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 Long Shadow: The Legacy of John Paul II

Considering that in modern times no two popes have been more unalike than Pius IX and John XXIII, the extent to which John Paul II combined them in his own approach to being pope and did so, apparently, by conscious design—was little short of startling. Blessed Pius IX, whose tumultuous 32-year pontificate (from 1846 to … Read more

What the Election Revealed

The election of 2004 was remarkable, among other things, for a highly successful counterattack by religious believers against political and cultural domination by secularists. Catholics had a central part in this electoral uprising. And despite some post-election secularist attempts to explain away the role of moral values in what happened, the election may have been … Read more

An Open Letter to America’s Bishops

From June 14 to June 20 the U.S. bishops will gather in Denver behind closed doors for a meeting of extraordinary importance. The “special assembly” of the hierarchy will weigh alternative approaches to the crisis now gripping American Catholicism—a crisis which, though greatly intensified by the sex-abuse scandal, involves many problems and issues besides the … Read more

Who’s Afraid of Pseudo Dionysius? Rethinking Vocations

When one of Flannery O’Connor’s correspondents asked her why she, a Catholic novelist and story writer, wrote about Protestants instead of her fellow Catholics, she explained that Bible-believing Protestants like hers “express their belief in diverse kinds of dramatic action which is obvious enough for me to catch.” Then she added: To a lot of … Read more

The Eucharist the Pope and the Anglican Dog

Not long ago a parishioner asked his pastor why the bell wasn’t rung anymore at the elevation of the Host during Mass. “Oh, that isn’t necessary,” the pastor replied. “We only did it in the old days when the Mass was in Latin, and we had to wake people up.” The pastor thought that was … Read more

Ignoring the Obvious: The Unreality of American Catholicism

As he was to do many times again during his long career, John Henry Newman declared his abhorrence of unreality in religion in his first book, The Arians of the Fourth Century, published in 1832. “If the Church would be vigorous and influential, it must be decided and plain-spoken in its doctrine,” he wrote. “To … Read more

The Laity and the Scandal: What Next?

Writing to Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons of Baltimore in February 1882, Bishop Richard Gilmour of Cleveland made a blunt argument for holding the assembly of the American bishops that history knows as the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. “The clergy need to be strengthened and protected against the people and the people also against … Read more

The Very Model of a Modern Bishop

A liberal American bishop of the present day airing grievances to a colleague? Not quite. These were the words of the fiercely conservative Bishop Bernard McQuaid of Rochester, New York, writing in 1892 to the hardly less conservative Archbishop Michael Corrigan of New York. Bishop McQuaid was complaining about Pope Leo XIII and the papal … Read more

Watching the Next Pope — What His First Decisions Will Tell You

The liturgy has ended, and the cardinals have all gone home. The crowds have abandoned St. Peter’s Square to the pigeons and the tourists. You’re sitting alone unwinding in your apartment in the Apostolic Palace, a newly minted pope, when suddenly the question hits you: Now what? There’s always some indeterminacy in the Roman air … Read more

The Church and the Internet

After traveling to every corner of the globe, Pope John Paul II is ready to tackle yet another new frontier: cyberspace. The Internet may be the most revolutionary advance in the technology of communications since Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in the 15th century. Noting that the Catholic Church cannot be “a mere spectator of … Read more

Lifting the Church’s Veil of Secrecy

At their general meeting in November 1999, the American bishops, by a vote of 223-31, adopted an “application to the United States” of Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Later, someone with a good reason for wanting to know e-mailed me to ask who the 31 were … Read more

The Priest’s Confused Identity

J. F. Powers’s second (and last) novel, Wheat That Springeth Green, published in 1988, is flawed fiction in several respects, but at least it ends on the right note for a story about a priest. Having fled his stressful parish, Fr. Joe Hackett relents and returns. These are the book’s final words: “When Lefty called … Read more

Who Will Be The Next Pope?

Is the most urgent challenge facing the Church a crisis of faith or a crisis of the institution? That question, framed in an unusual public exchange between two prominent European cardinals last December, may be decisive in choosing the next pope. But before getting into that—who are the papabili? Those most often mentioned are Cardinals … Read more

Electing the Next Pope

No doubt about it, the white smoke is a thrill. On Octover 16, 1978, late in the day I was marking time with a bunch of reporters in the Sala Stampa della Santa Sede – the Vatican press office – when there it was on the TV screen: a wisp, a puff, a steady stream, … Read more

The Battle Over Primacy

Pope St. Gregory VII (c. 1020-1085) was canonized in 1606, but nearly a century and a quarter had to pass before Pope Benedict XIII extended his feast to the universal Church—and even then many of Europe’s Catholic princes objected. In fact, the feast (it falls on May 25) was banned in Catholic Austria until 1848. … Read more

Renewing Parish Life: The Story of EPS

These days more and more Catholic lay people, full of good will, are venturing gamely into ministries of all kinds without the preparation they need. Time and again it’s a case of the blind being asked to lead the blind. Consider: After three decades of catechetical neglect—a massive systemic failure to teach the content of … Read more

What Does It Matter? Four Lessons of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven

Forty years ago, to the acclaim of the Catholic world, Pope Pius XII solemnly defined the dogma of Mary’s Assumption. Every year, on August 15, the Church observes the feast of the Assumption as a “holy day.” Presently, however, as with a lot else in their tradition, some Catholics appear to be unconvinced that this … Read more

Priest Worship: An Obstacle to Catholic Belief and Practice

The Church in the United States is entering a profound crisis. The decline in the number of priests, now rapidly accelerating, obliges American clergy and laity alike to engage in a searching re-evaluation of their respective roles and their mutual relationship. In principle, that is as it should be. Indeed, it’s long overdue. Although it … Read more

Observations: The Politics of Hate

What’s Wrong With Right-wing Catholics My wife, a devout Catholic, is healthily uninterested in ecclesiastical politics and the rhetoric of intra-Church ideological wars. Not long ago she happened to pick up a right-wing Catholic journal I’d left lying around the house and read a bit. “That’s terrible!” she exclaimed after a while. “It’s nothing but … Read more

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