A Sound and Reasonable Argument for Papal Primacy in the Third Millennium


By Russell Shaw
Our Sunday Visitor Press, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750
(192 pp.; $12.95)    1/800-348-2440


Russell Shaw is a seasoned Catholic journalist and author and co-author of 14 books as well as a former Secretary for Public Affairs of the then USCC-NCCB. As an insider on the Washington scene he has been able to view and contemplate the intricate workings of the U.S.'s ecclesiastical bureaucracy and the failures of collegiality with American bishops struggling to implement Papal teaching and pastoral directives on liturgy, sacramental preparation, catechetics and the teaching of theology at Catholic colleges and universities.

Keenly aware of the spread of Dissent in the Church since the explosion over "Humanae Vitae" in 1968, he has witnessed the consequent erosion of Church authority. The lessons of 2 Millennia of Church history are evident:

"Where... energetic exercises of Petrine ministry are lacking, episcopal authority suffers a great deal more than the Pope's while the Church itself as a whole is in danger of being co-opted by the State."
(page 150)

He quotes the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar who himself echoes the great Russian convert Vladimir Soloviev:

"Anyone who will not have Peter as leader automatically becomes prey to the secular powers and to nationalism."
(page 147)

In his Introduction to Shaw's fine study (which sketches the historical vicissitudes the Papacy has undergone and then focuses on Primacy and Collegiality as defined in Vatican I and developed and explained in Vatican II), Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput notes: "Conflicts have never been far away from Peter and his successors." Indeed, the American and European scene have seen a revival of "anti-Roman polemics" and contestations engaged in by dissenting theologians, catechists, and journalists resulting in both moderate and radical proposals to weaken, change, restructure, and even destroy the Petrine Office as acknowledged in the decrees of Ecumenical Councils (Florence, Vatican I, and Vatican II). Shaw notes the current attempts intent on either "Taming the Pope" or demythologizing, i.e., subverting his universal authority over the entire Church as instituted by Christ the Lord.

"Collegiality", "subsidiarity", "decentralization", "the autonomy of local churches", "inculturation", "reception", and "ecclesiology of communion" have all become "buzzwords" in efforts either to bring about needed reforms in the Roman Curia or to radically transform the Papacy into a "constitutional monarchy" or a "democratic president" possessing merely a "primacy of honor". Shaw comments appropriately on the proposals of such diverse voices as retired Archbishop John R. Quinn, the Anglican-Catholic dialogue body known as ARCIC-II, and such dissenting groups as "Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church" and "We Are Church". He notes the "code language" engaged in by certain liberal theologians who really advocate:

"a program...of ordaining women as priests, accepting contraception and homosexual sex, tolerating systemic theological dissent, and democratizing Church governance."
(page 84)

Those extremists who have received much publicity for their breaking with Catholic teaching (Hans Kung, Richard P. McBrien, Leonardo Boff, Bernard Haring, Leonard Swidler, Paul Collins, Nicholas Lash and Garry Wills) receive due notice in Shaw's pages. He comments wryly:

"Some Catholics have picked up where the sons and daughters of the Reformation have left off."
(page 83)

Our author leaves no doubt concerning his own position in current debates concerning the role the Papacy should play in the Church of the Third Millennium. "I favor a strong papacy and a reasonably high degree of central authority in the Church." He makes clear that the Church cannot compromise the Church's doctrine of papal primacy and infallibility as defined in Vatican I and reaffirmed in Vatican II. The Pope's Petrine Ministry is simply essential to the divinely instituted hierarchical constitution of the Church Militant. Those voices hostile to or contemptuous of "the pyramidal church model" of the Church have themselves undergone the harmful:

"...reductionism of viewing the Church only in sociological terms that underlie the 'anti-Petrine attitude'... Thinking this way about the Church turns legitimate questions concerning the relationship between papal primacy and episcopal collegiality, the universal Church and the particular churches, the Roman Curia and bishops' conferences, into political issues and power struggles."
(page 152)

It is a fact that there are "Catholic intelligentsia of Western Europe and North America" who do not scruple to encourage episcopal conferences to form national churches 'hanging loose to Rome'.

Eastern Orthodox voices examining the Pope's Petrine authority are not forgotten in Shaw's pages. He gives a brief critique of the "Eucharistic ecclesiology" developed by such theologians as Alexander Schmemann. He is mistaken, however, in declaring that the famous 9th c. Patriarch Photius made "a slashing theoretical argument against Rome's claim to primacy." Actually, for all his troubles with Rome, Photius never denied the Roman primacy of universal jurisdiction (he died in communion with Rome). Moreover, the excommunications of the year 1054 did not mark a "definitive rupture" between East and West since the rupture between Rome and Constantinople did not involve all Eastern Christianity. Our author appears to give too much credence to certain liberal Catholic ecumenists who have minimized the import of historical testimonies to the divine Primacy of the See of Peter by the Eastern churches during the First Millennium.

Russell Shaw has written a book which not only contains much interesting information for readers concerning Pope John Paul II's call for "a patient and fraternal dialogue" concerning his Petrine Office to end divisions among Christians, but which reaffirms the papacy as a "gift of God to the Church".

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage