Lawler Paints Bleak Picture in ‘Lost Shepherd’


National Catholic Register, 30 April 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock

How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock
By Philip F. Lawler
Gateway Editions, 2018
256 pages, $26.99 (hardcover)
To order:

Phil Lawler has written a helpful book, but not a pleasant one. Lost Shepherd: How Pope Francis Is Misleading His Flock is a telling of a tale that the author himself hopes is wrong. But he doesn’t think that it is.

A veteran Catholic journalist of impeccable credentials, Lawler felt moved to write this book about the ambiguities and errors of Pope Francis after his initial enthusiasm for the pontificate collapsed, as he writes, under the weight of accumulating adverse evidence. The key issue was the integrity of the Church’s doctrine on marriage and the family.

Lawler doesn’t mince his words.

“This Disastrous Papacy,” is how he entitled a column in March 2017. He professed there his astonishment and dismay at the preaching of Pope Francis in a daily homily on Mark 10:1-12, the teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce.

“[Pope Francis] turned the Gospel reading completely upside-down,” Lawler wrote. “I could no longer pretend that Pope Francis is merely offering a novel interpretation of Catholic doctrine. No; it is more than that. He is engaged in a deliberate effort to change what the Church teaches.”

Lawler repeats that in the introduction to Lost Shepherd, which presents the accumulated evidence that convinced Lawler that there is danger afoot and that an alarm needs to be sounded.

Reading Lost Shepherd, I couldn’t help but think of it in light of a book by the Register’s former editor, Thomas Hoopes. Entitled What Pope Francis Really Said, it was intended as a defense of the Holy Father, but in actuality was one of the first serious book-length criticisms of him.

The premise of Hoopes’ book was that the Pope was either cavalier or maladroit, and consequently was repeatedly misunderstood. Hoopes therefore provided the auxiliary explanation and context to demonstrate that Pope Francis did not really mean what many, if not most, people heard him say.

Lawler holds that such an approach, even if plausible at one time, is no longer tenable. Indeed, Lost Shepherd could have been subtitled, “Pope Francis Really Meant What He Said.”

And so, Lawler chronicles, page after page, the various missteps. Hoopes preferred to think that they were mistakes. Lawler concludes that they are deliberately misleading. If the adjudicating standard is that the simpler and more straightforward explanation is true, a reasonable person could conclude that Lawler has a more convincing case.

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