Delivering the University of Notre Dame’s Tocqueville Lecture Sept. 15, Archbishop Chaput gave a lengthy reflection on the 2016 election, the state of American morals, and Catholic identity in a changing world.
Despite the flaws of the major party presidential candidates, he warned that Christians don’t have the “luxury of cynicism.” There are still too many honest politicians who serve the country and there are good candidates for other public offices. If Christians leave the public square, other people with worse intentions will fill it.
“The surest way to make the country suffer is to not contest them in public debate and in the voting booth,” the archbishop said.
Christian life is essentially about hope and joy, not despair.
“The choices we make and the actions we take do make a difference,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The political vocation matters because, done well, it can ennoble the society it serves.”
Although Christians’ home is the City of God, in St. Augustine’s words, they have the duty “to leave the world better than we found it,” and politics is an imperfect way to do that.
“We’ve reached a moment when our political thinking and vocabulary as a nation seem exhausted,” he said. “The real effect that we as individuals have on the government and political class that claim to represent us – the big mechanical Golem we call Washington – is so slight that it breeds indifference and anger.”
Christians’ response must be more than merely wringing hands or making a search for better candidates, policies, and public relations. Renewing a society “demands that we be different people.”
Archbishop Chaput noted the “huge spike” during his priesthood of hearing penitents confess sins of promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence, sexual confusion, and pornography use.
“Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are,” he said.
“The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage,” he continued. This wreckage has been compounded by tens of millions of people over five decades, and “media nonsense” about the effects of sexual immorality and divorce.
“What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems,” the archbishop lamented.
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“This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them – and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else,” he said. “People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.”
People who are unwilling to have children and raise them with love, virtue, and moral character are “writing themselves out of the human story,” he added.
Government has a role to play in easing problems like unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness and bad schools, but not if government works “from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is.”
He warned against a government that “deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well.”
According to the archbishop, the decline of marriage, family, and traditional religion also have consequences for the country. Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. millennials think that it’s vital to live in a democracy, while undemocratic feelings have especially risen among the wealthy.
This didn’t happen by accident.