The model New Evangelization bishop

George Weigel

Out on the Kansas plains, he was just turning 21 when the Second Vatican Council promulgated its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and its Decree on the Pastoral Office of the Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus). So it’s unlikely that the Fathers of Vatican II had Charles Joseph Chaput in mind when they described the ideal diocesan bishop in the third millennium of Christian history — an evangelist, sanctifier, and governor who would accept those weighty responsibilities so that the Gospel might be proposed for the salvation of the world.

But, in God’s providence and through his own cooperation with grace, Archbishop Charles Chaput has lived the episcopal vocation the Council fathers limned in an exemplary way.

There is much talk of “collegiality” and “synodality” in some Catholic circles today; Archbishop Chaput has been a far more collaborative leader in Rapid City, Denver, and Philadelphia than many of those who talk that talk but walk a walk of episcopal autocracy. Then there is the now-familiar trope about bishops having “the smell of the sheep;” Archbishop Chaput, a true gentleman, is far more accessible and far more amenable to input, suggestions, and even correction from those under his authority than some, appointed to high office under that ovine pastoral rubric, who barely know a sheep or two, much less smell like them.

Young Charles Chaput joined the Capuchin Franciscans because he admired their commitment to poverty, simplicity of life, service, and education. And over his 31 years as a bishop, he has remained faithful to his Capuchin vocation. He lives simply, teaches thoughtfully, hears confessions regularly, celebrates the sacraments reverently, and is, by the testimony of many who have worked with him in three quite different dioceses, a spectacularly good boss — the best they’ve ever had. That’s one reason why serious young Catholic professionals have cued up to work with and for him wherever he has been assigned.

And he has courage, the cardinal virtue that makes living the other cardinal virtues possible. Where other bishops have been hesitant to be labeled “culture warriors,” Chaput has preached the truth about the dignity of human life and what makes for genuine beatitude, here and hereafter, in and out of season, ignoring the epithets hurled at him by bears of little brain (and less integrity). His penetrating analyses of what is demanded of serious Catholics in a hostile cultural environment have been spot-on, even as he has personally embodied the compassion and empathy that Christians must offer those wounded by that culture and its false promises of happiness.

Archbishop Charles Chaput is also a thoroughgoing churchman, a quality that reflects his deep life of prayer. He has consistently done what the Church has asked of him: first, by leaving religious life to accept the responsibilities of a bishop in rural South Dakota; then, by leaving Rapid City for Denver, where he built on the work of his predecessor, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, to create the North Atlantic world’s model New Evangelization archdiocese; and, ultimately, by leaving Denver to rescue a crumbling archdiocese of Philadelphia and prepare a suitable welcome for Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in 2015, both of which he did at no small personal cost.

It is more than ironic — it is deeply disturbing — that, as Archbishop Chaput marked his 75th birthday on September 26 and formally submitted his resignation as archbishop of Philadelphia, voices in Rome were heard saying, in so many words, that the Chaput project is over. What on earth could these voices mean? Archbishop Chaput’s work in Rapid City, Denver, and Philadelphia has been a glowing embodiment of the “Church permanently in mission” proclaimed by Pope Francis in what once seemed to be the programmatic document of his pontificate, Evangelii Gaudium [The Joy of the Gospel]. If the Chaput project is over, then Evangelii Gaudium and the Aparecida Document of the Latin American bishops that inspired it are dead letters.

An ugly and absurd cartoon of Catholicism in the United States — that we are a Church of rigid moralists and wealthy right-wing nuts — has infected Rome for several years. Archbishop Chaput has been a target of that viciousness. Those responsible for perpetrating the cartoon might remember that it was first peddled by Mr. Theodore McCarrick, who was never reluctant to trash Charles Chaput to anyone foolish enough to listen.

Featured image by James Baca

COMING UP: Archbishop Chaput recalls Columbine in response to recent mass shootings

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By Christine Rousselle/Catholic News Agency

Gun control laws alone will not stop mass shootings effectively, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, said in a column written in response to the recent shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, and Dayton, Ohio.

Archbishop Chaput believes that there needs to be societal shift to transform the present “culture of violence.”

Writing in his Aug. 5 column, Chaput said that while he fully supports the use of background checks and restrictions on who is able to purchase firearms, “only a fool can believe that ‘gun control’ will solve the problem of mass violence.”

“The people using the guns in these loathsome incidents are moral agents with twisted hearts. And the twisting is done by the culture of sexual anarchy, personal excess, political hatreds, intellectual dishonesty, and perverted freedoms that we’ve systematically created over the past half-century.”

Archbishop Chaput drew from his experience as Archbishop of Denver consoling the community after the shooting at Columbine High School. At the time, he buried some of the victims, and met with their families.

During his testimony to the U.S. Senate shortly after the Columbine shooting, Archbishop Chaput spoke of “a culture that markets violence in dozens of different ways” that has become “part of our social fabric.”

“When we build our advertising campaigns on consumer selfishness and greed, and when money becomes the universal measure of value, how can we be surprised when our sense of community erodes,” he asked at the time. “When we glorify and multiply guns, why are we shocked when kids use them?”

Archbishop Chaput also addressed the use of the death penalty and the legality of abortion as “certain kinds of killings we enshrine as rights and protect by law,” which creates a societal “contradiction.” This contradiction has reduced the view of human life, he said.

In 1999, Archbishop Chaput suggested that America embrace a “relentless commitment to respect the sanctity of each human life, from womb to natural death,” and that he did not think the shooting at Columbine High School would be the last mass shooting.

“In examining how and why our culture markets violence, I ask you not to stop with the symptoms,” he said. “Look deeper.”

Archbishop Chaput repeated this call in his column Monday, saying, “treating the symptoms in a culture of violence doesn’t work. We need to look deeper. Until we’re willing to do that, nothing fundamental will change.”

In focusing on the hearts of those who commit mass shootings, twisted by the culture created in the past 50 years, Archbishop Chaput’s statement was markedly different than others published by Catholic bishops in the wake of the shootings.

The USCCB issued a sweeping statement Aug. 4 requesting “effective legislation that addresses why these unimaginable and repeated occurrences of murderous gun violence continue to take place in our communities.”

“As people of faith, we continue to pray for all the victims, and for healing in all these stricken communities. But action is also needed to end these abhorrent acts,” said the bishops.

Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh called for various gun control measures in an Aug. 5 statement, including “limiting civilian access to high capacity weapons and magazines.” Bishop Zubik also said there was a need to address websites that encourage violent acts, as well as to improve access to mental healthcare and work to overcome racism.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso did not call for increased gun control measure, but instead urged the people of El Paso to “recommit to love” and to “brace ourselves for just action that will overcome the forces of division and build a more loving society.”

And Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati said Aug. 4 that “it is with a heavy heart that we turn to the Lord in prayer on this Sunday. As tragic and violent shootings continue in our country … I ask for everyone of faith to join in prayer for the victims and their loved ones. May we, the Catholics of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, in unity petition our Blessed Mother to intercede for our families and neighbors to know the peace and healing of Jesus, her Son.”