March 3, 2005


The man who should be Pope (Piers Paul Read, 3/05/05, The Spectator)

As was to be made painfully clear a century later with the Great Schism — with one pope in Avignon and another in Rome — it is disastrous to have two popes each claiming to be infallible. Do the powers belong to the office or the person? What if, for example, the new pope decided to permit artificial methods of birth control or ordain women priests? One cannot imagine Pope John Paul II, with or without Parkinson’s disease, letting that pass without comment.

Of course that is precisely what the liberal constituency within the Catholic Church hopes that a new pope would do. He would allow women to be made priests, let priests marry, go easy on gays, let Catholics in second marriage take the Eucharist, and Anglicans too. He would temper the Church’s objection to stem-cell research, take a less absolute line on abortion, permit birth control and allow Catholic agencies to distribute condoms to prevent the spread of Aids. [...]

It has been said that many in the Vatican regard the Church in Western Europe and North America as a lost cause. To choose a new pope from among the European cardinals would be like promoting the regional manager of an unsuccessful branch of a global conglomerate to be its CEO. However, there is one European cardinal who has been forthright and fearless in confronting secularism and defending the orthodox teaching of the Catholic Church — Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Ratzinger is the liberals’ bête noire — the bad cop to Pope John Paul II’s good cop. The son of a Bavarian police chief, a liberal theologian during Vatican II and later Archbishop of Munich, he is a poacher turned gamekeeper. It was he who ruled that the impossibility of ordaining women was an infallible teaching, and that the Church of England was not a Church ‘in the proper sense’. He also roundly condemned the rejection of Rocco Buttiglioni as a commissioner by the European Parliament as the persecution of a Catholic for his beliefs. Contrast this with the expressed view of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s adviser on foreign affairs, Sir Stephen Wall, that Buttiglioni’s rejection was merely ‘a political attack’ on the Italian President Berlusconi.

On the face of it, all this would make Cardinal Ratzinger a contentious figure and therefore ineligible; but there can be little doubt that his courageous promotion of orthodox Catholic teaching has earned him the respect of his fellow cardinals throughout the world. He is patently holy, highly intelligent and sees clearly what is at stake. Indeed, for those who blame the decline of Catholic practice in the developed world precisely on the propensity of many European bishops to hide their heads in the sand, a pope who confronts it may be just what is required. Ratzinger is no longer young — he is 77 years old: but Angelo Roncalli was the same age when he became Pope as John XXIII. He turned the Church upside-down by calling the Second Vatican Council and was perhaps the best-loved pontiff of modern times. As Jeff Israely, the correspondent of Time, was told by a Vatican insider last month, ‘The Ratzinger solution is definitely on.’

Meanwhile, Daniel Merriman is stumping for Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, Lunch crowd challenges Chaput (Jean Torkelson, March 2, 2005, Rocky Mountain News)
Verbal fisticuffs broke out Tuesday between Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and a luncheon audience that challenged him to defend the church's role in public life.

"Why do (religions) feel they have to impose their views on us?" asked one woman during a spirited question-and-answer session following Chaput's speech to the City Club of Denver.

"If we don't - you'll impose your views on us," Chaput shot back to murmurs from the group of about 120 business and civic leaders. [...]

One questioner observed that the Catholic Church doesn't appear to care about protecting women hurt by unwanted pregnancies.

His voice rising, Chaput replied, "That dear baby who gets aborted is who I'm protecting. Somebody doesn't just get hurt with abortion - they get killed."

"Who will take care of the unwanted children?" another asked.

"I'll take any child that's unwanted and find them a home and take care of the mother," he said. "You have my personal pledge on that."

When the issue of separation of church and state arose, Chaput derided a bill before the legislature that would require hospitals to give emergency contraception information to sexual assault victims.

"The state doesn't seem to worry too much about separation of church and state when it wants to force its point of view on Catholic hospitals," he said.

To applause, another questioner observed that if the church wants to be part of public life, "When is the church going to agree to pay taxes?"

"I run 50 Catholic schools that keep you from paying more taxes - is that worth it to you?" Chaput shot back.

Mike Daley sends his full remarks, Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. (Remarks to City Club of Denver, March 1 , 2005)

Some of you may remember that a year ago I was part of a rally on the Capitol steps to protect state funding for the poor and homeless. But you didn’t read about it in the Rocky or the Denver Post, because they didn’t cover it.

