John Allen, Jr., conducts a long and wide-ranging interview with Abp. Charles Chaput, touching on a host of issues, including the recent trial of Monsignor Flynn, the financial woes of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Catholic schools and teachers, the Year of Faith, and the Archbishop’s plans for the future (he has no interest in being president of USCCB or of eventually being appointed to the Curia). And this, about politics:
We’re speaking on the night Barack Obama is delivering his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Let me ask flat-out: Do you believe a Catholic in good faith can vote for Obama?
I can only speak in terms of my own personal views. I certainly can’t vote for somebody who’s either pro-choice or pro-abortion.
I’m not a Republican and I’m not a Democrat. I’m registered as an independent, because I don’t think the church should be identified with one party or another. As an individual and voter I have deep personal concerns about any party that supports changing the definition of marriage, supports abortion in all circumstances, wants to restrict the traditional understanding of religious freedom. Those kinds of issues cause me a great deal of uneasiness.
What about the wing of the church that says a party that supports the Ryan budget also ought to cause concern?
Jesus tells us very clearly that if we don’t help the poor, we’re going to go to hell. Period. There’s just no doubt about it. That has to be a foundational concern of Catholics and of all Christians. But Jesus didn’t say the government has to take care of them, or that we have to pay taxes to take care of them. Those are prudential judgments. Anybody who would condemn someone because of their position on taxes is making a leap that I can’t make as a Catholic. … You can’t say that somebody’s not Christian because they want to limit taxation. Again, I’m speaking only for myself, but I think that’s a legitimate position. It may not be the correct one, but it’s certainly a legitimate Catholic position; and to say that it’s somehow intrinsically evil like abortion doesn’t make any sense at all.
That said, do you find the Ryan budget troubling?
The Ryan budget isn’t the budget I would write. I think he’s trying to deal with the same issue in the government I’m dealing with here locally, which is spending more than we bring in. I admire the courage of anyone who’s actually trying to solve the problems rather than paper over them. I think a vigorous debate about the issues, rather than the personalities, is the way through this problem. It’s immoral for us to continue to spend money we don’t have. I think that those persons who don’t want to deal with the issue are, in some ways, doing wrong by putting it off for their own political protection or the protection of their party.
Religious freedom has become the signature issue for the bishops’conference. Was the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ a success?
It was a success in the sense that it brought this issue to greater awareness in the lives of many Catholics. In terms of really changing either the church or the national situation concretely, we have to yet to see its effects. The history of the world demonstrates that if we aren’t always on guard about religious freedom, we’ll lose it. It happens everywhere, and it could happen in the United States.
Church officials in Europe, bishops and cardinals, have told me that they’re astonished there is an actual threat to religious freedom in the United States. They’ve always seen us as embodying religious freedom more clearly than any other government or country in the history of the world. It’s also surprising to me. I would never have thought, even ten years ago, that we would be dealing with it so quickly. What opened my eyes was my service to the United States as a member of the Commission on International Religious Freedom. I saw things in Western Europe that disturbed me in terms of limitations on religious freedom, mostly for non-Christian groups such as the Muslims. I thought that if Western Europe could do this, it could happen in the United States too.
Also tonight, Cardinal Timothy Dolan is delivering a benediction at the DNC, after having done the same thing for the Republicans. In 2008, you didn’t offer a benediction for the DNC when it met in Denver. Had you been invited, would you have accepted?
I was safe from making that decision because they didn’t invite me. It would have been very hard for me to have done it without saying things about abortion and the meaning of marriage. If they would be willing to let me be myself and say something about my convictions in my prayer, then I would have prayed. If they would have restricted my freedom about what I thought should be said, I wouldn’t have accepted.
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