Archbishop Chaput: a good man who
should be a Cardinal soon. GS
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Archbishop Chaput on Liberty and Mission
Events Suggest an Emerging, Systematic Discrimination
SPISSKE PODHRADIE, Slovakia, AUG. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the
text of an address Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Colorado, gave
Tuesday in Slovakia. The address was titled "Living Within the Truth:
Religious Liberty and Catholic Mission in the New Order of the World."
Tertullian once famously said that the blood of martyrs is the seed of
the Church. History has proven that to be true. And Slovakia is the
perfect place for us to revisit his words today. Here, and throughout
Central and Eastern Europe, Catholics suffered through 50 years of Nazi
and Soviet murder regimes. So they know the real cost of Christian
witness from bitter experience -- and also, unfortunately, the cost of
cowardice, collaboration and self-delusion in the face of evil.
I want to begin by suggesting that many Catholics in the United States
and Western Europe today simply don't understand those costs. Nor do
they seem to care. As a result, many are indifferent to the process in
our countries that social scientists like to call "secularization" --
but which, in practice, involves repudiating the Christian roots and
soul of our civilization.
American Catholics have no experience of the systematic repression so
familiar to your Churches. It's true that anti-Catholic prejudice has
always played a role in American life. This bigotry came first from my
country's dominant Protestant culture, and now from its
"post-Christian" leadership classes. But this is quite different from
deliberate persecution. In general, Catholics have thrived in the
United States. The reason is simple. America has always had a broadly
Christian and religion-friendly moral foundation, and our public
institutions were established as non-sectarian, not anti-religious.
At the heart of the American experience is an instinctive "biblical
realism." From our Protestant inheritance we have always -- at least
until now -- understood two things at a deep level. First, sin is real,
and men and women can be corrupted by power and prosperity. Second, the
"city of God" is something very distinct from the "city of man." And we
are wary of ever confusing the two.
Alexis de Tocqueville, in his Democracy in America, wrote: "Despotism
can do without faith, but liberty cannot ... " Therefore, "What is to
be done with a people that is its own master, if it is not obedient to
America's founders were a diverse group of practicing Christians and
Enlightenment deists. But nearly all were friendly to religious faith.
They believed a free people cannot remain free without religious faith
and the virtues that it fosters. They sought to keep Church and state
separate and autonomous. But their motives were very different from the
revolutionary agenda in Europe. The American founders did not confuse
the state with civil society. They had no desire for a radically
secularized public life. They had no intent to lock religion away from
public affairs. On the contrary, they wanted to guarantee citizens the
freedom to live their faith publicly and vigorously, and to bring their
religious convictions to bear on the building of a just society.
Obviously, we need to remember that other big differences do exist
between the American and European experiences. Europe has suffered some
of the worst wars and violent regimes in human history. The United
States has not seen a war on its soil in 150 years. Americans have no
experience of bombed-out cities or social collapse, and little
experience of poverty, ideological politics or hunger. As a result, the
past has left many Europeans with a worldliness and a pessimism that
seem very different from the optimism that marks American society. But
these differences don't change the fact that our paths into the future
are now converging. Today, in an era of global interconnection, the
challenges that confront Catholics in America are much the same as in
Europe: We face an aggressively secular political vision and a
consumerist economic model that result -- in practice, if not in
explicit intent -- in a new kind of state-encouraged atheism.
To put it another way: The Enlightenment-derived worldview that gave
rise to the great murder ideologies of the last century remains very
much alive. Its language is softer, its intentions seem kinder, and its
face is friendlier. But its underlying impulse hasn't changed -- i.e.,
the dream of building a society apart from God; a world where men and
women might live wholly sufficient unto themselves, satisfying their
needs and desires through their own ingenuity.
This vision presumes a frankly "post-Christian" world ruled by
rationality, technology and good social engineering. Religion has a
place in this worldview, but only as an individual lifestyle accessory.
