Canadians packed St. Basil’s Church in Toronto on Monday evening to hear Archbishop Charles Chaput speak about how Catholics should live out their faith in the public square. He warned that in the U.S., Catholics need to act on their faith and be on guard against "a spirit of adulation bordering on servility" that exists towards the Obama administration.
The public lecture by Archbishop Chaput took place on the campus of the University of Toronto at St. Basil’s Church and was attended by an overflow crowd of more than 700 people.
After giving a sketch of the basic principles in his New York Times Bestseller "Render Unto Caesar," the archbishop offered his insights on the need for an honest assessment of the situation of the Church in the public square.
"I like clarity, and there’s a reason why," began the archbishop. "I think modern life, including life in the Church, suffers from a phony unwillingness to offend that poses as prudence and good manners, but too often turns out to be cowardice. Human beings owe each other respect and appropriate courtesy. But we also owe each other the truth -- which means candor."
The Denver prelate then provided his critique of President Obama.
"President Obama is a man of intelligence and some remarkable gifts. He has a great ability to inspire, as we saw from his very popular visit to Canada just this past week. But whatever his strengths, there’s no way to reinvent his record on abortion and related issues with rosy marketing about unity, hope and change. Of course, that can change. Some things really do change when a person reaches the White House. Power ennobles some men. It diminishes others. Bad policy ideas can be improved. Good policy ideas can find a way to flourish. But as Catholics, we at least need to be honest with ourselves and each other about the political facts we start with."
Yet this will be "very hard for Catholics in the United States," Chaput warned.
According to the archbishop, the political situation for Catholics is difficult to discern because a "spirit of adulation bordering on servility already exists among some of the same Democratic-friendly Catholic writers, scholars, editors and activists who once accused pro-lifers of being too cozy with Republicans. It turns out that Caesar is an equal opportunity employer."
Looking ahead to the coming months and years, Chaput offered four "simple things" to remember.
"First," he said, "all political leaders draw their authority from God. We owe no leader any submission or cooperation in the pursuit of grave evil."
"In fact, we have the duty to change bad laws and resist grave evil in our public life, both by our words and our non-violent actions. The truest respect we can show to civil authority is the witness of our Catholic faith and our moral convictions, without excuses or apologies."
In a reference to the messianic treatment the Barack Obama received from some Americans during the presidential primaries, Archbishop Chaput delivered his second point: "in democracies, we elect public servants, not messiahs."
Noting that Obama actually trailed in the weeks just before the election, the Denver archbishop said that this places some of today’s talk about a "new American mandate" in perspective.
"Americans, including many Catholics, elected a gifted man to fix an economic crisis. That’s the mandate. They gave nobody a mandate to retool American culture on the issues of marriage and the family, sexuality, bioethics, religion in public life and abortion. That retooling could easily happen, and it clearly will happen -- but only if Catholics and other religious believers allow it."
The third point to focus on when the beliefs of Catholics are challenged is that "it doesn’t matter what we claim to believe if we’re unwilling to act on our beliefs," Chaput counseled.
"The fourth and final thing to remember, and there’s no easy way to say it," remarked Archbishop Chaput, is that the "Church in the United States has done a poor job of forming the faith and conscience of Catholics for more than 40 years."
"And now we’re harvesting the results -- in the public square, in our families and in the confusion of our personal lives. I could name many good people and programs that seem to disprove what I just said. But I could name many more that do prove it, and some of them work in Washington."
American Catholics need to realize that many in the current generation haven’t just been "assimilated" into the American culture, but have in fact been "absorbed and bleached and digested by it," Archbishop Chaput asserted.
If this realization doesn’t happen, the coming generations will continue on the same path and "a real Catholic presence in American life will continue to weaken and disappear," said Chaput.
Citing the example of "unhappy, self-described Catholics who complain that abortion is too much of a litmus test," he stated, "We can’t claim to be ‘Catholic’ and ‘pro-choice’ at the same time without owning the responsibility for where the choice leads – to a dead unborn child."
The archbishop also addressed the "abortion reduction" argument being made by some in politics.
"We can’t talk piously about programs to reduce the abortion body count without also working vigorously to change the laws that make the killing possible. If we’re Catholic, then we believe in the sanctity of developing human life. And if we don’t really believe in the humanity of the unborn child from the moment life begins, then we should stop lying to ourselves and others, and even to God, by claiming we’re something we’re not."
"Catholic social teaching goes well beyond abortion," Chaput noted. "In America we have many urgent issues that beg for our attention, from immigration reform to health care to poverty to homelessness."
Winding his talk down, the Archbishop of Denver remarked on the misunderstanding of the word "hope."
"For Christians," he explained, "hope is a virtue, not an emotional crutch or a political slogan. Virtus, the Latin root of virtue, means strength or courage. Real hope is unsentimental. It has nothing to do with the cheesy optimism of election campaigns. Hope assumes and demands a spine in believers. And that’s why – at least for a Christian -- hope sustains us when the real answer to the problems or hard choices in life is ‘no, we can’t,’ instead of ‘yes, we can.’"
The full text of the archbishop's speech can be found here: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=790