Skip to comments.Chaput emerging as a warrior-bishop
Posted on 02/19/2012 1:54:51 PM PST by NYer
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has spoken out on a variety of issues, including insurance coverage for birth control.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput does not yet wear the empowering red hat of a cardinal, and he is so new to Philadelphia that he recently called it "Denver."
But in the mere five months since he arrived here from the Rockies, Chaput has already emerged as a fierce warrior-bishop, unlike anyone Philadelphia has seen since the mighty Cardinal Dennis Dougherty reigned more than 60 years ago.
His fighting words have refocused the national spotlight on the archdiocese, led lately by the low-profile Cardinals Justin Rigali and Anthony Bevilacqua. Now at the helm is, arguably, the most formidable Roman Catholic prelate in America.
In homilies, lectures, op-ed articles, books, and a weekly online column, Chaput unflinchingly assails presidents, lawmakers, academics, and the media when, in his opinion, they "marginalize God."
Writing in last Sunday's Inquirer, he described as "dangerous and insulting" the Obama administration's mandate that religious-affiliated hospitals, schools, and charities provide employees with free contraception coverage.
President Obama's plan was the most "aggressive attack on religious freedom in our country . . . in recent memory," Chaput wrote, lambasting it as "the embodiment of a culture war."
Taking their cues from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, many other prelates condemned the policy. But Chaput's attack stood out, eliciting praise from conservative Catholic groups and dismay from church liberals.
"Incendiary and divisive," said a spokesman for Catholic Democrats, a liberal advocacy group for the poor.
Branding Chaput a "Taliban Catholic," Sean Michael Winters, a columnist for the liberal weekly National Catholic Reporter, said the tone of the column "invited people not to look at the details" of Obama's proposal.
Conservative Catholics disagreed.
"Brilliant," the National Right to Life News called Chaput's essay.
It was the most-viewed item last week on the Catholic News Agency's website. It also prompted 167 comments on The Inquirer's website, where opinion ran about 2 to 1 against him.
"Get out of the dark ages," one reader chided.
Another cheered, "Our church has sorely needed a voice like [Chaput's] for years."
An unscientific sampling of local Catholics, based on random interviews at 30th Street Station, suggested many do not share their archbishop's position in the contraception debate.
"I'd rather see his energies more focused on issues people can rally around," such as education and the environment, said Lauren Bobzin, 25, of Narberth, who called herself a "proud Catholic."
Bill Quain, 33, of Northwest Philadelphia, said he thought Chaput was "pretty much giving the party line."
And a retired schoolteacher from Narberth who asked not to be named said she disagreed with Chaput's stance on birth control but called him a "breath of fresh air."
Obama compromised on the contraception mandate: Insurance companies, not religious entities, would provide coverage. But the Catholic bishops - Chaput included - quickly denounced the change as no better. Meanwhile, political analysts wondered aloud whether the bishops had enhanced or damaged the president's standing with Catholic voters.
Chaput declined to be interviewed for this article. However, in his weekly column at archphila.org, he took aim at "the contempt dumped on Catholic teaching" in last week's media accounts of the bishops' feud with Obama.
"The Christian life does not need aggression," he wrote. But if Catholics feel their faith or values are under assault, "they need to fight - without apologies - to turn things towards the good."
He also sounded that rallying cry in a Jan. 26 online column in which he exhorted his flock to demand that state lawmakers authorize vouchers for private-school tuitions. "Elected officials do listen," he wrote, "and they act when the noise gets loud enough."
Though a hero to many conservatives, Chaput has taken shots from all sides. "The left mail I get will use terrible words but be less vitriolic. They use the F-word and things like that," he told Catholic News Service in 2009. "The right is meaner, but they're not as foul."
Yet for all his hammer-swinging, he also enjoys a reputation as an eloquent, erudite evangelist.
"Our culture has fallen away from our own biblically informed heritage," he told an audience at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. "We've lost the foundation for our moral vocabulary. This loss has starved our spirit [and] debased our sense of any higher purpose to life."
In a similar talk in the fall at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., he cited historians Daniel Boorstin and Alexis de Tocqueville; French philosophers Pascal Bruckner and Jacques Maritain; Jesuit scholar John Courtney Murray; St. Augustine; a fourth-century Roman pagan named Symmachus; and Jesus.
"I'd say he's one of the top three voices among the American bishops," said Deal Hudson, director of Catholic Advocate, a political action committee in Washington.
"I'd put him at number one," said Phil Lawler, editor of the Catholic World News in Boston. Both men are past editors of Crisis, a conservative Catholic magazine.
Liberal pundits also describe Chaput as a commanding presence among bishops.
"Nobody speaks with the same consistency and muscularity as he does," said Steve Krueger, national director of Catholic Democrats. "He's in a class by himself."