People are free to worship and believe whatever they want, so long as
they keep their beliefs to themselves and do not presume to intrude
their religious idiosyncrasies on the workings of government, the
economy, or culture.
Now, at first hearing, this might sound like a reasonable way to
organize a modern society that includes a wide range of ethnic,
religious and cultural traditions, different philosophies of life and
approaches to living.
But we're immediately struck by two unpleasant details.
First, "freedom of worship" is not at all the same thing as "freedom of
religion." Religious freedom includes the right to preach, teach,
assemble, organize, and to engage society and its issues publicly, both
as individuals and joined together as communities of faith. This is the
classic understanding of a citizen's right to the "free exercise" of
his or her religion in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
It's also clearly implied in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights. In contrast, freedom of worship is a much smaller and
more restrictive idea.
Second, how does the rhetoric of enlightened, secular tolerance square
with the actual experience of faithful Catholics in Europe and North
America in recent years?
In the United States, a nation that is still 80 percent Christian with
a high degree of religious practice, government agencies now
increasingly seek to dictate how Church ministries should operate, and
to force them into practices that would destroy their Catholic
identity. Efforts have been made to discourage or criminalize the
expression of certain Catholic beliefs as "hate speech." Our courts and
legislatures now routinely take actions that undermine marriage and
family life, and seek to scrub our public life of Christian symbolism
and signs of influence.
In Europe, we see similar trends, although marked by a more open
contempt for Christianity. Church leaders have been reviled in the
media and even in the courts for simply expressing Catholic teaching.
Some years ago, as many of you may recall, one of the leading Catholic
politicians of our generation, Rocco Buttiglione, was denied a
leadership post in the European Union because of his Catholic beliefs.
Earlier this summer we witnessed the kind of vindictive thuggery not
seen on this continent since the days of Nazi and Soviet police
methods: the Archbishop's palace in Brussels raided by agents; bishops
detained and interrogated for nine hours without due process; their
private computers, cell phones, and files seized. Even the graves of
the Church's dead were violated in the raid. For most Americans, this
sort of calculated, public humiliation of religious leaders would be an
outrage and an abuse of state power. And this is not because of the
virtues or the sins of the specific religious leaders involved, since
we all have a duty to obey just laws. Rather, it's an outrage because
the civil authority, by its harshness, shows contempt for the beliefs
and the believers whom the leaders represent.
My point is this: These are not the actions of governments that see the
Catholic Church as a valued partner in their plans for the 21st
century. Quite the opposite. These events suggest an emerging,
systematic discrimination against the Church that now seems inevitable.
Today's secularizers have learned from the past. They are more adroit
in their bigotry; more elegant in their public relations; more
intelligent in their work to exclude the Church and individual
believers from influencing the moral life of society. Over the next
several decades, Christianity will become a faith that can speak in the
public square less and less freely. A society where faith is prevented
from vigorous public expression is a society that has fashioned the
state into an idol. And when the state becomes an idol, men and women
become the sacrificial offering.
Cardinal Henri de Lubac once wrote that "It is not true that man cannot
organize the world without God. What is true, is that without God,
[man] can ultimately only organize it against man. Exclusive humanism
is inhuman humanism."
The West is now steadily moving in the direction of that new "inhuman
humanism." And if the Church is to respond faithfully, we need to draw
upon the lessons that your Churches learned under totalitarianism.
A Catholicism of resistance must be based on trust in Christ's words:
"The truth will make you free." This trust gave you insight into the
nature of totalitarian regimes. It helped you articulate new ways of
discipleship. Rereading the words of the Czech leader Václav
prepare for this talk, I was struck by the profound Christian humanism
of his idea of "living within the truth." Catholics today need to see
their discipleship and mission as precisely that: "living within the
Living within the truth means living according to Jesus Christ and
God's Word in Sacred Scripture. It means proclaiming the truth of the
Christian Gospel, not only by our words but by our example. It means
living every day and every moment from the unshakeable conviction that
God lives, and that his love is the motive force of human history and
the engine of every authentic human life. It means believing that the
truths of the Creed are worth suffering and dying for.
