Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Archbishop Charles Chaput at Houston Baptist University

(HT: Joe Carter at First Things)

Like 1960 presidential candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, Archbishop Charles Chaput (Denver) traveled to Houston to address Baptists on the question of Catholics and American politics. However, in the present case, the argument was different. Here are some excerpts from the archbishop's March 1 talk at Houston Baptist University:
One of the ironies in my talk tonight is this. I'm a Catholic bishop, speaking at a Baptist university in America's Protestant heartland. But I've been welcomed with more warmth and friendship than I might find at a number of Catholic venues. This is a fact worth discussing. I'll come back to it at the end of my comments. But I want to begin by thanking Drs. Sloan and Bonicelli and the leadership of Houston Baptist University for their extraordinary kindness in having me here tonight. I'm very grateful for their friendship....

Our theme tonight is the vocation of Christians in American public life. That’s a pretty broad canvas. Broad enough that I wrote a book about it. Tonight I want to focus in a special way on the role of Christians in our country’s civic and political life. The key to our discussion will be that word “vocation.” It comes from the Latin word vocare, which means, “to call.” Christians believe that God calls each of us individually, and all of us as a believing community, to know, love and serve him in our daily lives.

But there’s more. He also asks us to make disciples of all nations. That means we have a duty to preach Jesus Christ. We have a mandate to share his Gospel of truth, mercy, justice and love. These are mission words; action words. They’re not optional. And they have practical consequences for the way we think, speak, make choices and live our lives, not just at home but in the public square. Real Christian faith is always personal, but it’s never private. And we need to think about that simple fact in light of an anniversary.

Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He had one purpose. He needed to convince 300 uneasy Protestant ministers, and the country at large, that a Catholic like himself could serve loyally as our nation’s chief executive. Kennedy convinced the country, if not the ministers, and went on to be elected. And his speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.

Now those are strong statements. So I’ll try to explain them by doing three things....

>>>continue reading


Constantine said...

Perhaps the readers of this blog can help me reconcile what I estimate to be bold and glaring misstatements of fact in the good Archbishop’s address. (I note Francis X. Maier’s role in preparation of the abp’s speech and look forward to his comments.) Realizing and acknowleding Archbishop Chaput’s outstanding reputation and character, these contradictions vex me and so I wish they weren’t so.

Even the most cursory survey of the history of Catholic sociology in the period not 70 years prior to Kennedy’s speech throws Archbishop Chaput’s assumptions about the relation of his church to the United States into serious doubt. When the Archbishop proclaims that the U.S. bishops “strongly endorsed American democracy and religious freedom” (1948) he puts them in direct opposition to the Vatican on the matter.

Consider, please, these words from Leo XIII:

“…it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced.” (Longinqua, Encyclical of Pope LEO XIII on Catholicism in the United States, 1895.)

Two things assault the reader from Leo’s encyclical: the Vatican OPPOSES the American system and it REJECTS the separation of church and state. Leo even went so far as to declare “Americanism” a heresy! If the Archbishop is correct, are then the college of U.S. bishops heretics? This is really quite troubling.

The looping of 19th and 20th century Catholic history in this manner gives rise to the very curious use of John Courtney Murray as a witness for the defense of the Archbishop’s thesis. For it was only IN SPITE OF Rome that JCM’s memory survives to this day. Just one case will make this point. In 1955 JCM criticized a speech given by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, the head of the Holy Office. Ottaviani, using all the political muscle at his disposal wrote to the rector at Catholic University and to Cardinal Spellman to have him silenced. The effect of which was that Murray was no longer able to publish, lecture or attend meetings he had otherwise been invited to. He was even forbidden from attending Vatican II. (The Vatican only backed away from its jihad against JCM due to his influence in the Kennedy campaign. The Vatican feared that its anti-modernist practices, when brought to light, would embarrass the man who would become the first Catholic president of the U. S. and negatively effect their influence in the States.)

But here’s what’s fascinating…..

Cardinal Ottaviani’s speech was a restatement of the traditional Roman position on Church/State relations. That is, “that only one true religion should be recognized…” and if toleration was unavoidable, it should be accepted as a bad second-best.” Catholic historian Garry Wills notes, “By this rule, Franco’s Spain was an ideal Americans should someday hope to achieve in their own country.” (Why I am a Catholic, p. 216.)

So here’s the stinging irony.

John Courtney Murray was the vicitm of a papal jihad for espousing the very same positions that Archbishop Chaput upholds today as the official Roman position! If the Archbishop is correct in his estimation of the position of the USCCB “deep Catholic support for American democracy”, then they are heretics, for “Americanism” is a heresy that is still on the books!

So who’s right? The pope or the archbishop?

At least somebody ought to apologize to Fr. Murray.


Francis J. Beckwith said...


If you're going to start trotting out quotes anachronistically interpreted, then you may as well include the Protestant meanies that dominated the world of separationism from its infancy, or the butchers of the French Revolution about which the Vatican had associated with modernism and church-state separation. It was Murray, fortunately, who was able to convince the Vatican that America's understanding of religious liberty was not the French view.

Today, sadly, the separation of church and state has become an ideological litmus test by which secularists (with the assistance of liberal religionists who deny that theology has an epistemological status that may rival so-called "secular reasons") to exclude religious voices a priori from the public square rather than as a legal safe guard that protects the church as well as the religious liberty of all the nation's citizens.

Today separationism has morphed into, "You may sit in the back of secular bus, and speak only when spoken to." I've addressed this in several of my articles, which I will blog about shortly.

Constantine said...

Thank you, Dr. Beckwith,

Of course the ““Protestant meanies” dominated the world of separationism from its infancy” because they dominated everything in this country from its infancy. They were the dominant party. But the reason they did so –as I know you are aware - was to prevent the comingling of church and state the abuses of which they and their forefathers had fled from in Europe.

With regard to your charge of anachronism, I’m not sure how a 1953 speech by the head of the Holy Office is anachronistic while the USCCB’s 1948 letter is not, but perhaps you can explain that further.

Also, the very application of the concept of anachronism to papal decrees shows a certain subliminal ascent, I think, to their finitude. It is my understanding that papal pronouncements are “irreformable” and hence, perpetual. Has Longinqua been declared out-of-date? If you could direct me to some sources on that I would be very interested.

I look forward to your upcoming writings about France. In the context of the Archbishop’s comments, I’ve always been fascinated that up until the beginning of the 19th century the church in France did what you seem to espouse. That is, keeping the pope at arms length.