Russell Shaw

Russell Shaw is the author of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church (Requiem Press), Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), and other works.

recent articles

A Strange Attack from the New York Times

Since at least last March, the New York Times has been obsessed with a question: “What did Joseph Ratzinger know, and when did he know it?” At issue, of course, is the role played by Cardinal Ratzinger — now Pope Benedict XVI — in relation to the scandal of clergy sex abuse. It’s a fair … Read more

How Not to Criticize the Church

That rigorist Christian apologist of the second and third centuries Tertullian wasn’t what most people would call a funny guy, yet now and then, when something really got his goat, he seems to have been capable of a sharp-edged sort of humor. As in this: If the Tiber cometh up to the walls, if the … Read more

Why We Write

It seems somebody one day had the bright idea of asking Samuel Johnson whether he wrote for money. It’s easy to imagine that great man of letters and lexicographer of the late 18th century puffing up like an angry blowfish as he replied, “Sir, anyone who writes for anything except money is a fool.”   … Read more

Hiring and Firing Bishops

  Napoleon Bonaparte was a man who liked having things his way. To that end, you might say, he set about remaking the face of Europe. Another of the things he liked having his way was the Catholic Church, and to that end he set about remaking the hierarchy in France. In negotiating a concordat … Read more

A Near Near-Death Experience

Call it the Lord Jim Effect. Like the hero of Joseph Conrad’s great novel, most of us go along most of the time thinking we know ourselves pretty well. Then something happens — a new experience, a new friend, a crisis — to open our eyes to a previously overlooked piece of the puzzle that … Read more

Privatizing Religion

At a party back around Christmas, a man I hadn’t met before asked me what I do. I said I was a writer who, among other things, wrote fairly often about the situation of the Catholic laity in the Church. “Oh,” my new acquaintance responded innocently, “so are you a eucharistic minister in your parish?” … Read more

Resisting Bigness

If you’ve lived in our nation’s capital as long as I have, which is all my life, you get used to bigness, as a fact and also as a cherished ideal. Big office buildings like the Pentagon and the grotesque Rayburn Building, where many members of the House of Representatives hang out in style. Big … Read more

Coercive Measures

Secularism is naturally coercive. That stands to reason: As the worldview of secularism has it, human fulfillment must happen in this life, or it won’t happen at all –since, practically speaking, it’s the only life there is. An advertising slogan of a few years back neatly captured the spirit: “You only go round once.”   … Read more

A Changing Church?

  The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church John L. Allen Jr., Doubleday, 480 pages, $28   According to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, at the conclusion of His time on earth Jesus entrusted to the apostles and those who would come after them a mandate that was, and still … Read more

Listening to the Laity

  My last month’s column, on the subject of polarization in American Catholicism, touched off a lively and substantial discussion. My thanks to all who took part. I don’t propose to respond here to what was said, but simply to expand on an issue I raised originally but didn’t really develop.   Near the end … Read more

Polarization and the Church

American Catholics have endured internal polarization for many years, but lately the split has become more visible, vocal, and vitriolic. For this we largely have Barack Obama to thank.   Before Obama’s admirers start screaming — itself a sign of the polarization — I hasten to say I don’t particularly blame the president. Obama has … Read more

Rethinking the Seamless Garment

Is Pope Benedict XVI an admirer of the seamless garment? Evidently he is, and at first sight that’s bad news for conservative Catholics. But hold on: The good news is that he understands seamless-garment thinking in a way that ought to lead conservatives to admire it, too. To be sure, in his new economic encyclical … Read more

Roadblocks to Reform

What’s the biggest obstacle to positive reform in the Church? Reactionaries in the Roman Curia? Conservatives in the conference of bishops? The Code of Canon Law?   The correct answer is none of the above. The biggest obstacle to reform is the roadblock thrown in its way by self-styled reform groups themselves. By advocating changes … Read more

The ‘Rhetoric of Rant’ and Religious Controversy

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord (1754-1838) was a scandalous bishop, adroit foreign minister, and quintessential survivor who served the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the restored Bourbon monarchy with equally cold-blooded skill. Slippery character though he was, however, Talleyrand also was a wit. In Earthly Powers, his valuable history of the interaction between religion and politics in … Read more

Vatican II and the Culture of Dissent

In this Crisis Magazine classic, Russell Shaw explains why Catholic dissenters got so far so fast in the years following the council.     The Second Vatican Council closed just over 40 years ago, on December 8, 1965. For most people, the postconciliar era had begun. But for me, that troubled time in recent Catholic … Read more

Americanist Universities

Was it Oscar Wilde who remarked that life imitates art? Whoever said it, the University of Notre Dame campus is living proof that it’s so. Just look at those trees. Last time I visited Notre Dame it was June. The weather was splendid, with that crystalline splendor that only June — no longer tremulous spring, … Read more

Is Confession in Crisis?

  Is the sacrament of penance in crisis? One often hears that claim today, but it needs a closer look. My guess is that there’s a crisis all right — but not exactly this one.   Yes, Catholic confessions have plummeted in the last 40 years. But who would care to say that the awareness … Read more

Four Men

In the space of less than six weeks, from mid-December to late January, four men died who played crucial roles in the shaping of American Catholicism as it stands today. The four were Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., the leading American Catholic theologian of the postconciliar era, who died December 12 at the age of 90; … Read more

Why Vatican II?

One of the many peculiarities of contemporary Catholicism resides in the fact that so many people on the extreme left and extreme right of the Church are in basic agreement about the Second Vatican Council. In fundamental ways, they insist, Vatican II was a sharp break with the Catholic past. People on the left generally … Read more

Human Dignity

As if doffing the black robes of judges and donning the mantles of secular pontiffs, three justices of the United States Supreme Court on June 29, 1992, delivered themselves of this profession of faith: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and … Read more

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