DENVER, Colorado, June 22, 2011 ( – As Catholic social agencies and hospitals in America face growing persecution from secularist, anti-life forces, they must embrace a radical faithfulness and a vigorous Catholic identity if they are to survive, said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver this week.


“The more that Catholic universities or hospitals mute their religious identity, the more that Catholic social ministries weaken their religious character … the less useful to the Gospel they become,” the archbishop said in a June 21 address to the Catholic Social Workers Association, published by the National Catholic Register.

The challenge of maintaining an authentic Catholic identity is coming more and more to the fore as Christian institutions face growing pressure to accommodate themselves to secularism.  Catholic hospitals, for example, have been a major battleground, with many caught engaging in sterilizations, or even abortion.

In the last year and a half, both Bishop Robert Vasa, then of Baker, Oregon, and Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, Arizona made national headlines when they were forced to strip a local hospital of its Catholic status because it had refused to submit to Church moral teaching on key life issues.

“Everything in Catholic social ministry begins and ends with Jesus Christ. If it doesn’t, it isn’t Catholic,” the archbishop said.  “And if our social work isn’t deeply, confidently and explicitly Catholic in its identity, then we should stop using the word ‘Catholic.’ It’s that simple.”

The prelate insisted that Catholic ministries must “embody” Catholic beliefs on sexuality, marriage, abortion, and social justice.  If the state intervenes to prevent them from being faithful “through legal or financial bullying,” then “as a matter of integrity, they should end their services,” he said.

He noted that this is already happening with Catholic adoption agencies, which have been forced to shut down in some states by laws requiring them to offer their services to homosexual couples.  Most recently, this month Catholic Charities’ agencies in Illinois filed suit against the state after such a measure was passed.

Archbishop Chaput warned that in the coming years there will be “more and more” efforts by the state to intrude on the legitimate activities of religious communities, and that this will continue to have a major impact on the Church’s social ministry.

“A new kind of America is emerging in the early 21st century, and it’s likely to be much less friendly to religious faith than anything in the nation’s past,” he explained.  “[We will] see less and less unchallenged space for religious institutions to carry out their work in the public square.”

As a result, he said, “No one in Catholic social work can afford to be lukewarm about his faith or naive about the environment we now face — at least if we want Catholic social work to remain Catholic.“

“Being faithful to Catholic teaching isn’t something optional for a Catholic social worker. It’s basic to his or her identity,” he added.

He said Catholic social ministries should hire staff with “the best professional skills” available, but only “so long as those skills and means reflect the truth of Catholic moral teaching.”  At the same time, he noted that they need not necessarily restrict their hiring to Christians, because much of their work can be carried by all people of good will, but only “so long as the Catholic heart of the ministry remains zealous and true.”

The archbishop said Catholic charities should collaborate with other social agencies and groups, but he stressed that this must be carried out “in ways that are compatible with Catholic teaching.”

“We need to stay alert to the fact that cooperation can easily turn Catholic organizations into sub-contractors of large donors — donors with a very different anthropology and thus very different notions of authentic human development,” he said.  “And that can undermine the very purpose of Catholic social work.”

“Given the state of Catholic charitable organizations, pursuing these ideals will involve serious cultural change within many Catholic agencies,” he noted in conclusion.

“It will also demand people who, first, believe in real human development, as understood in the light of Jesus Christ and the Catholic faith,” he added.  “And, second, who have the courage to speak the truth and act on it confidently, despite the ‘humanism without God’ that shapes so much modern social-service thinking.”