+Chaput: Still a Culture Warrior

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia has lately been trying to change his public image. He gave an interview to Vatican Insider and another to the Tablet in which he argued that he was not a conservative culture warrior. Austen Ivereigh, who conducted the interview for the Tablet reported: “When he tells me that the ‘left of the Church’ tries to ‘interpret him against the Pope’, he is clearly pained. In his view, not only do they get him wrong, but they try to use the Pope for their own ends.” I am guessing Archbishop Chaput has me and people like me when he says “the left of the Church” but I do not think I “get him wrong” and I do think he is rather easily “interpreted against the Pope.” Archbishop Chaput has repeatedly shown himself to be the culture warrior par excellence and it is a style very different from that of the Holy Father.

+Chaput gave yet another example of his cultural warrior style last week when he issued a statement about immigration. Before he could bring himself to praise President Obama’s executive order regarding deportations of undocumented workers, +Chaput felt the need to say this:

Which brings us to the point: Over the past six years, the current White House has taken actions that a great many faithful Catholics regard as damaging – harmful not just for people of religious faith, but for the nation at large.

Now, I do not happen to think it is becoming for an archbishop to make such a sweeping generalization about any politician. If +Chaput is so interested in rendering political verdicts, he should run for office, or start a blog. I am sure we could make room for him here at NCR. But, what is really appalling about that sentence is the adjective “faithful.” I am sure there are plenty of “faithful” Catholics who believe helping millions of poor people get health insurance, mostly ending two wars, and stopping the systematic use of torture are no damaging or harmful. But, there is a deeper problem. Adjectives are used to describe and to differentiate. By positing what many “faithful” Catholics think about politics, he is suggesting that “unfaithful” Catholics think differently and, of course, “faithful” Catholics are those who think like him. Bringing political and cultural differences inside the Church is precisely what makes the culture warrior bishops so dangerous.

Later in the statement, +Chaput states:

For more than a decade the U.S. Catholic bishops have pressed repeatedly for just and sensible immigration policy reform. Each of our major political parties has faulted the other for inaction, and each – despite its posturing and alibis – bears a generous portion of the blame.

Actually, the two parties are not equally to blame for the failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform. To suggest otherwise is a lie or stupid, take your pick. It is like saying that both parties are to blame for the nation’s failure to protect the unborn. It is true that Republicans have spoken about the issue more than they have legislated effectively, but there is no equating the two parties in assessing blame.

This latest statement was not the first time that Archbishop Chaput has let his cultural and political analysis cloud his ecclesial judgment. Just google “Chaput” and “homosexuality” and you will find plenty of references to a subject that is not, I would submit, central to the pastoral concerns of the Church seeing as gays are only about 3 or 4 percent of the population. The issue is a kind of talisman for a person’s views about the culture, not about the Gospel. Needless to say, you will not once find +Chaput saying anything like “Who am I to judge?”  

One of the links you will find recalled +Chaput’s promulgation of a new policy while he was serving as the archbishop of Denver barring the children of gay and lesbian parents from Catholic schools. Here, quite obviously, we see the culture warrior dynamic. His decision would make sense if you were primarily concerned about “sending a message” or if you believed that the Church must draw a firm, clear boundary between itself and the corrupting influences of the world, a rather different image of the Church than that of a field hospital as proposed by the Holy Father. But, whatever +Chaput’s reasons for making the decision had to trump what seems to me the obvious pastoral issue: On what grounds do we baptize a child and then deny that child a Catholic education?

Or, you could recall +Chaput’s comment about the University of Notre Dame “prostituting” its Catholic identity by inviting President Barack Obama to give the commencement address in 2009. He could have said that while the Lord commanded us Christians to show hospitality, in this instance, that command must be weighed against the need to witness to our commitment to human life, and that in his view, Notre Dame weighed the issues differently from the way he did. He could have said that he just thought Notre Dame made a mistake. No, he chose the most polarizing verb imaginable.

Or, you could look at the line-up of speakers for next year’s World Family Meeting in Philadelphia. There are plenty of smart conservative theologians who might have made the list. John Cavadini from Notre Dame, Dana Dillon from Providence College, Chris Ruddy from CUA. Instead, Janet Smith is slated to give two talks. And Helen Alvare, who is wonderful when discussing pro-life issues, is scheduled to give a talk on Catholic Social Teaching. I am sorry but asking Helen Alvare to give a talk on Catholic Social teaching is like asking me to give a talk on Natural Family Planning.

Having said all that, friends who know Archbishop Chaput tell me that he really does not see himself as a culture warrior. I am sure he doesn’t. But, the record says otherwise and no amount of interviews that make nice will change that so long as he insists on saying things that are reckless. I will not revisit the controversy over his comments about the synod, confusion and the devil. I will point out that in his long reply he did not have one good thing to say about the synod. As I mentioned Friday, the synod requires people to listen to each other and to the Holy Spirit, to be willing to learn from each other, and this is not so easy when you have been in a defensive crouch for a couple of decades, nor is it easy when you take your bearings from a theologically thin, sociologically and politically driven worldview. +Chaput may or may not be very enthusiastic about Pope Francis. He may think that the Holy Spirit has sent Pope Francis to us. But, they could not be more different and it is no media fiction say so.



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