Living within the truth also means telling the truth and calling things
by their right names. And that means exposing the lies by which some
men try to force others to live.
Two of the biggest lies in the world today are these: first, that
Christianity was of relatively minor importance in the development of
the West; and second, that Western values and institutions can be
sustained without a grounding in Christian moral principles.
Before I talk about these two falsehoods, we should pause a moment to
think about the meaning of history.
History is not simply about learning facts. History is a form of
memory, and memory is a foundation stone of self-identity. Facts are
useless without a context of meaning. The unique genius and meaning of
Western civilization cannot be understood without the 20 centuries of
Christian context in which they developed. A people who do not know
their history, do not know themselves. They are a people doomed to
repeat the mistakes of their past because they cannot see what the
present -- which always flowers out of the past -- requires of them.
People who forget who they are can be much more easily manipulated.
This was dramatized famously in Orwell's image of the "memory hole" in
his novel 1984. Today, the history of the Church and the legacy of
Western Christianity are being pushed down the memory hole. This is the
first lie that we need to face.
Downplaying the West's Christian past is sometimes done with the best
intentions, from a desire to promote peaceful co-existence in a
pluralistic society. But more frequently it's done to marginalize
Christians and to neutralize the Church's public witness.
The Church needs to name and fight this lie. To be a European or an
American is to be heir to a profound Christian synthesis of Greek
philosophy and art, Roman law, and biblical truth. This synthesis gave
rise to the Christian humanism that undergirds all of Western
On this point, we might remember the German Lutheran scholar and
pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He wrote these words in the months leading
up to his arrest by the Gestapo in 1943: "The unity of the West is not
an idea but a historical reality, of which the sole foundation is
Our societies in the West are Christian by birth, and their survival
depends on the endurance of Christian values. Our core principles and
political institutions are based, in large measure, on the morality of
the Gospel and the Christian vision of man and government. We are
talking here not only about Christian theology or religious ideas. We
are talking about the moorings of our societies -- representative
government and the separation of powers; freedom of religion and
conscience; and most importantly, the dignity of the human person.
This truth about the essential unity of the West has a corollary, as
Bonhoeffer also observed: Take away Christ and you remove the only
reliable foundation for our values, institutions and way of life.
That means we cannot dispense with our history out of some superficial
concern over offending our non-Christian neighbors. Notwithstanding the
chatter of the "new atheists" there is no risk that Christianity will
ever be forced upon people anywhere in the West. The only "confessional
states" in the world today are those ruled by Islamist or atheist
dictatorships -- regimes that have rejected the Christian West's belief
in individual rights and the balance of powers.
I would argue that the defense of Western ideals is the only protection
that we and our neighbors have against a descent into new forms of
repression -- whether it might be at the hands of extremist Islam or
But indifference to our Christian past contributes to indifference
about defending our values and institutions in the present. And this
brings me to the second big lie by which we live today -- the lie that
there is no unchanging truth.
Relativism is now the civil religion and public philosophy of the West.
Again, the arguments made for this viewpoint can seem persuasive. Given
the pluralism of the modern world, it might seem to make sense that
society should want to affirm that no one individual or group has a
monopoly on truth; that what one person considers to be good and
desirable another may not; and that all cultures and religions should
be respected as equally valid.
In practice, however, we see that without a belief in fixed moral
principles and transcendent truths, our political institutions and
language become instruments in the service of a new barbarism. In the
name of tolerance we come to tolerate the cruelest intolerance; respect
for other cultures comes to dictate disparagement of our own; the
teaching of "live and let live" justifies the strong living at the
expense of the weak.
This diagnosis helps us understand one of the foundational injustices
in the West today -- the crime of abortion.
