Catholic lay leadership is essential in public life and can accomplish much that Catholic bishops cannot do, Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput has said. His Thursday speech at an awards banquet praised Belmont Abbey College for standing up for its “right to be Catholic,” while also warning that evil will certainly triumph if it is left unopposed.
“There may be many times when a bishop or group of bishops needs to speak out publicly about the moral consequences of a public issue. But the main form of Catholic leadership in wider society – in the nation’s political, economic and social life – needs to be done by you, the Catholic lay faithful,” he said.
The archbishop’s remarks came in his acceptance speech for the Envoy of the Year Award bestowed by Belmont Abbey College’s Envoy Institute.
Archbishop Chaput emphasized the need to form Catholic lay leaders who know and love the teachings of the Church and faithfully live them out.
“But once those lay leaders exist, clergy cannot and should not interfere with the leadership that rightly belongs, by baptism, to their vocation as lay apostles,” he explained.
The archbishop’s remarks touched upon topics such as the nature of the state, the nature of Catholics’ Christian faith and the nature of the lay vocation.
He also reflected on patriotism, calling it a virtue for Christians.
“Love for the best qualities in our homeland is a noble thing. This is why military service and public office are not just socially useful vocations, but – at their best – great and honorable ones,” the archbishop continued.
While Jesus’ words about the distinction between “the things that are Caesar’s” and “the things that are God’s” acknowledges that Caesar, the state, has rights, these words also show that Caesar is not a god and has no rights over the things that are God’s.
“And ultimately, everything important about human life belongs not to Caesar, but to God: our intellect, our talents, our free will; the people we love; the beauty and goodness in the world; our soul, our moral integrity, our hope for eternal life. These are the things that matter. These are the things worth fighting for. And none of them comes from the state.”
Invoking the example of American Founding Father Charles Carroll, who suffered forms of anti-Catholic bigotry, he said that religious prejudice faced now has a different appearance.
“Caesar wears a different suit. He has great media handlers. He bullies religion while he claims to respect it. He talks piously about the law and equality and tolerance and fairness. But he still confuses himself with God –and he still violates the rights of Catholic believers and institutions by intruding himself where he has no right to be.”
The archbishop then referred to Belmont Abbey College’s dispute with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which reversed itself and declared that the Catholic college’s refusal to cover contraceptives is discriminatory against women.
“It’s one of the great ironies of the moment that tiny Belmont Abbey would have the courage to challenge Caesar over its right to be faithfully Catholic in its policies, while so many other American Catholics seem eager to give Caesar honors.”
“If you stand up to evil, you may lose. But if you don’t stand up, you will lose,” the archbishop continued, crediting Belmont Abbey for its defense of its “right to be Catholic.”
He urged Catholic citizens to demand modesty of political leaders and to show love to others not in feeling alone but in deeds.
“Working to defend the sanctity of human persons and the dignity of the human family is an obligation of Christian love. Therefore, the Church can’t be silent in public life and be faithful to Jesus Christ at the same time,” he added.
“Our God is a God of justice; a God who does not abandon his people and who rewards courage in the face of evil. So have courage, serve the truth, love the Church, take confidence in the Lord, and stand up to witness for your faith,” Archbishop Chaput’s speech concluded. “We’ve got nothing to lose. We have everything to gain.”
To read the full text of Archbishop Chaput's remarks, please visit, http://www.archden.org/index.cfm/ID/2719.