In a Q&A session after a lengthy address in New York on Monday, Archbishop Charles Chaput spoke of his concerns about the atmosphere of “confusion” that appeared to surround the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family. He said he had been “very disturbed” by those who engineered their own agendas into the Synod midterm report, adding an old axiom of Catholic spiritual writers that “confusion is of the devil.”
“I was very disturbed by what happened” at the synod, Chaput said. “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.”
The archbishop’s main thrust, however, was not the Synod but the increasing pressure on traditional Christian believers in the public sphere in the U.S. and elsewhere. In his speech, titled, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” Chaput spoke of the growing separation of Christian believers from the public sphere, particularly on issues surrounding marriage, the family, and the nature of sexuality.
He urged U.S. bishops to consider as a possible strategy a move to instigate a kind of ecclesiastical boycott of “gay marriage” laws by refusing to sign state marriage licenses in states where the definition of marriage has changed.
“It’s hard to see how a priest or bishop could, in good conscience, sign a marriage certificate that merely identifies ‘Spouse A’ and `Spouse B,’ ” Chaput said. “Refusing to conduct civil marriages now, as a matter of principled resistance, has vastly more witness value than being kicked out of the marriage business later by the government, which is a likely bet.”
The lecture was sponsored by First Things Magazine and the Institute on Religion in Public Life, bodies that have long advocated for the right of Christians to hold a place in the public square. Citing the case of the wholesale collapse of the Catholic culture of Quebec, from which his family hails, Chaput focused on the estrangement of the remaining believing Christians from public life, who “once felt rooted in their communities” but now feel “like strangers, out of place and out of sync in the land of their birth.”
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“The dismemberment of any privileged voice that biblical belief once had in our public square is just about complete,” he said. But the “biggest failure,” and “biggest sadness,” of many older Catholics is the “failure to pass along our faith in a compelling way to the generation now taking our place.”
“The real problem in [secularised] America in 2014 isn’t that we believers are foreigners,” he said. “It’s that our children and grandchildren aren’t.”
The archbishop, who has long been one of the U.S.’s strongest voices defending Catholic teaching on the family and sexuality, called the destruction of the Christian consensus on these subjects “profoundly evil,” but added that it was a significant accomplishment for those who engineered it.
“Emotion and sloganeering drove the argument,” he said. “People who uphold a traditional moral architecture for sexuality, marriage and family have gone in the space of just 20 years from mainstream conviction to the media equivalent of racists and bigots.”
“This is impressive. It’s also profoundly dishonest and evil, but we need to acknowledge the professional excellence of the marketing that made it happen.”
Chaput lamented the loss of strength within the Church’s leadership in upholding moral teaching. Quoting the French theologian Henri De Lubac, he said, “When the world worms its way into the life of the Church, the Church becomes not just a caricature of the world, but even worse than the world in her mediocrity and ugliness.”
He lamented the failure of the leadership of the U.S. Catholic Church to robustly uphold the moral teachings at a moment when it could have filled the void created by the disintegration of the heavily protestant consensus in the political culture of the U.S.
Chaput concluded by calling for the next generation to return to the soundness of Christian moral teaching in order to bring it back into the public discourse, adding that those who do not root themselves in the truth are doing little more than “self-medicating” with religion.
“Our job is to be the healthy cells in a society. We need to work as long as we can, as hard as we can, to nourish the good that remains in our country – and there’s a deep well of good that does remain – and to encourage the seeds of a renewal that can only come from our young people.”