Archbishop Charles Chaput has become one of the most outspoken advocates for American Catholics in the last few years, but now he trains his rhetorical and teaching skills on the church itself and its members. Chaput decries the state of Catholic education that has allowed people to fundamentally misunderstand their own faith, and scolds the church for allowing itself to become more concerned with membership than truth. The consequences of the failure can be seen all around us, Chaput says:
Having been asked to examine what November 2008 and its aftermath can teach Catholics about American culture, the state of American Catholicism and the kind of Pauline discipleship necessary today, Archbishop Chaput said:
“November showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture.”
Noting that there was no question about President Barack Obama’s views on abortion “rights,” embryonic stem cell research and other “problematic issues,” he commented:
“Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies.”
Offering a sober evaluation of the state of American Catholicism, he added:
“We need to stop over-counting our numbers, our influence, our institutions and our resources, because they’re not real. We can’t talk about following St. Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and get honest about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves and to God by claiming to ‘personally oppose’ some homicidal evil — but then allowing it to be legal at the same time.”
Commenting on society’s attitude towards Catholic beliefs, Archbishop Chaput said, “we have to make ourselves stupid to believe some of the things American Catholics are now expected to accept.”
“There’s nothing more empty-headed in a pluralist democracy than telling citizens to keep quiet about their beliefs. A healthy democracy requires exactly the opposite.”
The leadership of the Catholic Church has abdicated its role in instruction and faith formation, which one can see in church life on a daily basis. In part, they willingly surrendered both in exchange for broader appeal, and in significant part undermined it with the shameful role church leaders played in covering up for pedophiles within their ranks. In order to have enough moral authority to instruct, the priests and bishops have to live their lives in a moral fashion. One cannot lecture about protecting innocent life while keeping child molesters from justice and tacitly allowing them to continue preying on the innocents in the parishes. Even if the percentage of priests molesting children was very small, the acts of church leaders in decades past to shuffle them around to keep them from accountability destroyed their credibility to lead the flock.
Now that we have moved past that (with the probable exception of Roger Cardinal Mahoney in Los Angeles), the church needs to start teaching the faith. Chaput nails this; the church literally “made itself stupid” by not teaching what it means to be Catholic, our values, our doctrine, and our identity. The Catechism’s ubiquity may have convinced church leaders that teaching was no longer necessary, but the wide ranging misunderstandings of the faith even within the lay ministries disprove that beyond all doubt. Even in my own parish, one RCIA instructor told the class that all souls will eventually go to heaven, an ancient heresy long opposed by the Catholic Church as well as most Christian denominations. Is it any wonder that American Catholics can conclude after that instruction that they can “balance out” social justice issues as Chaput describes, if the weak level of instruction offered at a parish includes such heresies?
Would better instruction in faith reduce the numbers in the parishes? Probably, but the mission of the Catholic Church (or any other Christian sect) is not to win beauty contests. It’s to teach timeless truths in a manner that merits confidence, demonstrates wisdom and moral clarity, and lift the souls of those who believe into eternal life. Chaput rightly puts the failure of the American Catholic church on church leadership itself. Hopefully, he can inspire the laity to demand better of church leaders, and inspire better leaders from within the ranks of the priesthood. (via The Anchoress)
Addendum: In another example of the laity pressing for better consistency from the leaders, Creative Minority Report has an interview with a pro-life leader at the University of Notre Dame, who has started a movement to demand that ND withdraw its invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at its law-school commencement:
In an exclusive interview with CMR, Mary K. Daly, the President of Notre Dame’s Right to Life group, said that the school administration’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the Commencement Address is a “slap in the face” to many Catholics and has many students questioning whether they can “in good conscience” attend their own college graduation.” …
CMR: Do you folks have any plans to protest?
Notre Dame Right to Life as a student group, though we do not at this time have concrete plans of response, I can assure you that there will be a response. The leadership committee of Right to Life, together with the leadership from all of the other conservative, Catholic-minded campus groups, will be meeting this Tuesday to discuss an organized response.