Critics bash 'dimwitted' attack on Archbishop Chaput

Screenshot of Archbishop Charles J Chaput speaking to students from across the archdiocese CNA US Catholic News 3 8 12 Screenshot of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput speaking to students from across the archdiocese.

An essay claiming that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia was put in a "right-wing funk" by Pope Francis' popularity "completely misunderstood" the archbishop, his defenders say.

Two Catholic writers have strongly criticized an Aug. 17 National Catholic Reporter opinion essay by University of St. Thomas School of Law Professor Charles J. Reid, Jr.

Reid used Archbishop Chaput's July 23 interview with National Catholic Reporter correspondent John L. Allen, Jr. to argue that the archbishop is worried by "the sudden interest in the new Pope from unfamiliar quarters," like non-practicing Catholics, non-Catholics and non-Christians.

The opinion essay accompanied a cartoon depicting an archbishop with little resemblance to Archbishop Chaput. The cartoon archbishop was shown under a raincloud and appeared to be depressed by a chart of Pope Francis' growing popularity.

Sharply responding to the piece on the "First Thoughts" blog of First Things magazine on Aug. 21, Matthew J. Frank wrote that the archbishop's interview with Allen instead showed him to be "unequivocally delighted with Pope Francis."

"Literally his first comment on the Holy Father is, 'Thanks be to God that the Lord has given us a pope with such universal appeal to so many people.'"

Patrick Brennan, a blogger at the Catholic law blog Mirror of Justice, weighed in an Aug. 20 piece that Reid's essay was "an unjust portrayal of an exemplary bishop" whose summary did not resemble what the archbishop actually said.

In his essay, Reid goes on to suggest in his essay that Archbishop Chaput's comments that these people would prefer a church without "strict norms and ideas about the moral life and about doctrine" sounded like the older brother from the parable of the prodigal son, who was resentful on the return of his wayward brother.

Reid cited the archbishop's description of contemporary culture as "pagan," arguing that this description was a bar to evangelization. He also blamed "right wing" Catholicism for failing to reach the marginalized and sinners.

Frank countered that Reid "completely misunderstood" the archbishop, who does not believe that the Pope is less concerned about the moral life and about doctrine.

Archbishop Chaput's references to the "right wing of the Church" did not include the archbishop himself, Frank noted. Rather, this referred to "people on the fringe" such as those drawn to the breakaway Society of St. Pius X.

"(T)his is not a faction with which Chaput identifies himself, and it strikes me as either very dimwitted or very willfully biased for Reid to understand Chaput that way," Frank said.

"This misunderstanding feeds every other thing Reid gets wrong. It's why he thinks – and this mistake is truly bizarre – that Chaput somehow rejects people being drawn to the Church anew by Francis's ministry."

Brennan noted that Archbishop Chaput "decisively" countered any disaffection with Pope Francis, citing the Archbishop's own words about the Pope: "I think he's a truly Catholic man in every sense of the word."

Frank rejected the idea that Catholic leaders like Archbishop Chaput had kept people way from the faith, noting that these leaders are "a large part of the reason" that he had returned to the Catholic faith and his wife had converted.

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