Reclaiming Liberty: Archbishop Chaput’s speech, “Building a Culture of Religious Freedom”

Though it barely made the whirligig of national and international news on Friday, Archbishop Charles Chaput offered a major address on the state of Catholicism within the American republic.  It is a speech that demands consideration, study, and widespread dissemination.  It is, simply put, one of the finest speeches delivered by a Roman Catholic on North American soil.

Three things jumped out at me immediately as I read the speech (well, actually, I was driving across Texas; my wife read it to me): 1) its strength of character and conviction; 2) its intellectual depth; 3) and its willingness to challenge basic American Catholic assumptions.  A fourth thing hit me as well, but I’ll save this until later.

Here’s the transcript of the speech.http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2012/07/6013

None of this, I suppose, should be surprising.  Chaput is probably one of the best bishops in the world, and his intellect and soul should convince even the most ardent anti-Catholic (yes, evangelicals, fundamentalists, and atheists, I’m writing toward, near, and to you) that the Church is built upon something stronger than mere superstition.

In his address delivered at the Napa Institute, Chaput stated:

Time and again, Catholics have proven their love of our nation with their talent, hard work, and blood. So if the bishops of the United States ever find themselves opposed, in a fundamental way, to the spirit of our country, the fault won’t lie with our bishops. It will lie with political and cultural leaders who turned our country into something it was never meant to be.

And, again:

Americans have always been a religious people. They still are. Roughly 80 percent of Americans call themselves Christians. Millions of Americans take their faith seriously. Millions act on it accordingly. Religious practice remains high. That’s the good news. But there’s also bad news. In our courts, in our lawmaking, in our popular entertainment, and even in the way many of us live our daily lives, America is steadily growing more secular. Mainline churches are losing ground. Many of our young people spurn Christianity. Many of our young adults lack any coherent moral formation. Even many Christians who do practice their religion follow a kind of easy, self-designed gospel that led author Ross Douthat to call us a “nation of heretics.”1 Taken together, these facts suggest an American future very different from anything in our nation’s past.

Considering the last twelve years of American political life, it’s hard not to take Chaput’s words to heart.  A recap of the insanity of American life is worth thinking about, especially as the America I knew growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in Kansas vanished on September 11, 2001.  The Patriot Act–remember when we were promised it was temporary–has been renewed and renewed and renewed and renewed.  Add the TSA, NDAA, and other strange and alien laws (some from Congress and more from the executive) to the mix, and we can see that the last two administrations have either enacted, sponsored, or ignored more abuses of civil liberties than any other presidents of the last 100 years.

The one exception, of course, is Franklin Roosevelt.  His theft and concentration of Japanese Americans into camps with executive order 9066 is certainly one of the lowest low points of recent history.

Add, yet again, the fact that our presidents can now call in air blockades on sovereign countries wihtout consent of Congress, and the power of the executive (in gross contrast to what even the most ardent supporter of executive power, Alexander Hamilton, envisioned) seems nearly complete.

Every time we have turned a blind eye–willfully or not–to an abuse of power and a denigration of the human person, we have contributed to the situation in which we now find ourselves.  Frankly, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  Did any person really believe that President Obama would diminish the power that he inherited from previous executives?  Like every other person (almost) in history, he’s inherited, consolidated, and built.

Now that the government has gotten away with the denial of basic and natural rights of its citizens, it will continue to erode the protection afforded by communities such as the Roman Catholic Church.

Chaput warns that we are entering a new era as American Roman Catholics.  Another bishop said fairly recently that the time of martyrdom in the “free” world is most likely returning.  And, the bishop of bishops, BXVI, has stated directly and indirectly that we must expect a much smaller Catholic Church in the not so distant future.

This leads me to the fourth thing that struck me as I read Archbishop Chaput’s fine speech.  In every way, the speech is a spiritual call to arms.

We might very well be past the point of no return (with apologies to Kansas).  But, even if we are, we are not released from our obligations to fight for the dignity and the liberty of the individual person.

We should never forget the words of John Paul the Second.  To paraphrase: each person is an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom.  No person and certainly no government has the right to deny what God has granted.

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14 thoughts on “Reclaiming Liberty: Archbishop Chaput’s speech, “Building a Culture of Religious Freedom”

  1. Lyn McCarthy says:

    This goes beyond reproductive issues. Religious freedom is in peril. Please take the time to listen to this video by my former pastor. I still miss my old parish. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gP_x_OwYiw
    I think you will find this informative.

  2. Ruth says:

    Father Barron is excellent and is the presenter of the Catholicism series. He has long posted videos on youtube about various topics that are easy to access. If you have not listened to him, you really should.

    But overall, it is about time that we started listening to our shepherds. We have some excellent ones to follow these days!

    But it does bother me that I will be expected to help pay for things that damage women and children (and thus society) because some idiot, who can’t even answer ‘when life begins’ because it is above his pay grade, tells us that we should not reproduce.

    These are people who want to solve poverty by killing off the poor. They want to solve handicap issues by killing the handicapped and they want to solve suffering by killing the suffering.

