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Archbishop Chaput in Detroit PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 24 March 2009 14:07
Much kuffufle and passion about the Catholic blogosphere today.

Over at Commonweal and at Catholic Sensibility, there has been criticism of Archbishop Chaput's talk at the Lessons from St. Paul Conference last weekend which was picked up by CNA and highlighted in light of the concurrent controversy over President Obama's invitation to Notre Dame.

Since I actually attended (and spoke) at the St. Paul conference, I felt I needed to offer what clarification I could in the discussion over at Catholic Sensibility. Here's my comment, to which Todd has responded very graciously. (To see my whole post on my experience at the conference, see Spiritual Life and Death in Detroit.)


I was at the conference (which by the way was not about abortion or politics as such but the New Evangelization which I noticed that the CNA article did not indicate. Chaput’s speech was unique in its focus.) at which the Archbishop spoke and in the front row (cause I was speaking next).

Mark - no text of his talk was handed out to the audience so either the CNA reporter was taking fast notes or managed to get a copy later.

One thing that did not get reported by CNA was the Q & A time, which I think was significant.

As I wrote yesterday on Intentional Disciples:

“Chaput also gave an interesting answer to questioners who asked that the US Bishops respond to the Notre Dame invitation with a single voice. First of all, he noted that he did not expect the US Bishops to do anything as a body. He then pointed out that taking prophetic political stands is not really the center of a bishop’s job. A bishop’s primary job is uniting the Catholic community.

Chaput then turned to the lay men and women in his audience (the vast majority) and issued a challenge. He said that it was the Church’s teaching that, ultimately, protecting human life at all levels really is a lay responsibility and he encouraged us to take up politics as a career.

But his response seemed to deflate his questioners a bit. It was as though they desperately wanted to believe that if all the US bishops spoke with a single voice, the 65 million Catholics of the US would just snap to and abandon their divisions on this topic and that ND and the new administration would crumble in the face of an irresistibly united Catholic community. There would be no need for the long, bloody slog and inevitable partial-victories of grass roots and national politics; for the long obedience of personal evangelization, formation, and social entrepreneurship around the life issues. ”

Nothing says that you have to like Chaput but the press coverage of Chaput’s talk and the resulting blogosphere debate is seriously distorting the atmosphere and entire conference at which he spoke.

I did not at all get the impression while he spoke that he was blaming the “poor, dumb, apathetic Catholic laity” as such. Quite the opposite. He was pointing out that the real power in this area is in lay hands - not in the hands of bishops – as indeed it is. It was bracing but hardly bashing.

As you may know, I have written several times in great detail at Intentional Disciples about my chance to talk on election day, 2004, to two Australian Catholic leaders known for their careful orthodoxy who are world class, Vatican-class, experts on the subject of the Church’s teaching on life issues. They were both very clear that there was no definitive Church teaching - at that point - on the issue of voting and formal cooperation with evil. When I asked one – a bishop – why increasing numbers of Americans had the impression that the Church’s teaching was clear on the topic, he replied that public pronouncements by a few bishops was not the development of doctrine, I’ve wished several times that I could talk to them both again this year as the all or nothing pitch of the Catholic pro-life movement in the US has risen higher and higher!

Archbishop Chaput has the right as a Catholic and as a citizen to make his best public case for the response that he believes the Church should take. But I have noticed that he is always very careful to distinguish between his personal prudential judgment and that which actually obligates a faithful Catholic.

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