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.

32 thoughts on “Pope Francis and the Chaput Shocker

  1. Bruce Ludwick, Jr. says:

    Tom, hope the recovery is coming well!

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think anyone has said Francis has it out for “conservatives” (an unhelpful term). They would argue that he does not prefer “traditionalists”, which one can surmise from the FFI visitation circumstances, etc. Burke decidedly falls in the traditionalist camp (in a good, very positive way), whilst Chaput does not. I am not convinced either way, and believe Francis definitely knows what he is doing. That said, I believe the premise of the article as well as the “conservative” label is flawed. These are three very holy men; we’re very lucky to be able to have a debate at all!

  2. james m davis says:

    Archbishop Chaput put Denver on the theological map-his leadership is stong and prolific- we need more stand up in your face heirarchy that repects tradition but is not fearful of the secular society.

  3. Brad says:

    I grew up in the Rapid City, SD area and was blessed to be confirmed by Bishop Chaput. He is a man of deep intelligence, divine wisdom and faith. More importantly, he draws the best from his congregation and the community. He helped me see for the first time that a life of love, faith, truth and hope can overcome any obstacle. If he leads, I will follow…

  4. pchristle says:

    The Catholic Church bases its teachings on scripture and tradition. A conservative person or institution is defined as one that is cautious about change and holds to traditional values and attitudes. Therefore, it should surprise no one that the Catholic Church’s hierarchy is consistently conservative. Should this ever change, the Church will no longer exist because it will have become something wholly other than what Jesus founded. Catholic liberals/progressives seek to destroy the Church, whether they are willing to admit or recognize it or not.

  5. Paul-David Almond says:

    When I was a novice. His Excellency was elected as Bishop of Rapid City. He was involved, while the Minister Provincial for the Mid-America province, with the Aquinas Institute. He’s brilliant, a man, of intellectual and spiritual integrity He’s always challenged me when I was a Capuchin, then as a layperson, to take my faith to the marketplace; to be truly counter-cultural (e,g, to value life over death, and obedience over selfishness, and simplicity over a life of acquisition). He abjured me to seek truth, and then to live by that truth. He is a faithful servant. He was named because he encourages the laity to take their faith seriously. I cannot imagine him as having a message counter to the faithful teaching of Christ, which our Popes propagate. Conservative, liberal, those are labels. What His Holiness is doing is honoring his namesake’s reverence for the Church by appointing men of similar ethic. Archbishop Chaput is a good choice because of his faithfulness to the Church’s teaching.

  6. Ben Eicher says:

    I live in Rapid City, South Dakota and was fortunate to have Abp Chaput as my bishop. When I came into full communion with Rome, he was the one who confirmed me—then promptly assigned me to teach CCD. His Excellency is a great man, and a great gift to the Church.

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