Last September, just a few weeks before the election, I preached a homily to 5,000 people at Red Rocks, and I had them repeat out loud three times that if we forget the poor, we’ll go to hell. That’s one of the principles of Catholic social teaching. If we forget the poor, God will forget us. By our indifference, we will damn ourselves. But you didn’t read about that in the press either, because – again -- nobody covered it.

Our diocesan website has at least 18 articles I’ve written and talks I’ve given against the death penalty in the past few years. They’re just a fraction of what I’ve said and done against capital punishment for more than three decades. The press covered that one time recently -- when I criticized our Republican governor.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver is the largest non-government provider of aid to the poor in the Rocky Mountain region. As a Church, more than 80 percent of our time, resources, ministry personnel and lobbying efforts go to issues that have nothing to do with abortion. But you’ll never see that on anybody’s front-page either, because it isn’t news.

My point here isn’t to criticize the press. Both of our local papers have excellent religion reporters, and – not always, but in general – the Church gets fair treatment in the media. My point is that Catholics have always been active on a very wide range of political issues, both individually and as a Church. This is normal and sensible. It’s so normal that nobody pays attention – until they disagree.

Public witness on issues of public concern is natural and essential for Catholics because of our commitment to the common good and to the dignity of each human person. Those two pillars – the common good and the dignity of every human person – come right out of Scripture. They underpin all of Catholic social thought.

Now, plenty of other good people work from these same principles, including many persons who have no religious faith. But for Catholics, our political involvement flows from our core religious beliefs about creation and salvation. The human person is made in the image and likeness of God. Christ died for each and every one of us. The Church continues His work of salvation. Therefore the Church must engage herself in human affairs – not just in individual personal lives, but also in the public issues that shape our common future.

That includes politics. Politics is where the competing moral visions of a society meet and struggle. And since the overwhelming majority of American citizens are religious believers, it’s completely appropriate for people and communities of faith to bring their faith into the public square.

Real pluralism always involves a struggle of ideas. Democracy depends on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square – non-violently, respectfully and ethically, but also vigorously and without embarrassment. People who try to separate their private convictions about human dignity and the common good from their involvement in public issues are not acting with integrity, or with loyalty to their own principles. In fact, they’re stealing from their country.

To be healthy, the political process demands that people conform their actions to their beliefs. For Catholics to be silent in an election year -- or any year -- about critical public issues because of some misguided sense of good manners, would actually be a form of theft from our national conversation.

For religious believers not to advance their convictions about public morality in public debate is not an example of tolerance. It’s a lack of courage.

If we believe that a particular issue is gravely wrong and damaging to society, then we have a duty, not just a religious duty but also a democratic duty, to hold accountable the candidates who want to allow it. Failing to do that is an abuse of responsibility on our part, because that’s where we exercise our power as citizens most directly – in the voting booth.

The many American religious leaders and believers who worked against slavery and segregation, or in favor of farm worker rights and industrial labor justice, served their country very well. They did what they did because they had a reverence for human dignity shaped by their religious faith.

The “separation of Church and state” can never mean that religious believers should be silent about legislative issues, the appointment of judges or public policy. It’s not the job of the Church to run political candidates. But it’s very much the job of the Church to guide Catholics to think and act in accord with their faith.

If a candidate attacks a foundational issue of human dignity, or a principle of Catholic belief, don’t blame the Church for speaking out about it. That’s her vocation. We didn’t pick abortion as a battleground. That was forced on the country 30 years ago by judicial coup. For Catholics, the civil order has its own sphere of responsibility and its own autonomy apart from the Church. But that doesn’t mean that civil authorities are exempt from moral engagement and criticism, either by individual believers or by the Church as a body. And this fits very comfortably with the mind of the Founders.

What the Founders intended was to prevent the establishment of an official state Church. They never intended, and never wrote into the Constitution, any prohibition against religious believers, religious leaders or religious communities taking an active role in public issues and the political process. The idea of exiling religion from public debate would have made no sense to them.

Jefferson and Franklin were Deists. But most of the Founders were practicing Christians. And all of them were deeply influenced by Christian thought. Our history as a nation is steeped in religious imagery and language.

