Rocco whispered this piece by his archbishop, Charles Chaput, on his twitter feed. I’ve heard the archbishop speak at a conference and participate in a Q&A. I’ve exchanged a few e-mails with him over the years. And I read some of his stuff. The adaptation of a talk he gave his priests fits his style and mood. He takes a poke at a lot of presumptions. And among many churchfolk, I think he’s more open to realities than most. “We need to see the world as it really is,” he says. I think he believes that. But I think reality is better served by looking past the culturewarriors of the past generation and those sympathetic to that political tussle. No question some among that soldiery were thoughtful, articulate, and smart. But they weren’t the only ones.
I found the following quote slightly amusing:
But at least as many people — and maybe quite a few more — love a “Pope Francis” of their own creation; a Pope who will dispense with all of the most inconvenient Catholic moral demands. When that does not happen — and it finally cannot happen — a lot of people may not be happy, and “tolerance” for the Church may get very scarce, very quickly.
I think we’re already seeing this in some sections of the conservative blogosphere. Most people, perhaps all of us, have brushed up against inconvenient moral demands. Mine are gossip, envy, anger, and pride. Over the past decade-plus online I’ve seen struggles with these, plus charity, hospitality, and some others which may have been tolerated or even encouraged under the previous pope or two. I think of liturgy documents which explicitly endorsed a tattletale culture of complaint. As a bishop, I suspect Charles Chaput is well aware of that tendency.
The struggle is already in place for a small but vocal minority of internet Catholics. This pope already does not satisfy their preferences. If believing and non-believing liberals abandon Pope Francis, it will be a lot quieter than the “true believers.” But I’m not convinced that will happen.
Professor Gerard Bradley of the University of Notre Dame School of Law is a constitutional scholar and a longtime friend of mine. Recently he shared with me his belief that “the most perilous [developing challenge that U.S. Catholics face] has to do with the establishment of ‘sexual health,’ ‘gender identity’ and ‘sexual self-determination’ as paramount goods even for children and minors — such that their parents and the Church become serious threats to these minors’ alleged well-being. In other words, Catholic parenting is in jeopardy of being branded, in relatively short order, as a kind of child abuse, a calumny against which our diminishing religious liberty protections will be thin shields.”
People in every generation wrap themselves in the mantle of some kind of exceptionalism. Sometimes it’s positive. Great generations and golden ages. But my sense is that many people in the past twenty to sixty years have engaged in a sort of pessimistic brand of this. It’s never been so bad. It’s never been as dangerous.
As far as these sexual issues are concerned, I’m far more concerned about the role of corporations and the media in the hypersexualization of Western culture. Sex sells. It’s why women and children are trafficked. It’s used to prop up advertising not only for medical products, but also food, drink, sport, and other things we consume. LGBT activists, even those critical of the Church? Sorry, but I’m a lot more worried about the Disney Channel. And that’s just for starters.
I don’t expect the Catholic hierarchy to speak against the secular establishment on these issues. The issues and how they’re handled seem rather muddied. Television cancels the shows of Jennette McCurdy and the Duggars–doesn’t that show moral policing? Someone transgresses and they resign, get fired, or get cut off in a contract dispute. But it seems that later on, the same person pops up, part of a different department’s hype. The using continues, and I don’t just mean figureheads in the cult of celebrity.
My sense is that Catholics, and anybody else concerned about the problems of modern society might need to look a good bit deeper. Not only bathroom use, but bullying. Not only wedding cakes, but suicides. Self-esteem is a good idea for everybody. It seems to me that’s touched on in the archbishop’s talk. Baptism is a privileged calling, an adoption into the family of God. How do we form people and encourage them that nothing else matters outside of the heritage of mercy and love the Father provides for us in Christ?
The Church will endure and thrive in the years ahead because God wills it so. But a renewal of spirit in the Church of Philadelphia, and elsewhere, depends not on money, or legacy, or buildings, or even a wonderful visit from the Pope — but on the ability of our priests and people to change the way Catholics think about the mandate and the privilege of baptism. If we achieve that as a Church, the rest will follow.
This is where Archbishop Chaput gets it right. A renewal of spirit doesn’t depend on culturewar victory, or safe sex, or the right pundits with the right connections. It is about an unflinching effort to live out one’s baptism. The archbishop is right: this is both a mandate and a privilege. And indeed, the rest will follow.