I realize that the abortion license is a matter of current law in
almost every nation in the West. In some cases, this license reflects
the will of the majority and is enforced through legal and democratic
means. And I'm aware that many people, even in the Church, find it
strange that we Catholics in America still make the sanctity of unborn
life so central to our public witness.
Let me tell you why I believe abortion is the crucial issue of our age.
First, because abortion, too, is about living within the truth. The
right to life is the foundation of every other human right. If that
right is not inviolate, then no right can be guaranteed.
Or to put it more bluntly: Homicide is homicide, no matter how small
Here's another truth that many persons in the Church have not yet fully
reckoned: The defense of newborn and preborn life has been a central
element of Catholic identity since the Apostolic Age.
I'll say that again: From the earliest days of the Church, to be
Catholic has meant refusing in any way to participate in the crime of
abortion -- either by seeking an abortion, performing one, or making
this crime possible through actions or inactions in the political or
judicial realm. More than that, being Catholic has meant crying out
against all that offends the sanctity and dignity of life as it has
been revealed by Jesus Christ.
The evidence can be found in the earliest documents of Church history.
In our day -- when the sanctity of life is threatened not only by
abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, but also by embryonic research
and eugenic temptations to eliminate the weak, the disabled and the
infirm elderly -- this aspect of Catholic identity becomes even more
vital to our discipleship.
My point in mentioning abortion is this: Its widespread acceptance in
the West shows us that without a grounding in God or a higher truth,
our democratic institutions can very easily become weapons against our
own human dignity.
Our most cherished values cannot be defended by reason alone, or simply
for their own sake. They have no self-sustaining or "internal"
There is no inherently logical or utilitarian reason why society should
respect the rights of the human person. There is even less reason for
recognizing the rights of those whose lives impose burdens on others,
as is the case with the child in the womb, the terminally ill, or the
physically or mentally disabled.
If human rights do not come from God, then they devolve to the
arbitrary conventions of men and women. The state exists to defend the
rights of man and to promote his flourishing. The state can never be
the source of those rights. When the state arrogates to itself that
power, even a democracy can become totalitarian.
What is legalized abortion but a form of intimate violence that clothes
itself in democracy? The will to power of the strong is given the force
of law to kill the weak.
That is where we are heading in the West today. And we've been there
before. Slovaks and many other Central and Eastern Europeans have lived
I suggested earlier that the Church's religious liberty is under
assault today in ways not seen since the Nazi and Communist eras. I
believe we are now in the position to better understand why.
Writing in the 1960s, Richard Weaver, an American scholar and social
philosopher, said: "I am absolutely convinced that relativism must
eventually lead to a regime of force."
He was right. There is a kind of "inner logic" that leads relativism to
This explains the paradox of how Western societies can preach tolerance
and diversity while aggressively undermining and penalizing Catholic
life. The dogma of tolerance cannot tolerate the Church's belief that
some ideas and behaviors should not be tolerated because they
dehumanize us. The dogma that all truths are relative cannot allow the
thought that some truths might not be.
The Catholic beliefs that most deeply irritate the orthodoxies of the
West are those concerning abortion, sexuality and the marriage of man
and woman. This is no accident. These Christian beliefs express the
truth about human fertility, meaning and destiny.
These truths are subversive in a world that would have us believe that
God is not necessary and that human life has no inherent nature or
purpose. Thus the Church must be punished because, despite all the sins
and weaknesses of her people, she is still the bride of Jesus Christ;
still a source of beauty, meaning and hope that refuses to die -- and
still the most compelling and dangerous heretic of the world's new
Let me sum up what I've been saying.
My first point is this: Ideas have consequences. And bad ideas have bad
consequences. Today we are living in a world that is under the sway of
some very destructive ideas, the worst being that men and women can
live as if God does not matter and as if the Son of God never walked
this earth. As a result of these bad ideas, the Church's freedom to
exercise her mission is under attack. We need to understand why that
is, and we need to do something about it.