The idea that we can pull those religious roots out of our political life without hurting our identity as a nation is both imprudent and dangerous. The United States is non-sectarian. That’s good. That’s important. But “non-sectarian” does not mean anti-religious, atheist, agnostic or even fully secular. Our public institutions flow – in large part -- from a religious understanding of human rights, human nature and human dignity.

When the “separation of Church and state” begins to mean separating religious faith from public life, we begin to separate government from morality and citizens from their consciences. And that leads to politics without character, which is now a national epidemic.

By the way, the state doesn’t seem to worry too much about “separation of Church and state” when it wants to force its point of view on Catholic hospitals, and it’s often the same people who clamor about "separation" and "choice" who take the lead in the coercion. If HB 1042 passes the current legislative session and becomes a law, it will force Catholic hospitals to do things that violate Catholic teaching. The problem with HB 1042 for Catholics is not contraception. The problem with HB 1042 is that it mandates a form of so-called “emergency contraception” that could amount to early-term abortion, and that is always very gravely wrong.

From a Catholic perspective, the better we live our faith, the better we live our citizenship. The more faithful we are as religious believers, the more faithful we are as Americans. That may not get a candidate elected, but it will keep him honest – and his honesty will make our public life more honest.

If people are serious about their faith, then their whole lives will naturally be formed and guided by their religious convictions. For Catholics, all of our actions and all of our choices should be rooted in our Catholic identity and in our relationship with God. That means our choices at work; at play; within our families; in how we treat other people; and also the choices we make in living out our citizenship.

This doesn't lead to "intolerance." In fact, faith lived well leads in exactly the opposite direction. American religious tolerance owes as much to Roger Williams, who founded the Rhode Island colony, and William Penn, who founded the Pennsylvania colony, as it does to any thinker of the Enlightenment. And both Williams and Penn were devoutly Christian believers.

Most people at most times in history have drawn their moral guidelines from their religious beliefs. And for most Americans, those beliefs are rooted in their churches and synagogues – communities of faith that exercise direct moral influence in society. Religion is about the meaning of our lives. It’s about purpose and last things and our final destination. If we begin with God’s love and the goal of heaven in mind, then we order our behavior in this life accordingly. We don’t steal, we don’t lie, we don’t commit adultery; we don’t deliberately kill the innocent; we help the poor, we comfort the sick, we shelter the homeless.

In contrast, the secular view of the world, by its nature, can’t deal with questions of larger meaning. And by refusing to engage the questions that really matter in life, secularism robs us of the foundation for our dignity and our moral vocabulary. It robs our politics of the ideals that make us a nation and a people, rather than just a mob of individuals.

Americans are a religious people. A church-going people. We deny that at our peril. The more we try to drive religion out of our public life, the poorer we become and the less we have to offer in our engagement with the world.

We are more than simply “one nation under God.” In the case of the United States -- in the light of our history and the founding ideas and documents that shaped us as a people -- we are one nation because of our belief in God.

There’s no better form of citizenship than to carry our religious faith respectfully but confidently into the public square. What a person believes about God always shapes what he or she believes about people. Without God, there is a danger of no humanity, and politics without some place for God has too often led to inhumanity.

Pope John XXIII, who was so well loved by both Catholics and non-Catholics, once described the Catholic Church as the “soul of the world.” Here in Denver, Catholics remember that. Here in Denver, Catholics believe that.

The role of the Church and her people -- along with every other person of good will -- is to serve the nation by helping it to remember and nourish its soul. That's what the Church is always about in her public service and in her public witness. Politics is the struggle for the soul of the world -- and that’s why the Church and believing Catholics always will be, and always should be, politically engaged.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 3, 2005 1:28 PM

Wow, Ratzinger as Pope. May it be so. I'd immediately head down to the Midway to do a victory lap outside Andy Greeley's office.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 3, 2005 7:29 PM

The Italian aristocrats who make up the Vatican bureaucracy hate Americans so Chaput has no shot.

Posted by: Bart at March 3, 2005 10:17 PM

Ohhh, Chaput is feisty.

Well, this bodes well, there's a rumor that if the former Jew became Pope, the world would end in 2 more popes.

A pope of the olives.

Posted by: Sandy P at March 3, 2005 11:00 PM