Interview With Archbishop Chaput

This interview by Sandro Magister with Archbishop Charles Chaput appears in Chiesa.

PHILADELPHIA, PA. (Chiesa) – Q: You came to Rome on June 29 to attend the pallium ceremony for your friend José Horacio Gómez, new Metropolitan Archbishop of Los Angeles. Next year you will have to come for Philadelphia. Were you expecting this?

A: Archbishop Gomez is a good friend from our days serving together in Denver. I don't think anyone can "expect" a responsibility like leading the Church in Los Angeles or Philadelphia. But in some ways Archbishop Gomez must have been a logical choice for the Holy Father because of his abilities and background. I'm not sure that's true about me.

I'm still processing the appointment to Philadelphia. In some ways it's unreal. I did live and teach in Pennsylvania for years as a young priest. It was a very happy time in my life. But my whole ministry as a bishop has been spent in the American West, in South Dakota and Colorado. The style of Church life there is somewhat different from the East; more direct and informal; less clerical. I could give you three or four good reasons why I'm an implausible choice for a place like Philadelphia, which is really one of America's great cities with a great Catholic history. But I don't make those decisions. The Holy Father does. I trust his judgment, and I'm very grateful for his confidence.

Q: The impression might be that Benedict XVI, by personally appointing you, expects from you great things.

A: I think he expects from me what he expects from every one of his brother bishops: the humility and courage to serve the local Church well; to preach Jesus Christ without embarrassment; and to deepen the faith of the people. The Church is not defined by her problems. These need to be acknowledged and dealt with honestly, and anyone hurt at the hands of persons representing the Church deserves the support and special assistance of the Catholic community.

But the character of the Church everywhere, in every age, is determined by the quality of her priests and people. The Church in Philadelphia has a huge reservoir of goodness. I've known and worked with Philadelphia priests, and I very much admire them. A bishop needs to be a brother to his priests, not just in word, but in substance, and I'll do everything I can to be present to the men who share the gift of priesthood. I've tried to do that in Denver. Denver has a great presbyterate, so many really good men; and I know the same is true of Philadelphia.

I've also had the benefit, throughout my priesthood, of many lay friendships and colleagues – I suppose that's partly my personality and partly my Capuchin formation. Either way, I'm eager to meet the people in the parishes of Philadelphia. That's where the life of the Church really resides. I have a lot of trust in the ability and good will of the lay faithful, in Philadelphia and everywhere else.

Q: It seems that a new brand of bishops is solidifying in the United States, neither "liberal" nor afraid of the world, orthodox but "proactive." Are you too one of those?

A: I hope I'm what God wants and the local Church needs. Labels are misleading. They give people an excuse not to think.

Q: "Better rejected than ignored," as Cardinal Camillo Ruini once said?

A: Well, I suppose that's true. Cardinal Ruini is a great churchman with a pretty keen grasp of human nature. But it's even better to be "effective and forgotten." We'll all of us be forgotten anyway, so we might as well be effective. The only one who needs to remember us is God, and the only thing that finally matters is to be effective in the way we love.

Every few years I reread the last lines of Thornton Wilder's novel, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." Look them up. They're worth the search.

Q: Catholics are a quarter of the population in the United States. How much impact do they have in society, culture and the media?

A: Catholics have played a very big role in shaping America, from Charles Carroll – the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence – onward. But it hasn't been easy. America has never really been comfortable with the content of Catholic belief. Catholics have tended to be accepted by the American mainstream in inverse proportion to how seriously they live their faith. Obviously lots of exceptions exist to that rule, but it's still too often true.

Q: And in politics?

A: Especially in politics. Pennsylvania's late Governor Robert Casey is one of my great heroes. The country could use a lot more Catholic men and women like him in public service.

Q: The Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan, who is also President of the United States Catholic Bishops' Conference, is usually very present in the media. You as well write, debate and even confront political authorities. In Europe this would be called the Church's "interference," and some would protest.

A: Europe is shaped, in part, by the Wars of Religion, as well as the legacy of the French Revolution, its anti-clericalism and its basic distrust of religion. That's a burden most Americans don't understand. The American Revolution was a different creature, and it took place in a deeply Protestant Christian environment. Many of the Founders were themselves Christians. John Courtney Murray once observed that even when Americans don't believe, it's a friendly kind of disinterest. The vivid hostility to religion you find in Europe is alien to America. Or at least it has been until recently.

Q: In comparison with Europe, the United States seems to me much more religious. Is it really so? Or the desert of incredulity also advances?

