Pope Francis and the Chaput Shocker

Barely two months ago the ecclesiastical news circuit was rocked with the revelation that Pope Francis had decided not to renew Cardinal Burke’s membership on the Congregation for Bishops.

The New York Times, NPR, NBC and a host of other secular and Catholic news outlets went berserk, seeing in Pope Francis’ decision the promise of a radical reorientation of the curia.

At the time, I proposed a counter-narrative: Pope Francis is not about to purge “conservatives” from the curia and we shouldn’t read too much into the Burke news.

Well, my counter-narrative received a big boost last week.

You shouldn’t feel bad, of course, if you missed the news — it arrived last week, and, more to the point, the same outlets that saw such importance in the Burke news evidently missed or conveniently overlooked the “Chaput shocker”.

I found out at the same time as his 98,000 fans on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2014-02-09 at 7.38.19 PM

This, my papist friends, is a big deal.

Here’s why.

As Rocco points out, this is Chaput’s first appointment to a curial assignment. And it came, not from Bl. John Paul, not from Pope Benedict – but from Pope Francis. The very same Pope Francis who supposedly “has it in” for conservative prelates, if you believe the New York Times. Pope Francis also did something extraordinary by appointing Abp. Chaput as the only non-cardinal to be appointed to the dicastry.

In other words, if the Burke news harbored any significance, this Chaput news certainly does as well, if not even more so!

If secular news outlets and progressive Catholics want to frame a narrative based on the Burke news, they owe us an explanation for what’s going on with this Chaput elevation. You don’t get to just pick and choose what’s important. If the Burke news meant that Pope Francis doesn’t want to retain or elevate conservative voices, what are we to make of this decision?

chaputI think a case can be made that Pope Francis trusts and respects Archbishop Chaput.

Rocco helpfully explains some of the likely back story:

“…there is a history [between Chaput and Francis] – the then-archbishops of Denver and Buenos Aires became friendly at the 1997 Synod for America, where Chaput’s intervention struck a nerve with the future Pope. (During the October reunion seen above, Francis is said to have warmly recalled the talk yet again.)”

Abp. Chaput deserves this appointment on his own merits: his episcopate has been conspicuous for his encouragement of faithful lay movements (FOCUS, the Augustine Institute, etc.). He continually writes and speaks to encourage and inspire greater lay participation in the Church’s mission. And his diocesan governance style draws heavily upon lay talent and initiative. He personifies a fruitful collaboration between a bishop and the laity.

But let’s not forget another important point — when Pope Francis visits the USA for the first time in 2015 for the World Meeting of Families, Abp. Chaput will be his host as the organizer!

Some progressive Catholics can’t abide the situation. Sadly, their petty ideological sniping often succeeds in masquerading as commentary, and they’ve already got the guns out for Chaput. This quote from Fr. Tom Reese, S.J. in the Philadelphia Inquirer is a perfect example of their attempts to create distance between Chaput and Francis:

“The Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America and now a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal weekly, said after the election [for VP of the USCCB] that the mere perception that Chaput might be in opposition to Francis’ agenda might have made some of his fellow bishops nervous.

“I think there was concern that the secular media would be coming out with headlines reading ‘Bishops Elect Critic of Francis,’ ” said Reese.”

Oh please! This is laughable. Chaput continues to be admired by his fellow bishops — he only failed to be appointed VP of the USCCB by one vote this last go around, and he freely admitted to not voting for himself because he already has more than enough responsibilities. Fr. Reese forgets his own reaction in 2010 when the U.S. bishops upended fifty years of tradition to appoint Dolan over Kicanas:

“The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Seminary at Georgetown University and a liberal Catholic commentator, said, “The two vice presidential finalists were the two most conservative on the ballot. That says something about where this conference is going.”

Over three years later, the trajectory of the bishops conference is still clear, as is, I would argue, the overall trajectory of the church.

We catholics need to develop a better memory, do our homework, and fill in the blind spots that are created by the intentionally-selective, agenda-driven media, and by progressive commentators like Fr. Tom Reese. In the months and years ahead, we are going to witness more and more of these attempts to turn every bit of news into the false narrative of “liberal Pope Francis vs. conservative bishop so-and-so”.

They are already trying to apply this meme to the Chicago succession.

