Of Chaput, Lepanto, and The Call To Fidelity


So I was rather surprise to see that sharing this sentiment from the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen received such a response.  Or perhaps, not terribly surprised at all:

Lepanto is a pretty fringe outfit brother, posting from down in some catacomb bunker. Even Archbishop Chaput called them out recently, if memory serves it was about them sowing division and being a destructive force. Am only commenting because this post is innocuous, and you may not be familiar with their “body of work.”

Archbishop Chaput happens to be one of my favorite American prelates, perhaps more so than the late Francis Cardinal George (who famously predicted that he would die in his bed, but his successors in jail and eventually as martyrs in the public square).

For those not terribly familiar with the Catholic blogosphere, it is much like the political variant, only fewer in number, sharper in personalities… and rarely about the topic.  More tribal than faithful, more political than we politicians could ever imagine, and more egregious than edifying.

…and that’s a charitable description.

Of course, to make matters worse is an enduring split between what is taught in the pews on Sunday and the bureaucratic class that surrounds our bishops and priests — perhaps the defining crisis of the Catholic Church in America and the cautionary warning of Pope Francis not to turn the Catholic Faith into “a pitiful NGO.”

So one couldn’t help but notice that Patheos — where Catholic apologist Mark Shea has been known to write from time to time — chose to randomly repost an article critical of the Lepanto Insitute, authored by Shea himself in a small clip.  Nothing serious… but a bit of backstory might be required.

 In August 2015, the Lepanto Institute spearheaded an investigation into the World Meeting of Families, just before Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia.  The staff at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, rather than dealing with the substance of the concern, fobbed it off:

Neither the World Meeting of Families — Philadelphia 2015 nor any of its leadership supports Planned Parenthood. Lepanto’s sole intention is to create division, confusion, and conflict within the Church. Actions of that nature run contrary to Christian tradition. Their reports are not to be taken seriously.

Small problem with that.  PhillyMag helpfully did some of their own digging into the World Meeting of Families issue and discovered that — lo and behold — Lepanto was right:

It’s true, however, that The World Meeting of Families leadership roster is packed full of members of the Philadelphia Democratic establishment, which generally runs pro-choice. Mayor Michael Nutter and Gov. Tom Wolf are both listed as honorary co-chairs. Other notable politicos include Comcast vice president David Cohen — a top fundraiser for President Obama — who is listed as a co-chair of the organization’s executive leadership cabinet, as is Comcast honcho Brian Roberts, who has given at least $76,000 to Democrats since 2006.

Church Militant TV — a traditional Catholic website designed to promote the Catholic faith — doubled down on the concern:

Faithful Catholics in Philadelphia are raising the question: Why would Abp. Chaput — a prelate known for his orthodox talk — allow a leadership team for the World Meeting of Families to be assembled containing pro-abortion, pro-same-sex “marriage” supporters? Why is the archdiocese denying this in the face of clearly documented proof?

Therein lies the problem.  On the face of evidence, the World Meeting of Families has the participation of folks that are diametrically opposed to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.  No question — which makes the original statement from the Archdiocese of Philadephia’s website marginally concerning (and certainly not pastoral).

Michael Hichborn of the Lepanto Institute restated his case in this light, reminding Kevin Gray — the communications director of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who issued the cutting and non-pastoral remark regarding Lepanto and Church Militant’s motives — that the USCCB directives in this matter are rather clear.

Clarification was requested, with the explicit concern that the World Meeting of Families would not be used to advance any ecumenical standard, but promote some of the very things Catholics in the pews have been taught to resist for some time.

The response?  Came from Archbishop Chaput directly:

Both Lepanto and Church Militant sow division wherever they tread. They do not seem to acknowledge the need to work with civic society and its representatives on a project like the World Meeting of Families. And we are not going to spend/waste time arguing with them. They are sincere, but also destructive. No one on our leadership team supports abortion or Planned Parenthood.  (emphasis added)

Yet in 2008, the World Meeting of Families president did indeed give $1,000 to Planned Parenthood. PhillyMag confirmed that many of the participants had direct connections to pro-abortion activism and causes.