    We as Christians are called by Christ not to turn inward to ‘What *I* want” but rather to turn outward to what is God’s Will. And since God’s Will is for us to be fully human and fully alive, it is what will truly make us happy. Freedom is NOT about doing what ever you want, but about being allowed to do what you should. When you do God’s will, that is when you are truly free. For some reason people find that counterintuitive.

    But if someone wants to take drugs, gamble money they can’t spare, view pornography, buy things beyond their means, live only for themselves, have sex with every one or any thing, they can have the ‘freedom’ to do these things but is the drug addict, porn addict, gambling addict or sex addict really free? Are people who live only for themselves ever really happy?

    From the inside, I can say that the more I align my life to God’s will, the more freedom and happiness I have.

  3. bpeters1 says:

    Karl Rahner SJ gave an interview in 1970 that addressed many of these same issues. It is worth quoting at length: “[T]his world-Church will be everywhere (although in very different degrees) a diaspora Church which will have to maintain itself by its own strength and power within an (at best) neutral, secular world. This situation is partially present already, and it can only be expected to increase, and it will greatly influence the future shape of theology. Theology must help the preacher preach the gospel in such a way that it can really be understood and assimilated today; and theology also has a critical function, preaching or in its practice from becoming a ghetto or a sect within the contemporary world. The Church is, and will become more so, a ‘little flock,’ a diaspora Church in a secular world, but this is something altogether different from developing the mentality of a sect, which makes its social ineffectiveness and impotence into an ideal and into a sign of its own election. It is against the danger of this mentality that theology in its critical function must struggle.
    Do you see signs of this danger in the Church today?
    I would say that the dangers of a false adaptation of the Church to the modern world, or of falling into a purely secular humanism—-which are real dangers in the Church’s attempt to open itself outwards to the modern world—-can invite as a defensive reaction the opposite danger, namely, to turn inwards and to make the Church a close sect in the sense that I have described.”

    1. bpeters1 says:

      Sorry, I skipped a line when copying that from the book — but, I think Rahner’s got it right: Catholics must steer a middle course between “false adaptation” and insular sectarianism as the Church relates to an increasingly secular world. “[T]his world-Church will be everywhere (although in very different degrees) a diaspora Church which will have to maintain itself by its own strength and power within an (at best) neutral, secular world. This situation is partially present already, and it can only be expected to increase, and it will greatly influence the future shape of theology. Theology must help the preacher preach the gospel in such a way that it can really be understood and assimilated today; and theology also has a critical function, and I see this critical function to lie especially in preventing the Chruch in its preaching or in its practice from becoming a ghetto or a sect within the contemporary world. The Church is, and will become more so, a ‘little flock,’ a diaspora Church in a secular world, but this is something altogether different from developing the mentality of a sect, which makes its social ineffectiveness and impotence into an ideal and into a sign of its own election. It is against the danger of this mentality that theology in its critical function must struggle. Do you see signs of this danger in the Church today? I would say that the dangers of a false adaptation of the Church to the modern world, or of falling into a purely secular humanism–which are real dangers in the Church’s attempt to open itself outwards to the modern world–can invite as a defensive reaction the opposite danger, namely, to turn inwards and to make the Church a closed sect in the sense that I have described.”

  4. Rob says:

    I’m sorry, but reading this just makes me angry. Archbishop Chaput, whom you label as one of the best Bishops in the world, is fighting measures in Pennsylvania that would extend statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. Imagine if we turned the tables and said that Jerry Sandusky’s victims should not be allowed to press charges because a statue of limitations had passed. It would be laughable. So is Chaput. I really don’t need to say anything else.

    1. Brad Birzer says:

      Rob, thanks for writing. I’m not familiar with the Pennsylvania pedophilia cases right now, and I’m definitely not up on what Chaput is doing about them. So, in the abstract, I probably agree with you. The Church, overall, has been beyond horrible in dealing with this issue, and the priests involved (the pedophiles and those who protected them) should be defrocked and publicly humiliated. I used to joke that all such folks should be tattooed “Pedophile,” deprived of US citizenship, and parachuted into Islamic countries.

    2. Shawn says:

      Please cite your source Rob.

  5. Everett says:

    I heard this live! Archbishop Chaput really was fantastic (as were many of the other speakers, particularly Fr. Barron).

    1. Brad Birzer says:

      Everett, I’m jealous. I’ve not heard him speak. Is he good?

  6. David says:

    I don’t see how depriving gay and lesbians of access to our marriage laws or allowing women the ability to add reproductive services to their health plans can be considered anything remotely resembling “religious freedom.” It seems that Chaput is interested only in religious liberty that he agrees with and then forcing it on others. I think that’s sad, but there isn’t anything wrong with it – we all tend to look out for ourselves. However, it looks pretty hypocritical to most Americans to be making speeches about religious liberty while simultaneously seeking to restrict the rights of the people that have different beliefs.

    1. Brad Birzer says:

      Dear David, I appreciate your views and the time you took to respond. I’m confused, however. As I understand it, Chaput is only fighting the mandate that forces Catholic institutions to provide birth control, etc. He’s not stating other groups (that is, non RC ones) shouldn’t be allowed this. Anyway, please clarify if you have a moment. Also, what does the GLBT issue have to do with this? Thanks, Brad

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