But here’s what we need to be focused on: good bishops like Abp. Chaput and Cardinal Burke have a huge amount of work on their plate. Chaput especially has the tallest of orders: saving the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and organizing the World Meeting of Families, in addition to his new responsibilities at the Council for Laity.

They don’t need us worrying about a false distance between them and the Holy Father. They need faithful catholics like us to roll up their sleeves and help right the Barque of Peter.

So help spread this good news to our brothers and sisters who are still smarting over the Burke business by making sure they are also aware of the Chaput shocker.


    Okay, great. This article misses a huge point….and tries to compare apples and oranges. As someone who belongs to an Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, I am a little confused by this article.

    Is Burke conservative? Yes. Is Chaput a conservative? Yes. Are they they same kind of conservative? Not by a long shot. Are the positions remotely the same? Heavens No. How does the Pope’s appointment of Chaput over shadow the issue of Burke’s removal, and the anger and disappointment people felt over it?

    Lets look at the issues:

    1. Burke is very friendly to traditional Catholics. So friendly in fact that he regularly visits traditional communities, and does priestly ordinations for the FSSP and ICRSS.

    2. Chaput, though not outwardly unfriendly to traditionalists, he is also not exactly friendly. Soon after taking over the Archdiocese of Philadelphia he transferred the pastor of the largest and most vibrant community that celebrated the Extraordinary Form. As a consolation he then created an Apostolate for the community in a Church that gets little use. However, with this new move, the community no longer has the rights of a Parish. That means that it can no longer register members as parishioners, and cannot offer any of the sacraments aside from Holy Eucharist. A stark departure from the status they enjoyed before.

    3. Burke was removed from the Congregation for Bishops, which is in charge of choosing and placing most all Bishops in the Latin Church outside missionary territories. Benedict XVI placed him in this roll in 2009. This roll has a huge significance as it can influence the tone and demeanor of the Church for years to come. Choosing who becomes elevated to Bishop, and where they are placed has immense impact on the Church. It is seen by many as a way for Popes to leave a lasting legacy. Think of Archbishop Sample of Portland Oregon, raised to Bishop in 2006, and appointed Archbishop in 2013, all under Benedict XVI. Sample has been widely seen as “cut from the same cloth” as Benedict and Burke, offering the traditional Mass in his diocese, and even further back, in 2012 ordaining men to diaconate and subdiaconate for the IRCSS.

    4. Burke was replaced in this very important role by Cardinal Wuerl, who has been widely criticized for his unfriendly attitude to the Extraordinary Form.

    5. This is coupled by the fact, that while all this is going on, the Franciscan Friars of Immaculate are seemingly being punished for the charism which is attached to the Extraordinary Form. Though there seems to be confusions on both sides of this controversy, and coming by hard facts is increasingly difficult, the fact remains that there seems to be a slow shift away from much of the openness to tradition seen under Benedict XVI.

    6. Chaput, a very different type of conservative, gets appointed to the Pontifical Council for the Laity. A glorified consultant job, with little authority. A prestigious post, absolutely, but one that pales in comparison to the position Burke held which had direct sway over appointments of Bishops.

    Saying that Chaput’s appointment to the Pontifical Council in any way shape or form “makes up for” Burke’s dismissal from the Congregation of Bishops is a little strange.

    In what parallel universe does Mr. Thomas Peter’s Vatican exist?

  • Glenna

    Glad to see you’re back, Thom. We need your commentary!

  • Greg Lamberty

    Get rid of the labels! People are either Catholic or not Catholic. These stupid labels just divide people and can be easily misinterpreted.

    • Zu

      Our church is not anti-socialist.

  • Eileen

    Happy to know that the Church hasn’t slide totally left. From articles written in our diocesan newspaper, particularly from one catholic priest who write for them, one would think that his views reflect the direction and common views of the Church which I find to be very disturbing. They reek of Socialism in every respect

  • Eileen

    Happy to know that the Church hasn’t slide totally left. From articles written in our diocesan newspaper, particularly from one catholic priest who write for them, one would think that his views reflect the direction and common views of the church which I find to be very disturbing. They reek of Socialism in every respect.

  • Jeff

    Those of us who know Archbishop and / or have heard his homilies know that it’s no surprise that Pope Francis appointed him. Both men are faithful and orthodox. The “media” quotes purporting that the Church is somehow less conservative now are both fiction and wishful thinking.



Receive our updates via email.