My second point is simply this: We can no longer afford to treat the
debate over secularization -- which really means cauterizing
Christianity out of our cultural memory -- as if it's a problem for
Church professionals. The emergence of a "new Europe" and a "next
America" rooted in something other than the real facts of our
Christian-shaped history will have damaging consequences for every
We need not and should not abandon the hard work of honest dialogue.
Far from it. The Church always needs to seek friendships, areas of
agreement, and ways to make positive, reasoned arguments in the public
square. But it's foolish to expect gratitude or even respect from our
governing and cultural leadership classes today. Naïve imprudence
not an evangelical virtue.
The temptation in every age of the Church is to try to get along with
Caesar. And it's very true: Scripture tells us to respect and pray for
our leaders. We need to have a healthy love for the countries we call
home. But we can never render unto Caesar what belongs to God. We need
to obey God first; the obligations of political authority always come
second. We cannot collaborate with evil without gradually becoming evil
ourselves. This is one of the most vividly harsh lessons of the 20th
century. And it's a lesson that I hope we have learned.
That brings me to my third and final point today: We live in a time
when the Church is called to be a believing community of resistance. We
need to call things by their true names. We need to fight the evils we
see. And most importantly, we must not delude ourselves into thinking
that by going along with the voices of secularism and
de-Christianization we can somehow mitigate or change things. Only the
Truth can set men free. We need to be apostles of Jesus Christ and the
Truth he incarnates.
So what does this mean for us as individual disciples? Let me offer a
few suggestions by way of a conclusion.
My first suggestion comes again from the great witness against the
paganism of the Third Reich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "The renewal of the
Western world lies solely in the divine renewal of the Church, which
leads her to the fellowship of the risen and living Jesus Christ."
The world urgently needs a re-awakening of the Church in our actions
and in our public and private witness. The world needs each of us to
come to a deeper experience of our Risen Lord in the company of our
fellow believers. The renewal of the West depends overwhelmingly on our
faithfulness to Jesus Christ and his Church.
We need to really believe what we say we believe. Then we need to prove
it by the witness of our lives. We need to be so convinced of the
truths of the Creed that we are on fire to live by these truths, to
love by these truths, and to defend these truths, even to the point of
our own discomfort and suffering.
We are ambassadors of the living God to a world that is on the verge of
forgetting him. Our work is to make God real; to be the face of his
love; to propose once more to the men and women of our day, the
dialogue of salvation.
The lesson of the 20th century is that there is no cheap grace. This
God whom we believe in, this God who loved the world so much that he
sent his only Son to suffer and die for it, demands that we live the
same bold, sacrificial pattern of life shown to us by Jesus Christ.
The form of the Church, and the form of every Christian life, is the
form of the cross. Our lives must become a liturgy, a self-offering
that embodies the love of God and the renewal of the world.
The great Slovak martyrs of the past knew this. And they kept this
truth alive when the bitter weight of hatred and totalitarianism
pressed upon your people. I'm thinking especially right now of your
heroic bishops, Blessed Vasil Hopko and Pavel Gojdic, and the heroic
sister, Blessed Zdenka Schelingová.
We need to keep this beautiful mandate of Sister Zdenka close to our
"My sacrifice, my holy Mass, begins in daily life. From the altar of
the Lord I go to the altar of my work. I must be able to continue the
sacrifice of the altar in every situation. It is Christ whom we must
proclaim through our lives, to him we offer the sacrifice of our own
Let us preach Jesus Christ with all the energy of our lives. And let us
support each other -- whatever the cost -- so that when we make our
accounting to the Lord, we will be numbered among the faithful and
courageous, and not the cowardly or the evasive, or those who
compromised until there was nothing left of their convictions; or those
who were silent when they should have spoken the right word at the
right time. Thank you. And God bless all of you.