Denver Archbishop To Toronto Audience: “We Can’t Build a Just Society With the Blood of Unborn Child

By Steve Jalsevac

Archbishop Charles ChaputTORONTO, Ontario, February, 25, 2009 ( - On a bitter cold February 23rd night at St. Basils Church on the campus of St. Michael’s College, the University of Toronto, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered to a near capacity audience what was likely the most forthright and challenging talk on Catholic political responsibility ever given in Canada by a bishop.

The Archbishop had been invited to address the themes from his book, "Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life." He presented some background and thoughts on the book and then discussed the US election and the meaning of true hope.

Chaput began by noting the powerful negative effect of today’s culture on the public’s ability to think clearly about political implications and responsibilities. He stated, "American consumer culture is a very powerful narcotic.  Moral reasoning can be hard, and TV is a great painkiller.  This has political implications.  Real freedom demands an ability to think, and a great deal of modern life…seems deliberately designed to discourage that."

The Denver prelate emphasized the importance of forming "a strong and genuinely Catholic conscience" and following that conscience when voting.

However, Catholics with such consciences are often intimidated for doing so. Chaput explained that was one of the reasons he wrote his book: "Frankly, I just got tired of hearing outsiders and insiders tell Catholics to keep quiet about our religious and moral views in the big public debates that involve all of us as a society.  That’s a kind of bullying.  I don’t think Catholics should accept it." 

Catholic participation in politics concerns our obligation to "the pursuit of justice and the common good in the public square" and "is part of the history of salvation", the Denver bishop proclaimed. He indicated that few are exempt since "Tolerating grave evil within a society is itself a form of serious evil."

He expanded, "we have a duty to be politically engaged.  Why?  Because politics is the exercise of power, and the use of power always has moral content and human consequences." Chaput challenged, "if we claim to be ‘Catholic,’ we need to prove it by our behaviour. And serving other people by working for justice, charity and truth in our nation’s political life is one of the very important ways we do that." 

As for those who separate their faith from their political actions, the author of "Render Unto Caesar" called it a denial of Christ. "That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus."

The archbishop revealed that he was previously a long time Democrat who worked on political campaigns, including that of Jimmy Carter, but he no longer belongs to any political party. He warned, "The sooner Catholics feel at home in any political party, the sooner that party takes them for granted and then ignores their concerns." Many Christians have complained of this in recent decades. 

Driving the point home forcefully Chaput added, "Party loyalty for the sake of habit, or family tradition, or ethnic or class interest is a form of tribalism.  It’s a lethal kind of moral laziness.  Issues matter.  Character matters.  Acting on principle matters.  But party loyalty for the sake of party loyalty is a dead end."

Pro-life, pro-family leaders have often been dismayed by their Christian leaders’ lack of courage on the issues that matter. Chaput addressed this, again with his unusual frankness for a  bishop: "modern life, including life in the Church, suffers from a phony unwillingness to offend that poses as prudence and good manners, but too often turns out to be cowardice."

Some of the Archbishops harshest words, yet still delivered in his calm, friendly speaking manner, were for those Catholics who supported the election of President Obama.

"A spirit of adulation bordering on servility already exists among some of the same Democratic-friendly Catholic writers, scholars, editors and activists who once accused prolifers of being too cozy with Republicans."

Chaput explained, "all political leaders draw their authority from God.  We owe no leader any submission or cooperation in the pursuit of grave evil."

He continued that Catholics must witness to their faith and moral convictions, "without excuses or apologies" and that "in democracies, we elect public servants, not messiahs" as so many have referred to Obama.

Barack Obama was elected "to fix an economic crisis", Chaput stated, and not "to retool American culture on the issues of marriage and the family, sexuality, bioethics, religion in public life and abortion." He warned, however that this "could easily happen" and "will happen" - "but only if Catholics and other religious believers allow it."

The archbishop’s frank admission of the Church’s culpability for the current situation was likely something few in the audience had ever heard from a Catholic bishop. Chaput confessed, "The Church in the United States has done a poor job of forming the faith and conscience of Catholics for more than 40 years.  And now we’re harvesting the results—in the public square, in our families and in the confusion of our personal lives."

On abortion, Archbishop Chaput, was as direct and blunt as any pro-life leader could dream to finally hear from a Catholic bishop. He insisted that for Catholics, abortion should be a litmus test. "One of the defining things that set early Christians apart from the pagan culture around them was their respect for human life; and specifically their rejection of abortion and infanticide.  We can’t be Catholic and be evasive or indulgent about the killing of unborn life.  We can’t claim to be "Catholic" and "pro-choice" at the same time without owning the responsibility for where the choice leads - to a dead unborn child." 

Addressing the recent increase in pro-life spokesmen stating that efforts to change laws are futile and we should instead attempt to lessen the numbers of abortions, Chaput stated, "We can’t talk piously about programs to reduce the abortion body count without also working vigorously to change the laws that make the killing possible."

Chaput challenged the hypocrisy of Catholics calling themselves Catholic and then voting like pagans, He stated, "if we don’t really believe in the humanity of the unborn child from the moment life begins, then we should stop lying to ourselves and others, and even to God, by claiming we’re something we’re not." 

Although it was admitted that Catholics need to "do a much better job of helping women who face problem pregnancies", Chaput added the crucial perspective that, "we don’t "help" anyone by allowing or funding an intimate, lethal act of violence.  We can’t build a just society with the blood of unborn children."

On the issue of hope, proclaimed incessantly by the Obama campaign, the archbishop taught that real hope "has nothing to do with the cheesy optimism of election campaigns.  Hope assumes and demands a spine in believers" and "for a Christian—hope sustains us when the real answer to the problems or hard choices in life is "no, we can’t," instead of "yes, we can."

"The word "hope" on a campaign poster may give us a little thrill of righteousness," said the Denver Archbishop, "but the world will still be a wreck when the drug wears off.  We can only attain hope through truth.  And what that means is this:  From the moment Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life," the most important political statement anyone can make is "Jesus Christ is Lord."


During the question and answer session following the lecture, a question was asked about the sometimes unmet responsibility of bishops to prevent pro-abortion speakers from addressing Catholic college functions.
Archbishop Chaput stated that bishops "welcome the input of the laity" and added, "If they disagree with us (bishops) it’s really important that we hear that. We need your support, but we also need to hear your concerns if you think we make decisions that are contrary to the good of the Church." That was a surprisingly refreshing response to more than a few listeners who have experienced very different results from contacting their bishops on such matters. 

In response to a question on the serious problems with the Catholicity of Catholic schools, Chaput emphasized the importance of "working on the principals and the people who manage the schools" as the best way to improve the Catholicity of the teachers.

On the abortion issue again, the archbishop said he was "astonished at the number of Catholics in my diocese who are pro-choice and who come to Mass every day." He repeated, "I am astonished."

In response to a question on ecumenical relations, he stated that Catholics now "have very little in common with the mainline protestant churches because we separate on the issues of life and marriage and embryonic stem cell research".  Chaput noted that the Church has recently developed a deeper relationship with Evangelicals "because we share a passion for the foundational issue of life and for the in some ways equally foundational issue of the meaning of marriage.

In response to a question about the possible excommunication of pro-choice Catholics, the archbishop was emphatic that he saw it as being completely ineffective and counterproductive. He stated it would be "percived as random use of his power (strong emphasis) to hurt people rather than to deal with issues of the truth." The archbishop further derided that use of a bishop’s authority and concluded, " I don’t think it works and that is why I don’t do it. I don’t think there are bishops who think it does work. We just don’t go about that business these days."

To read the text of Archbishop Chaput’s entire lecture see:

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