The intentional mischaracterization of Archbishop Charles Chaput has been rampant in recent years, especially this past year. But in truth he is one of the shining examples of faith in the Church today.
In the Philadelphia Daily News, an immigration lawyer named Christine Flowers defended Archbishop Chaput’s reputation. She doesn’t attack the media. Instead, which I think is more effective, she relates to readers a story about the man she knows; Archbishop Chaput.
A few months ago, I was representing a woman from El Salvador who was seeking asylum in the United States. I don’t need to go into her story of abuse, but there was a unique aspect of the case: she is a devout Catholic.
She was beaten and terrorized by her abuser, who resented the importance of the church in her life. He tried to prevent her from attending Mass, and ridiculed her devotion to Mary.
He beat her so badly that she lost the baby she was carrying. Then, he taunted her with the fact that she’d had “an abortion,” something so devastating to this poor woman that she is still haunted with guilt.
My client was very close to her godfather, a parish priest in a small town near San Salvador. Their bond was so strong that he flew to the United States to be a character witness for her, and to testify to horrors he himself had suffered at the hands of gang members. It’s not safe to be a Catholic these days in Central America.
When I met Padre Carlos, he asked me a favor. He wanted to meet Archbishop Chaput, a man he had heard about when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Padre Carlos’ schedule was tight and he was headed back to his parish the next day – despite my urging that he should file for asylum.
I contacted the Archbishop, not sure whether he had any time for us. The answer came back immediately: “Come by this afternoon at 4:00.”
I led a crew of four Salvadorans: my client, her two brothers and Padre Carlos. We wend from Immigration Court at 9th and Market to the Archdiocese on Race Street, with a brief detour to Starbucks because Padre Carlos loved mochas. Archbishop Chaput and one of the Spanish-speaking priests at the archdiocese greeted us warmly.
I watched as Padre Carlos told the Archbishop of his work in El Salvador, of his fears and of his determination to go back home and serve his people. The Archbishop was visibly moved, and showed immense respect and kindness to this brother in Christ. The Archbishop, though busy, wasn’t rushed. He focused on his guests as if they were the only people in the world.
A gracious host, he gave us hugs and blessings as we left.
This is the image I have of Charles Chaput. That’s why I couldn’t recognize the picture that was painted of the man in an article that appeared this week, criticizing the prelate for his conservatism, his half-hearted support for Donald Trump and his “rigidity.”
The writer suggested that the Pope, amply praised, would likely not elevate Chaput to the college of Cardinals with their accompanying signature red hats. But, the Archbishop, the writer said, was suited for “a red Trump hat.”
Everyone is entitled to an opinion and I, of all people, have to acknowledge that. I am also aware that there is a large contingent in Philadelphia that has a problem with Archbishop Chaput because he isn’t “touchy-feely” in the manner of other clergyman and maintains a deep appreciation for the tradition, structure and culture of Catholicism.
He is a man of great erudition. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read his newest book “Strangers in a Strange Land,” but I have practically memorized his “Render Unto Caesar.” The older book sets out a blueprint for how to live as a Catholic in the secular world, balancing obligations to Caesar against our duty to our faithful selves.
His words have helped me in many a rhetorical battle with the “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” types.
But what I find particularly unfair in the profiles of Archbishop Chaput is the seeming shock at a man who reiterates obvious and established principles such as abortion is a sin, same sex marriage is not recognized by the church and there is no authority for the ordination of women, let alone a married priesthood.
Ah, but isn’t it “obvious and established principles” that are actually under attack? The problem isn’t Archbishop Chaput per se. It is the institution he represents -The Church. It is the Church that must be, if not destroyed, driven to scorn and irrelevance. It is precisely because Archbishop Chaput is an example of fidelity to the Church that he is in the crosshairs of the culture.
Thanks to Christine Flowers for defending a good man. He deserves it. So does the Church.