The past 40 years have been a troubled era for the Church in America.

Catholic commentator Russell Shaw knows all about that. Indeed, few people have been more intimately acquainted with the ups and downs of these turbulent times than Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In an article titled “Four Men” posted on Insidecatholic.com, Shaw takes a look back over this period through the prism of a prominent quartet of recently deceased Catholic clerics: Cardinals Pio Laghi and Avery Dulles, Archbishop Jean Jadot and Father Richard John Neuhaus.

Notes Shaw, “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.”

Archbishop Jadot and Cardinal Laghi each served as the Vatican’s senior representative in the United States, in the 1970s and the 1980s respectively.

Cardinal Dulles and Father Neuhaus, for their part, were two of the most formidable religious intellects at the service of Catholic orthodoxy during the post-Second Vatican Council era.

Shaw faults Archbishop Jadot for contributing (albeit unintentionally) to the difficulties that have beset Catholic America since the Council, and credits Cardinals Laghi and Dulles and Father Neuhaus with striving to ameliorate the deterioration that Shaw says has occurred in many areas of Church life.

Concludes Shaw, “The decline of American Catholicism that occurred with terrifying speed in the wild-eyed 1970s may have slowed down a bit today, thanks to the efforts of men like Neuhaus, Dulles, and Laghi. But it hasn’t been halted, much less reversed. It would be hard to say when, or even whether, that will happen.”