August 20, 2013
Telling the truth and the Truth
The National Catholic Reporter is running an opinion piece by Charles Reid that he originally published at a blog called Religious Left Law, so the source itself promises left-wing bias, not objectivity. The aim of Reid's piece is to do a hatchet job on the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, while at the same time preaching the "imitatio Christi" (which he introduces in Latin and then translates into English for the benefit of his unlettered readers), which he then fleshes out as love, forgiveness, and hope. I don't know any Christian who opposes love, forgiveness, or hope, but I honestly don't see the love in Reid's piece. What I do see in the piece, however, is an unjust portrait of an exemplary bishop. Reid's piece plays on an interview of Chaput by John Allen (here), and anyone interested in objectivity should compare what Chaput actually said, in context, with the false portrait Reid paints.
The thrust of Reid's piece is that Chaput is distressed by Pope Francis's "popularity." First of all, I'm not sure why we should assume or conclude that popularity is a positive thing in a pope. The news reports from Rio kept saying that the crowds were treating Pope Francis "like a rockstar." Our Lord was not treated like a rockstar; He was crucified. It's not humanly possible objectively to judge Pope Francis's effect on the one thing that ultimately matters, the salvation of souls. We can only draw tentative inferences, but the implications of the "rockstar" phenomenon worry me. I am, however, hopeful about this pontificate. For example, I recently met Bishop Michael Barber, S.J., the new bishop of Oakland, and one of Pope Francis's first appointees. Bishop Barber's beatiful homily, which moved everyone in the small group for whom he said Mass, was about the need to approach our Lord in silence of the desert and in the sacraments. Pope Francis will do his greatest good, in my view, by appointing great bishops whose love for the Lord and for all will be attractive to all people of good will and will, in particular, attract good men to the priesthood and confirm them in the work of saving souls.
Second, anyone who knows Archbishop Chaput would recognize immediately what a distraction Reid's comparison amounts to. Chaput is all about serving the flock, even if it means being unpopular. In the places in Philadelphia where he is arguably unpopular, it's because he's having to close churches and schools that should have been closed years ago. I have great regard for his predecessor as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Rigali, but Chaput is now bearing the brunt of doing unpopular work that Rigali refused, thus retaining a certain popularity among many of the faithful of Philadelphia.
Third, Chaput tells the truth. He is exactly correct when he observes that "conservative" Catholics "generally have not been really happy about [Pope Francis's] election." But does Chaput encourage or approve such disaffection? On the contrary, in a portion of the interview with John Allen that Reid elides, Chaput decisively counters this disaffection. He does so by stating unequivocally the following: "I think he's a truly Catholic man in every sense of the word." What better could be said about a person?
I would just add that that cannot be said of the many prelates whose lies, falsehoods, and evasions got the American Church in the current state of wide devastation. Chaput and a few other courageous bishops are rebuilding a basis for trust in the hierarchy. Cardinal Mahony talks a big game about immigration and compassion, but he also tells lies, decade after decade after decade, about children and priests and rape.
I could go on, but I'll conclude by quoting something Archbishop Chaput wrote in the Villanova Law Review: "For Christians, the trinity of virtues we call faith, hope, and charity should shape everything we do, both privately and in our public lives. . . . By love I don't mean 'love' in a sentimental sense or indulgent sense, the kind of empty love that offers 'tolerance' as an alibi for inaction in the face of evil. I mean love in the Christian sense; love with a heart of courage, love determined to build justice in society and focused on the true good of the whole human person body and soul." Chaput practices what he preaches, and I would venture to say that if we had variations on Chaput at the head of every diocese, it wouldn't take too long before the empty churches would be filling back up and the churches' ministries were again thriving.
I encourage readers to get to know the real Chaput, not the false Chaput confected by Reid and dividers of the Church who think that "left" versus "right" is a substitute for asking whether the man tells the truth. Chaput, for his part, tells the truth and the Truth. I thank God for Pope Benedict's sending him to Philadelphia.