.- 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.
âThe 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,â 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 ânot just of autonomous individualsâ but communities as well.
âThose communities also have rights. Catholic institutions are extensions of the Catholic community and Catholic belief,â he emphasized. âThe 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.â
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 âhave the duty to faithfully embody Catholic beliefs on marriage, the family, social justice, sexuality, abortion and other important issues.â
âAnd if the state refuses to allow those Catholic ministries to be faithful in their services through legal or financial bullying,â he added, âthen as a matter of integrity, they should end their services.â
âCatholic social ministry begins and ends with Jesus Christ,â he said. âIf it doesnât, it isnât Catholic.â
âAnd if our social work isnât deeply, confidently and explicitly Catholic in its identity, then we should stop using the word 'Catholic.' Itâs that simple.â
Archbishop Chaput warned that âa new kind of Americaâ is emerging in the 21st century, one that is likely to be âmuch less friendly to religious faith than anything in the nationâs past.â
The reason for this, he said, is that âAmericaâs religious soul â its Christian subtext â has been weakening for decades.â
The archbishop observed that religious communities have historically had a great deal of power in shaping attitudes and behavior in the U.S.
âAnd thatâs 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.â
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 âunchallenged spaceâ to carry out their work in the public square.
âItâs already happening with Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies, and even in the hiring practices of organizations like Catholic Charities,â the archbishop said.
He noted that this increasing hostility towards the Catholicism shows how âno one in Catholic social work can afford to be lukewarm about his faith.â
âBeing faithful to Catholic teaching isnât something optional for a Catholic social worker. Itâs basic to his or her identity,â he said, adding that the faith âis much more than a list of dos and donâts.â
Rather, Catholic teaching is part âof a much larger view of the human person, human dignity and our eternal destiny,â he said. âThe content of this teaching comes from God through his son Jesus Christ. Itâs defined by the universal Church and then preached, taught and applied by the local bishop.â
Archbishop Chaput concluded his remarks by saying he âpainted a pretty stark picture of the America we may face in the next few decades.â
âBut we shouldnât lose heart, even for a minute,â he said.
âOur job is to let God change us, and then to help God, through our actions, to change the lives of others. Thatâs what weâll be held accountable for, and itâs very much within our ability â if we remain faithful to who we are as believers.â