A: On the surface, that's true. Americans are generally much more inclined to religious faith than Europeans. And it's not just superficial. Many millions of Americans do take their faith seriously and do sincerely practice their Christianity. You really can't understand the United States outside its Christian-influenced roots.

But there's a pragmatism to the American character, an underside of materialism and acquisitivness, that works against the Gospel. So a lot of Americans have the habit of belief without understanding its implications and without letting their faith really shape their lives.

Q: How would you describe Catholicism in the US? What would be its distinctive characteristics?

A: It's always been an immigrant, minority faith. That accounts for both its vigor, and its over-eagerness to assimilate and fit in. American culture has a huge capacity to homogenize and digest newcomers. That's not all bad. America is fundamentally a nation of immigrants. But it can result in a population with bleached-out beliefs.

Q: The "new evangelization" is one of Pope Benedict's key programs. Is it valid also for the US? With what specific characteristics?

A: Denver is almost an icon for the "new evangelization." To his credit, my predecessor in Denver, Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, saw that very early. Denver is a deeply secular environment: educated, young, modern, independent-minded, with a history of weak religious roots. It's a new kind of mission territory, with many people who are either disinterested in religion, or who think they're "post-Christian" without ever really encountering the Gospel. America is generally trending in that direction. Evangelizing that environment will be the task of the next generation of believers.

Q: In the "courtyard of the gentiles" in the United States, are there nonbelievers with whom there is a fruitful, friendly dialogue? Could you mention any names?

A: I'm sure there are many such persons, but other bishops are far more experienced than I am in that kind of dialogue.

Q: Who are your "teachers" of reference, those who have influenced you the most?

A: Augustine and Francis. You can't do better than that.

I'm deeply grateful to Father Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., who taught me philosophy in college. He had a very big impact on my thinking. When I studied theology as a seminarian, I learned a great deal from Father Robert McCreary, O.F.M. Cap., who also made the same kind of significant impact on my life and my thinking.

In terms of Church leadership, as a young Capuchin priest, I had a great respect and reverence for Pope Paul VI, and still honor him as one of my heroes. And, of course, I'm deeply grateful to both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict for their extraordinary magisterium and apostolic energy.

Q: What impresses you the most in Pope Benedict's magisterium?

A: The consistent genius of his thought – I really don't know how he sustains it — and the organic development of his life from peritus at Vatican II to his service now as Pope.

Q: And regarding his style for guiding the Church?

A: I'm coming from a little diocese a long way from Rome. I can't imagine the burdens carried by this or any other man in the Chair of Peter. I do know that Benedict XVI is a great pastor and a great disciple of Jesus Christ; a man who knows the meaning of suffering and who still radiates the joy of the Gospel. The right "style" for any priest is to live in persona Christi. And I think Benedict embodies what those words mean in a very moving way.

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

16 thoughts on “Interview With Archbishop Chaput”

  1. As a native Philadelphian, I'm very happy about this move.

    I'm wondering how this appointment will play out for the Ordinariate in the Archdiocese…has anyone here dealt with the Archbishop in that capacity?

  2. Does anyone know if the new ordinary of my hometown is being sent to St Charles seminary for a refresher? I seem to recall his making an equivalency between Catholics who are pro capital punishment and those who are pro abortion. This seems odd given the Church has a long history of being pro capital punishment and has been unequivocally anti abortion since Her inception. I myself am anti capital punishment (I wouldn't trust government mules to tie my shoelace let alone choose a man for execution!) but I do believe Chaput's statement does not quite mesh with intro moral theology.

    1. You are sir, if I may suggest, in need of a moral theology refresher yourself. The Church came firmly out against capital punishment (which was the end of a firm shift over the past century) under the Papacy of John Paul II. It is ridiculous to suggest the Church was pro Capital Punishment, although individuals may have been. The Church only acceded to the possibility of Capital Punishment in the case of self-defence and, as the modern system of imprisonment has made this concern redundant, it is now firmly in the no camp.

      1. With all due respect, your opinion is somewhat simplistic.

        "The secular power can, without mortal sin, exercise judgment of blood, provided that it punishes with justice, not out of hatred, with prudence, not precipitation." [DS 795] Innocent III.

        Similarly Joes. Card. Ratzinger, writing for the CDF in 2004 (in a subsequently published letter to Card. McCarrick concerning worthiness to receive Communion) , "While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."

        The practical judgment of how often capital punishment is called for (a matter of prudence) is not the same as whether in principle it may sometimes be justified (a matter of doctrine). The Church has never questioned that it can be justified. The following very balanced article by the late Avery Card. Dulles may be instructive: .