This leaves two possibilities.  Either Chaput completely repudiated his entire life’s work (probably not) or a far simpler explanation is in order.

Chaput — I believe — sincerely believed that the World Meeting of Families remains an opportunity to bear Catholic witness to other faiths.  That is indeed an honorable position, one that many Catholics can (and ought to) embrace.

Yet one month later?  The warnings of Hichborn and Voris panned out:

Nutter urged same-sex attracted persons in the audience to continue fighting, hinting that the Catholic Church under Pope Francis was aiding them in the effort.

“Keep fighting for your rights,” he said. “It’s a collective fight. And there are many others fighting with you.”

Precisely the problem that Lepanto and CMTV wanted to avoid.  Precisely the problem that Chaput probably wanted to combat by bearing witness.  But certainly not the “nothing to see here” attitude that certain members of the Catholic bureaucratic class presented to the public — much less, to the Catholic blogosphere.

Which makes Mark Shea’s happy dance over this happy outcome a bit strange, much less the recent redredging of this episode on Patheos Catholic to the light even more strange.  Why on earth would Shea (and others) bring this back to light?

Why — it wouldn’t have anything to do with Lepanto and CMTV’s recent effort to ban the National Catholic Reporter from USCCB events, would it??

For those unfamiliar with NCR, it is perhaps one of the more progressive media outlets in the Catholic media circle in the United States, and has been ever since it was formally condemned by the local ordinary in 1968 (a ban that NCR has never recognized or obeyed).

Of course, the National Catholic Reporter is not the only target of the Lepanto Insitute:

  • The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) was an early target of a coalition of pro-life organizations, one that stung and has continued to sting.
  • Catholic Relief Services (CRS) — a multi-billion dollar effort that takes a great deal of federal grant money to do projects that when held up to the Magisterium of the Church make pewsitting Catholics squirm — has also been a recent target.
  • The Salesian Missions, caught promoting contraceptives, furiously directed a social media campaign designed to cushion the blow of Lepanto’s investigative report.
  • Caritas International — also a multi-billion dollar industry — has also been caught aligning itself with left-wing social justice organizations.
  • The Sustainable Development Goals pushed by the United Nations have also been caught working against Catholic social teaching — with the help of Catholic-funded organizations.

It’s pretty easy to decipher what Lepanto and CMTV want.  They want to know whether or not these activities are consonant with Catholic moral and social teaching, and if not (and it’s pretty clear they are not) then they are asking (1) either the USCCB to do something about it or (2) for Catholics in the pews to apply their conscience and refuse to support organizations working against what Catholics believe.

The same goes for National “Catholic” Reporter and the Catholic bureaucratic class.  No question that those who have been the previous target of investigations are now circling the wagons, e-mailing their fellow bureaucrats to tell the bishops that the USCCB is next — when the truth of the matter is that National Catholic Reporter is a multi-million dollar outlet that sows a great deal of confusion among the Catholic faithful — and for a purpose.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus — founder of the journal First Things and of happy memory — was fond of reminding folks that the solution for what ails the Catholic Church in modern times:

“These are things in the Church that are not policies. They are doctrines, and they aren’t ever going to be negotiable. For us to explain ourselves as a Church, we need to say that.” Goodstein writes: “A vast majority of bishops are company men, appointed by and loyal to Pope John Paul II. At the Washington meeting, they made it clear that those who were looking to them for innovation would be disappointed.” She concludes her account with this: “There is one antidote to the abuse crisis, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus said at a recent forum. That, he said, is ‘Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.’”

