Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver warned Catholic social workers against the danger of Church institutions losing their religious identity amidst increasing hostility from the government and society.
“The more that Catholic universities or hospitals mute their religious identity; the more that Catholic social ministries weaken their religious character ... the less useful to the Gospel they become,” he said.
Archbishop Chaput delivered a dual message to Catholic social workers this week, urging them to not let their Christian identity wane and also stressing that the government has no right to impede the work of Catholic institutions.
At a June 21 address to the Catholic Social Workers National Convention in Denver, he said that civil society consists “not just of autonomous individuals” but communities as well.
“Those communities also have rights. Catholic institutions are extensions of the Catholic community and Catholic belief,” he emphasized. “The state has no right to interfere with their legitimate work, even when it claims to act in the name of individuals unhappy with Catholic teaching.”
Archbishop Chaput's remarks were made against the backdrop of Catholic Charities in several dioceses across the U.S. shutting down adoption and foster care services after their local states enacted civil union laws.
Despite these setbacks, however, the Denver archbishop said that Catholic ministries “have the duty to faithfully embody Catholic beliefs on marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality, abortion and other important issues.”
“And if the state refuses to allow those Catholic ministries to be faithful in their services through legal or financial bullying,” he added, “then as a matter of integrity, they should end their services.”
“Catholic social ministry begins and ends with Jesus Christ,” he said. “If it doesn’t, it isn’t Catholic.”
“And if our social work isn’t deeply, confidently and explicitly Catholic in its identity, then we should stop using the word 'Catholic.' It’s that simple.”
Archbishop Chaput warned that “a new kind of America” is emerging in the 21st century, one that is likely to be “much less friendly to religious faith than anything in the nation’s past.”
The reason for this, he said, is that “America’s religious soul – its Christian subtext – has been weakening for decades.”
The archbishop observed that religious communities have historically had a great deal of power in shaping attitudes and behavior in the U.S.
“And that’s why, if you dislike religion or resent the Catholic Church, or just want to reshape American life into some new kind of experiment, you need to use the state to break the influence of the Church and her ministries.”
He said that in the years ahead, the nation's religious communities will encounter more attempts by civil authorities to interfere and will find less “unchallenged space” to carry out their work in the public square.
“It’s already happening with Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies, and even in the hiring practices of organizations like Catholic Charities,” the archbishop said.
He noted that this increasing hostility towards the Catholicism shows how “no one in Catholic social work can afford to be lukewarm about his faith.”
“Being faithful to Catholic teaching isn’t something optional for a Catholic social worker. It’s basic to his or her identity,” he said, adding that the faith “is much more than a list of dos and don’ts.”
Rather, Catholic teaching is part “of a much larger view of the human person, human dignity and our eternal destiny,” he said. “The content of this teaching comes from God through his son Jesus Christ. It’s defined by the universal Church and then preached, taught and applied by the local bishop.”
Archbishop Chaput concluded his remarks by saying he “painted a pretty stark picture of the America we may face in the next few decades.”
“But we shouldn’t lose heart, even for a minute,” he said.
“Our job is to let God change us, and then to help God, through our actions, to change the lives of others. That’s what we’ll be held accountable for, and it’s very much within our ability – if we remain faithful to who we are as believers.”