        1. No, it isn't simplisitic, it is just clear. I am well aware of all the documents you cite and none of them contradict, or is contradicted by, the basic point that I made above.
          If we don't remember the basics which lead on to the exercise of moral theology, then the study of theology ends up serving itself and not the teaching of Christ which it exists to illuminate.

  3. The CCC was hastily revised to reflect Pope John Paul's pronouncement on capital punishment in Evangelium Vitae. However, neither EV nor the revised CCC asserts that capital punishment is intrinsically evil. "Very rare" is quite different from "firmly in the no camp."

    EV 56:
    "Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent."

    CCC Second Edition 2267:
    "The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor.
    "If, instead, bloodless means are sufficient to defend against the aggressor and to protect the safety of persons, public authority should limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.
    "Today, in fact, given the means at the State's disposal to effectively repress crime by rendering inoffensive the one who has committed it, without depriving him definitively of the possibility of redeeming himself, cases of absolute necessity for suppression of the offender 'today … are very rare, if not practically non-existent.' [68]"

    1. I was very careful in what I said in my last sentence – I suggest you read it again as it was clearly in line with what you have written. I still contend that in these circumstances it places the Church firmly in the 'No' camp.

  4. Father Gerard and Mr Johnston, thank you for the responses. The teaching on abortion is ancient, going back to the Didache. The novel doctrine on capital punishment dates to Pope Wojtyla in the 1980s. I think I'll take my religion from the collected wisdom of the Apostles, Fathers, and saints as opposed to is blowing from the See of Rome on any given day (i.e., Catholicism as opposed to Papolotry).

    Incidentally, Fr. Gerard, if the ban on capital punishment is due to modern prison systems, that clearly makes it a morally contingent ban as opposed to a necessary and universal moral truth like the teaching on abortion. Hence, even if the Church were to concede to you on this point, people who are pro capital punishment would still be very different than people who are pro abortion (e.g., there could be a prudential matter of disagreement about whether modern prison systems do indeed make capital punishment redundant). But still the Church cannot change her moral teachings (see Noonan).

    Please pray for me and bless me, a sinner.

    1. Ah, the lefebvrian error regarding the Magisterium. Dear sir, the Magisterium of the Church is not Denzinger's enchiridion. The Magisterium of the Church is the Pope and the Bishops in union with him. The only legitimate interpreter of past magisterial teaching (Didache, past encyclicals, even ecumenical council decrees) is the Magisterium (again, the Pope and the Bishops). You have no right to simply disregard current magisterial teaching in favor of your own interpretation of some past encyclical or document. To non-definitive magisterial teaching you owe a "religious submission of mind and will". Failing to do this is a sin against the virtue of religion.

    2. The Church does not change her moral principles, though she can gain new insight into them. She can indeed change her moral teachings if historical circumstances oblige the application of her principles in a new way. E.g. The changes in her teaching about medical treatment because of new technology. In the case of the death penalty, she teaches that it is moral to use it only when necessary for the protection of the social order against the worst criminals; she teaches also, as quoted by Ralph Johnson above, that the modern state, unlike in the past, can build and maintain prisons secure enough to protect us from such people, making the death penalty not necessary for the protection of the social order.

    3. 'Catholicism rather than Papolotry'? What tosh. The Catholic Church's teaching in relation to Capital Punishment has been developing for over the millenia, not just since the 1980s. It is rooted in the scriptural injunction "Thou shalt not kill" which is only supposed to be broken in the cases of self-defence and the carefully constructed arguments for a Just War (which, due to technological advances in weaponry, is becoming strained).
      The Church's teaching on abortion comes from exactly the same commandment, the difference being that the child can never be perceived as anything us than an innocent.
      The Didache is not the earliest exponent of our Church teaching; scripture is.

  5. Thank you very much for posting this interview. I will be reposting it on my FB profile. It is with profound joy to learn of Abp Chaput's election to the Roman See of Philadelphia. I give praise to the Holy Trinity for inspiring the Holy Father to make this election, and I am ecstatic for my Roman brethren in Philadelphia. Abp Chaput's time in Philadelphia will no doubt be a high-water mark in terms of evangelization and implementation of the Church's social teaching (I would say orthodoxy as well, but that has never been much of an issue in Philadelphia). Given his commitment to evangelization as well as minorities, I cannot help but think he will embrace and be sollicitous of the Ordinariate when it is established here in the USA.

Leave a Reply