Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of the Archdiocese of Denver recently spoke with refreshing candor concerning the US Bishops as a whole, and their lack of simple candor on a matter of great moral importance: Catholic politicians who refuse to support Catholic moral teachings. The Church is shamed by so many Catholic Senators, Representatives, and now a Vice President – not exclusively but notably in the Democratic Party – whose public stances and voting records contradict clear Catholic teachings on many current moral issues. I’ve re-presented here parts of an article in the St. Louis Review (publication of the Archdiocese of St. Louis):
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput gave a frank response when asked why there is so much disunity among Catholics on the question of Catholics in political life standing clearly with the Church on major moral issues such as abortion.
“The reason … is that there is no unity among the bishops about it,” said the Denver archbishop, who was asked the question after his April 8 keynote address for the University of Notre Dame Right to Life Club’s spring lecture series.
“There is unity among the bishops about abortion always being wrong, and that you can’t be a Catholic and be in favor of abortion — the bishops all agree to that — but there’s just an inability among the bishops together to speak clearly on this matter and even to say that if you’re Catholic and you’re pro-choice, you can’t receive holy Communion,” Archbishop Chaput said.
The Archbishop said he and others have been trying to move the U.S. bishops’ conference to speak clearly on this issue for a number of years. However, there is a fear, he said, that if they do so, the bishops might somehow disenfranchise the Catholic community from political life, making it difficult to get elected if a Catholic politician has to hold the Church’s position on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.
The strategy clearly has failed, he continued, “So let’s try something different and see if it works. Let’s be very, very clear on these matters,” and he asked the audience to “help me to convince the bishops on that subject.”
“We act on what we really believe,” Archbishop Chaput said. “If we don’t act on our beliefs, then we don’t really believe them.”
The idea that the separation of church and state should force us to exclude our religious beliefs from guiding our political behavior makes no sense at all, he continued:
“If we don’t remain true in our public actions to what we claim to believe in our personal lives, then we only deceive ourselves, because God certainly isn’t fooled: He sees who and what we are. God sees that our duplicity is really a kind of cowardice, and our lack of courage does a lot more damage than simply wounding our own integrity; it also saps the courage of other good people who really do try to publicly witness what they believe. And that compounds the sin of dishonesty and the sin of injustice.”
I am left nearly speechless by this revealing of episcopal priorities. According to the Archbishop who certainly would know, many bishops believe it is better to keep quiet than to risk being truthful. Their moral mathematics concludes it’s better to look the other way than to risk “disenfranchising” our prominent “Catholic” politicians. Better to keep them in office, than to risk anything to keep them faithful.
Have these bishops forgotten that they are successors of the Apostles of the Lord? He sent them to “make disciples” – not to enable successful politicians. He sent them to preach and to teach the holy truth – not to pander and to help manipulate for votes. Please tell me that I’ve misunderstood! Please tell me I’m leaving something out!
I sincerely thank the Archbishop for his simple honesty, and admission of his own very difficult mission field among his fellow bishops. I sympathize with him, as he reaches out for support and help from us, the laity. It all does begin with us, the laity. Priests come out of the laity, in most instances from Catholic families, and bishops come from priests. It is possible for a man to truly have a vocation to serve, but to forfeit or lose that calling in his own preference of worldly things: worldly praise, pomp and circumstance – worldly ambition, worldly enjoyments. It is possible for a man to be called to the Cross – to the Gospel at any cost – but to turn from it for the love of power and self-glory.
St. Augustine saw it, many years ago, and he described very well the two cities, the two kingdoms, the two generations of men that have inhabited the earth since Cain and Abel. In his book The City of God, Augustine saw these two cities: the city of man, and the city of God. In the city of man, rulers rule for the love of ruling. In the city of God, rulers rule for the love of serving. The difference is radical and stark.
Pope John Paul II saw it much more recently, and he described very well the two cultures now at battle among us: the culture of life, and the culture of death. There are citizens of the city of God in the world, living a culture of life, working and bearing witness among men who dwell in the city of man. And this is as it should be: this is our vocation, to be Christ’s light in this dark world! But there are also citizens of the city of man, perpetuating a culture of death, working in the Church – working in the city of God among those of the city of God!
Sometimes the lines are blurred. Sometimes we cannot tell, on a given issue, what is the true good that must be defended, and what is the evil that is embedded and hidden within by the enemy, the father of lies and deception. Thus we need our bishops to be trustworthy teachers of the one Truth we must live by! Thus Jesus sent them, to be trustworthy witnesses of His Gospel and His life.
On the other hand, on some issues there is no ambiguity and no room for doubt. There are truths that ought to be embedded in the bones and clear in the consciences of every Catholic Christian, including our bishops. Life begins at conception, and life is sacred: You shall not take the life of an innocent person, not ever. Human sexuality is sacred, a holy human participation in the life of God, both signifying and enabling union in love, and the procreation of the human race. The truth of God is not negotiable, or expendable, or political currency to be exchanged in the marketplaces or voting booths of the city of man. The truth of God is worth living for, and even dying for.
Catholics, we need to support our faithful bishops, and we ought to encourage our wavering and uncertain bishops. Perhaps there are some bishops we cannot speak to, because they will not listen. But for all our bishops we must pray, because God is still in control of this Church – His Church, His holy Church. And we, as opportunity allows, must speak the truth because the truth must be spoken. May the Lord give us the graces and light and courage we need, in these troubling times, to remain faithful.