Send The Smoke of Satan to your bishop. Really. Do it.
Phil Lawler’s new book, The Smoke of Satan, is more than a superb analysis of what has gone wrong in the Church that has led to our current crisis. It also gives you something simple you can do all by yourself to help right the barque of Peter. And you really should take advantage of that. The subtitle of the book explains why: “How Corrupt and Cowardly Bishops Betrayed Christ, His Church, and the Faithful...and What Can Be Done About It”.
The genius of Lawler’s book is not that it documents the complicity of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church with rampant priestly homosexuality and sexual abuse. Everybody really knows that anyway. The genius is that Phil puts this complicity in a larger and even more necessary context. I mean the broad refusal of Church leaders to risk making the Church smaller by rooting out the massive doctrinal, moral and spiritual infidelities fostered by the rapid abandonment of the Gospel in the West.
A list of the chapters will conveniently map the territory covered by The Smoke of Satan:
- The Smoke of Satan (introductory background)
- The Summer of 2018 (the contemporary explosion of the crisis)
- The Divisions Revealed (the rebellion against Catholic fidelity in all areas)
- The Habit of Denial (bishops denying the reality of all forms of infidelity for 50 years)
- With Apologies to the Martyrs (who would die rather than deny)
- A Patrimony Squandered (loss of truth, loss of goodness, loss of beauty)
- The Worst of Both Worlds (an ineffective Church condemned by society first for doing what it has actually been too fearful to do, and then for reaping the consequences of its own fear)
- The Cultural Revolution: The Enemy Without (secular culture’s impact)
- The Limits of Tolerance: The Enemy Within (a Church in denial)
Granted, if you are a long-time reader of the commentary on CatholicCulture.org, you already know nearly everything in Phil’s new book, and what you do not know will largely be a matter of detail, not general causes and effects. Reading it is still a great way to strengthen your grasp of both our current situation and the true requirements for effective renewal. But that’s not my main point here: What we also need to do with this book is to give it away—to give it away to those who need it most.
Timing is Everything
TAN Books worked with Phil Lawler to get this book written and released in time for the November meeting of the US Bishops, at which the abuse crisis now shaking the highest levels of the Church will be very much on the agenda. It is clear that many of our bishops still do not really understand the roots of the problem. This is true of many badly formed priests as well, especially in the weaker dioceses and in episcopal administration. Such cluelessness is not unique to the United States, of course. But the United States is one of the prime focuses of the scandal at the moment.
This means that how American bishops react to the larger problem, and to the specific problem of contemporary Vatican blindness to the same “smoke”, can make a significant difference not only here but throughout the Church. I am willing to admit that only some of the bishops, administrators and priests who receive a copy of this book will read it or ask someone to summarize it for them. But consider the impact if a great many bishops find, over the next days and weeks, that different lay people in their dioceses have sent them copies of the same book. For a great many, this alone will be thought-provoking.
Books can sharpen human perception. Think of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Gulag Archipelago which portrayed different kinds of slavery. Moreover, many of the journalists who receive The Smoke of Satan will at least skim through it to find out what new questions they should be raising. And again, if some of them receive multiple copies of the book from several different sources, that will provide them with a huge clue about which way the wind is blowing.
Just do it!
In other words, nobody should worry about sending too many copies. Part of the impact will be determined by reading, but another part will be determined by an awareness of a trend that many bishops, ecclesiastical officials and journalists still regard as all but impossible. Except it isn’t.
What I recommend—what I am actually requesting—is that each person who reads this should send at least two copies of Phil Lawler’s The Smoke of Satan as soon as possible, one to his or her bishop, and one to either an influential diocesan administrator, an official at the USCCB, or a poorly-formed journalist who covers Catholic affairs. Better yet, send copies to all three of them, along with your local parish priests.
The sooner the better. There is barely time to put the book into the right hands before or during the November meeting of the American bishops, but there is plenty of time to put it into the hands of bishops, administrative staff, pastors, and journalists during the prolonged aftermath of that meeting—when nearly everyone will be thinking about these critical issues.
This month—before the inevitable preoccupation with Christmas responsibilities—is absolutely critical. We want to flood the Catholic administrative “market” with this book because we want key personnel not just to think about the issues, but to think about them in the right way. Phil Lawler’s The Smoke of Satan will help them do that. Sending copies to those who matter most in the discussions to come offers a chance to jump-start authentic renewal that is as simple and manageable as it is rare.
You have been looking for a simple way to foster Church renewal, right? This is a way to do it because, like the advertisement for the book says, the smoke of Satan must be cleared. So love Catholic leaders courageously as only a witness to Christ can: Send them this book.
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