Father Ronald D. Lawler, O.F.M. Cap. (†), was one of America's leading theologians and an early and enthusiastic supporter of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology.
A moral theologian and religious educator in the Pittsburgh Diocese, Father Lawler died November 5, 2003 after a two-year struggle with cancer. He was 77. Upon his death, he left his theological library of well over 1,000 theological titles to the St. Paul Center.
Father Lawler was the only American on the Pontifical Roman Theological Academy, an elite corps selected by the Pope to serve as his personal advisors on theological issues. He was inducted into the academy in 1982, along with two giants of modern Catholic thought: Cardinal Henri de Lubac, S.J., and Father Hans Urs von Balthasar.
But he was perhaps best known as the co-author of The Teaching of Christ, the first authoritative adult catechism in the English-speaking world in the years after the Second Vatican Council. Written at the request of Cardinal John J. Wright, then-Prefect of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for Clergy and Pastoral Work, the book was received with great appreciation and enthusiasm by Pope Paul VI and was praised by Cardinal Yves Congar, O.P., one of the Council's most influential theologians.
The first edition of The Teaching of Christ, written with his brother Thomas Lawler and now-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, was published in 1976. It has since been translated into more than a dozen languages and has sold well over one million copies worldwide. At the time of his death, Father Lawler was actively working on the fifth edition of the Teaching, which is published by Our Sunday Visitor.
In a career that spanned more than 50 years, Father Lawler taught in universities the world over, including Oxford University, the Catholic University of America, St. John's University and Franciscan University of Steubenville. He also served as Dean of Theology for the Pontifical College Josephinum, the only Vatican-sponsored seminary in the United States.
His academic colleagues and friends read like a who's-who of the great philosophers and theologians of his day, including: G.E.M. Anscombe, John Finnis, Peter Geach, William May, Germain Grisez, and Eric Mascall.
His former students include some of the leading bishops in the United States. One of those former students, Archbishop Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., of Boston, preached his funeral Mass. He said Father Lawler's "brilliant mind and...boundless love for Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church and the Catholic priesthood have made an indelible mark on our lives."
Archbishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. of Denver, another former student, added that no one "has had a more positive effect on my own life and thinking."
Father Lawler also served as the Vatican-appointed spiritual adviser to the order of Poor Clare Sisters, providing spiritual counsel and overseeing the on-going spiritual formation of nuns in 13 convents in the United States and Europe.
In 1977, he became the founding president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, formed to promote official Church teachings at a time of widespread dissent. Father Lawler's particular passion was the promotion of the Church's teachings on human sexuality and family life. At the time of his death, he was trying to publicize the success of Natural Family Planning in China, the world's most populous country. He considered this development to be a milestone in the spread of the Church's vision.
His book Catholic Sexual Ethics, is still considered the standard text in the field. As a consultant to Bishop Wuerl, he also drafted The Catholic Vision of Love, a comprehensive chastity-education program for parochial schools.
Beginning with his 1959, Ph.D. dissertation, "The Moral Judgment in Contemporary Analytic Philosophy," Father Lawler was a prolific writer. In addition to the Teaching of Christ he wrote or edited the following books: Philosophical Analysis and Ethics (1968); Philosophy in Priestly Formation (1978); The Christian Personalism of John Paul II (1981); Perspectives in Bioethics (1983); Catholic Sexual Ethics (1985); The Catholic Catechism (1986); and Excellence in Seminary Education (1988). He also wrote hundreds of articles for scholarly and popular journals and books.
Selected Writings and Talks