UPDATED: A shameful case of hearing only what one wants to hear


[An update has been added to the bottom of this post.]

Michael Sean Winters is at it again, trying to drive a wedge between American bishops and the Pope. The latest example comes in the form of a fusillade against Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia for, as Winters puts it, his “remarkable challenge to Pope Francis.”

Winters bases his charge on a partial, and highly tendentious, reading of something Archbishop Chaput said in response to a question about the synod he was asked after a lecture he delivered. Here’s what the archbishop said that got Winters all fired up: “I was very disturbed by what happened. I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.”

(You can watch Archbishop Chaput’s excellent lecture, which doesn’t mention the synod, along with the Q & A that followed, here.)

Winters thinks he sees daylight between the Archbishop and the Pope and begins driving in his wedge. “Confusion may come from the devil,” Winters writes, “but the synod came from Pope Francis.” The implication, apparently, is that an attack on the synod is an assault on the Pope. Winters continues, “[W]hen +Chaput detects ‘confusion’ in the synod, I detect an agenda in +Chaput.” And later, “Next year, Archbishop Chaput is slated to host the Holy Father in Philadelphia a few weeks before the commencement of the next synod on the family. This is a train wreck waiting to happen. Will +Chaput lecture the pontiff on the need to avoid ‘confusion’…?”

By the time Winters is finished, he’s accused Archbishop Chaput of erecting false political idols between the culture and the Church. Really.

What makes Winters’ wild accusations even worse–and this is the shameful part–is that they are premised on a gross misreading of what Archbishop Chaput actually said.

As Matthew Franck writes over at First Things,

Was Archbishop Chaput saying that the Holy Father was confused, or that the synod fathers collectively were confused, or that the synodal process should be closed off from discussion of what to do about all the very real challenges to marriage and family in the Church’s current pastoral situation? Hardly. The very next sentences Chaput uttered after saying that “the public image that came across was of confusion” were these: “Now, I don’t think that was the real thing there. I’m anxious to hear from Bishop Kurtz,” who was there as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Unlike Winters, Chaput knows how to withhold judgment until he knows what he’s talking about. (Emphasis added.)

It’s possible Winters was unaware of Archbishop Chaput’s full remarks, though one would think that before blasting away, Winters might have bothered to check the full remakrs. No, it seems more likely that Winters simply heard what he wanted to hear–a convenient case of grumpy conservatives whining about the Pope again–and ran with it. The Church has enough division within it already, must we really be so eager to find it where it doesn’t exist?

Rather than pontificating about what a reckless thing it is to sow the seeds of division within the Church–something we all need to hear and remember–I’ll let the actual pontiff do it for me. Here’s what Pope Francis had to say about division within the Church this past August. His words have a familiar ring to them:

In a Christian community, division is one of the gravest sins, because it makes it a sign not of God’s work, but of the devil’s work, who is by definition the one who separates, who destroys relationships, who insinuates prejudice…. Division in a Christian community, whether in a school, a parish, or an association, it is a very grave sin, because it is the work of the Devil.


Pope Francis and Archbishop Chaput

UPDATE: Archbishop Chaput insists that reports of his blasting the synod are simply false. As he told Catholic News Agency: “The synod isn’t mentioned in my formal remarks, and what I said in answer to a question from the audience about the synod is easily available, in full, online. People can see or read for themselves.” Indeed!

Meanwhile, Michael Sean Winters is doubling down on his misreading of Chaput. He writes, “Archbishop Chaput’s comment to which I objected was: ‘I was very disturbed by what happened. I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was of confusion.’ It is true that +Chaput preceded this comment with some qualifications. I read them and remembered a conversation my mother had with me when I was about 12 years old. She explained that it is not okay to say, ‘I don’t mean to be offensive’ and then say something highly offensive.”

“There is an easy remedy to this situation,” Winters writes, “Archbishop Chaput should withdraw his remarks and apologize for them. Until he does that, [Matthew] Franck and others have to live with the fact that he said what he said.” But it is Winters who continues to ignore +Chaput’s actual words.

To repeat: Archbishop Chaput said 1) that he wasn’t at the Synod, so he doesn’t know exactly what went on there, 2) that the “public image” was one of confusion, which is “of the devil,” 3) that he does not think that “public image” (of confusion) accurately reflects what really happened at the synod, and 4) he wants to hear what those who were actually there, thought of the synod.

The only way Winters’ reading makes sense is if you  remove +Chaput’s sentence about confusion being from the devil from its actual context and place it in a different, entirely fabricated context. Anyone who doubts this should go read the transcript or, better yet, watch the video of the remarks.

It’s worth noting, too, that Archbishop Chaput’s hour-long address cited Pope Francis repeatedly and favorably, without a hint of criticism. Ironically, as Matthew Schmitz pointed out last week, “Chaput did, however, offer the deliciously prophetic warning…. His words? ‘To get your information from the press is a mistake.'”


The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His work focuses on the application of Catholic social teaching to a broad spectrum of contemporary political and cultural issues. Since 2005, Mr. White has been coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society: a three week seminar on Catholic social teaching, with an emphasis on the thought of Blessed John Paul II, which takes place every summer in Kraków, Poland. He studied politics at the University of Dallas and philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the St. Patrick's Evangelisation School in London, England.

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