “It’s not over, oh my God, no, but he says there should be healing and to move on.”

As for “The Faithful Departed,” he added, “I don’t know if it fosters healing and reconciliation. I thought it contributed to greater breaking down of the church, rather than building it up.”

I had heard this line of reasoning before from top church officials. Basically, it’s that the bishops have dealt with the crisis and have it under control. End of discussion.

I wandered into the bookstore and noticed only two books on the topic: “Sacred Silence: Denial and the Crisis in the Catholic Church” by Donald Cozzens and Russell Shaw’s “Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church.”

Mr. Lawler said other Catholic bookstores across the country have either taken his book off their shelves or are refusing to carry it. The first printing of 7,500, he added, has sold out.

“My argument is they haven’t dealt with it,” he said of the sex abuse scandal.

Just before the cancellation at the shrine, “I’d done a book-signing on Barnes and Noble on Broadway” in Manhattan, he said. “There is an irony I can play on the Upper West Side but not in the Basilica.”

Julia Duin’s column Stairway to Heaven runs Thursdays and Sundays.

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