Ms. Goodstein got an important part of the story right. The gravity that I mentioned is the order of the day. For most, if not all, of the bishops, the silly season is over, the era of wink and nudge is definitively past, the bishops are back in charge. But, pace Ms. Goodstein, to be loyal to John Paul II is more than a matter of being a company man, and fidelity is about much more than toeing the line. Fidelity is the high adventure of following John Paul in effectively teaching the vibrant orthodoxy of the radical call to holiness. Fidelity requires change and, yes, innovation in obedience to the truth of the faith. Fidelity is the excitement of discovering and living the living tradition of the saints, past and present. Fidelity is the surrender of self to Christ and his Church. Fidelity is the courage to be different, to lovingly engage the culture and, when necessary, to be countercultural and even contra mundum. Fidelity is the alternative to the dreary conformism that produced this season of outrage and shame. Fidelity is conversion.

The sons and daughters of the John Paul II Generation — who are about to brave a historic snowstorm to stand faithful for the sanctity of human life later this week — are not marching out of loyalty, or doctrine, or because they wish to stand contra mundum as Lepanto and CMTV are seen to do.  Rather, the pro-life movement marches out of fidelity — to faith, to Church, to Christ.

That fidelity is difficult for the layers upon layers of bureaucracy to see, especially when paychecks and livelihoods depend on the perpetuation of the bureaucracy.

With such layers, it is sometimes hard to see the perspective and confusion of the faithful clearly.  Such a church — I believe — is the church Pope Francis is asking Catholics to rattle up a bit, one that is designed and capable of overcoming the acedia of the modern age.  To wit:

Other Church institutions, basic communities and small communities, movements, and forms of association are a source of enrichment for the Church, raised up by the Spirit for evangelizing different areas and sectors. Frequently they bring a new evangelizing fervour and a new capacity for dialogue with the world whereby the Church is renewed. But it will prove beneficial for them not to lose contact with the rich reality of the local parish and to participate readily in the overall pastoral activity of the particular Church. This kind of integration will prevent them from concentrating only on part of the Gospel or the Church, or becoming nomads without roots.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput in his 2014 Erasmus Lecture epitomized the need for Catholics to distance themselves from the political environment of the day, so as to capture an authentic Catholicism in the public square.  The attention paid to authors such as Romano Guardini speak true, and the call towards a radicalism more radical than Alinsky certainly touched many who read it:

We have all the resources we need. The late Saul Alinsky called himself a radical, and he was clearly good at what he did. But I’ve always felt that his book, Rules for Radicals, was a kind of “Machiavelli for people with short attention spans.” His rules, pressure tactics, deceits, manipulations, and organizing skills are finally based on a fraud. They’re not “progressive” at all. They’re the same tired grasping for power that made the world what it is. The truth is, Alinsky wasn’t nearly radical enough. Radical means this:

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Blessed are the merciful.
Blessed are the pure in heart.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for ­righteousness.

I am not convinced that those who are shielding the Catholic Church’s coterie of NGOs are working towards this sort of radicalism or abandonment.  I am beyond certain that, as Chaput heard or read Philadelphia Mayor Nutter’s remarks at the World Meeting of Families, Chaput profoundly disagreed with the statements made by such progressives.

Lepanto and Church Militant — disagree as some of the Catholic bureaucratic class may — were absolutely right to warn folks about the malignant intentions that underlay and undermined what leaders such as Chaput (and perhaps others) were trying to counteract.

What is clear here is that our bishops and priests need our prayers, so that they can live up to the call of Francis and the legacy of those such as Fr. Neuhaus.  Archbishop Chaput is one of the good guys — this I firmly believe — as are those who are begging the USCCB for stronger clarity on matters  of moral import.  If “fidelity, fidelity, fidelity” is the calling card of the JP II Generation, then those who are able to thread the needle and apply the Catholic Faith to modern times are of invaluable service.

That first clarifying step is a tough one, but a courageous one that will help provide that Catholic voice free of political contagion — one that many Catholics are not confident we have today.

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