However, Krueger said he had misgivings about Chaput. In his view, the archbishop is a political partisan who makes little attempt to disguise Republican leanings.
"He's more than just a culture warrior," Krueger said. As Denver archbishop for 14 years, he "brought the culture war closer to the line that separates politics and religion, and maybe even church and state."
Winters, of the National Catholic Reporter, took it farther. Chaput is "quotable, controversial, and very smart," he said, but, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, he described him as "a bull who carries his china shop around with him, always looking for a fight."
Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at Catholic University of America, took a more temperate view.
"He's distinctive among the American bishops in his ability to make certain kinds of arguments," said Schneck, who called Chaput "an extremely talented prelate."
"But there's a twist," Schneck said. Chaput "sometimes speaks so clearly and with such force that it's more a conversation-stopper than an invitation to discourse, and that might work against his ultimate effectiveness."
In 2006, Chaput drew national attention for his denunciation of legislation to expand the right of Colorado sex-abuse victims to sue their abusers, denouncing its advocates as "anti-Catholic."
"It was about as ugly a political fight as I've been involved with at the Capitol," one lobbyist said.
Three weeks before the 2008 presidential election, Chaput described Obama as "the most committed 'abortion rights' presidential candidate . . . since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973."
Chaput also was uncompromising when the University of Notre Dame made Obama its 2009 commencement speaker, which the archbishop viewed as a Catholic school's endorsement of Obama's pro-choice stance. "We . . . have the duty to avoid prostituting our Catholic identity by appeals to phony dialogue," he wrote in a column for the Denver archdiocese website.
Krueger, formerly executive director of the liberal church-reform group Voice of the Faithful, opined that some American bishops were taking a "hard stand in the culture war" in order to "restore the moral authority" they lost in the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
But to conservatives such as Lawler and Deal, Chaput is a shining knight.
"He's trying to do his job as a bishop and express things clearly," Lawler said. "There's too much willingness on the part of hierarchy to pull its punches."
Deal said Chaput and New York's outspoken archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, were animating conservative Catholics who have dropped out of the political process "because of years of disappointment in the hierarchy."
"If I thought [Chaput] was turning people off, I'd tell him. I've got his e-mail," Deal said. "But he's not."
Leave it to a liberal to actually understand that truth will be “incendiary and divisive.” Too bad they try to make that sound like a pejorative.
Long live Archbishop Chaput. May our good Lord continue to bless him.
NYer, please ping your Catholic list. Thanks.
Hussein has rolled the GOP quite handily these past three years. With every success he grew bolder. I think this latest outrage, to force the Church to violate it’s law will be his political Stalingrad. I don’t see the Church folding and when all is said and done, people with brains will come to see him for the totalitarian he would be if given another four years. This will hurt him badly by November.
I think I read somewhere that the Catholic Church has already signaled that they will ‘compromise’, or more succintly, fold.
First time I've heard "speaking clearly" called a conversation-stopper! But I guess if your idea of "conversation" is a never-ending stream of mealy-mouthed generalities, I suppose it could be . . . ;-)
Well, there ya go! It must be true then ...
This might get a little interesting; Chaput is of French Canadian and American Indian (Potowatomie) blood. The enemies of religious freedom won’t be able to easily pull the race card on this man of God, if they think that is a last ditch effort (don’t put it past these death worshippers.) Go get him, Bishop. We’re behind you in prayer, financial support, or worse, if it gets that way.
Here we are again with Christianity as a community organizing group, Jesus as a community organizer, the Church as a big Occupy camp.
Yes. I was going to mention that he is half American Indian. Maybe that’s where the “warrior” comes from. We need a few warrior bishops, and if he comes across so strong that he astonishes them into silence, so much the better.
He was one of the first bishops I became aware of who totally resisted the left-wing “spirit of Vatican II” that has been so destructive to the Church. And he was among the first to clamp down on trouble-making dissident organizations that were spreading heresies under the pretence that they had something to do with Vatican II.
I would take any attacks on him by the left-wing press as a real compliment. He worries them.
Take it to the heathens Archbishop Chaput!
Did we have warrior bishop maybe during the time of Middle age or during Henry VIII regin NYER
I know during the time Borgias the mini series they mention one of cardinal was warriorlike
Can’t wait for season 2 of Borgias
The Bishop is right on.
After they'd had time to look at it, they correctly stated that nothing had changed. Please read the current USCCB statement directly from their website.
Bishop Odo of Bayeux, who was (as you can see) quite active at the Battle of Hastings, and eventually commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. The full caption reads: Hic Odo Eps (Episcopus) baculu(m) tenens confortat pueros" - "Here Odo the Bishop holding a club encourages the boys"
The Pottawatomies have had some pretty tough characters, too.
Apparently this is a very effective combination . . .
Yeah I hear of that bishop LOL!