"If they don't believe what the church teaches, they're not really Catholic," incoming Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput told an interviewer when asked about pro-choice politicians receiving communion.
Of course, in a sense, Chaput is right. We are, as Catholics, bound to believe what the Church teaches. But, the either/or way the archbishop speaks about the matter makes no sense of that verse from the Gospel of Mark (9:24) in which the blind man at Bethsaida asked the Master for help with his unbelief. Chaput does not encourage those who struggle with their unbelief, he dismisses them and tells them who they really are. They are not really Catholics. Hah! He showed them.
I suppose that Chaput sees such harsh language as prophetic and, indeed, the prophets could be harsh too. As Cardinal George wrote in his doctoral dissertation (for his theology degree), "the prophets pointed to God and called their people back to their original covenant, to the best in themselves and their history." And, I would be the first to agree that being a pro-choice Catholic is the kind of thing that requires someone to searchingly examine their conscience and recognize how it has been so formed as to fail to recognize the moral and human claim the issue has on us all. I know because I once was breezily pro-choice, until I thought about it. But, I started thinking about it not because some pastor dismissed my faith, shaky though it was, but because my pastors encouraged me to see how my position did not cohere with my faith, they invited me to go deeper than I had before, past the easy slogans, to recognize, ultimately, that conscience is not an invitation to think whatever I want but is, in fact, the voice of God within us, calling us to "the best in ourselves and in our history."
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The voice of conscience must, for us all, at times be a voice calling us to conversion. But, in Chaput's smug articulation of the matter, he and his pals are the saved, the already converted, and everybody else is not just wrong, they are not really Catholic. I hope Archbishop Chaput will find a way to engage people that is not so dismissive of them and of their struggles. His "my way or the highway" approach does speak to the normative quality of our Catholic beliefs, but I doubt it will be pastorally helpful. I do not see how alienating people will help convert them.
Today, Archbishop Chaput will begin his new task as shepherd of the good people of Philadelphia. I hope he will, like the Good Shepherd, go off in search of the lost sheep, and not just preach to the choir. We shall see. His most recent interview was not encouraging.
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