Yesterday, in the first part of my response to retired Archbishop Charles Chaput’s interview with the Pillar, I challenged the 78-year-old’s rejection of the concept of synodality and his denial that it was the fruit of Vatican II. Although he wouldn’t explicitly admit to being an anti-Francis bishop, Chaput did categorically dismiss the central theme of the past five years of Francis’s pontificate. That alone indicates that “anti-Francis” is a fair categorization for Chaput. Unfortunately, it seems Chaput’s opposition to the pope runs even deeper, into matters of doctrine and Magisterial authority.
As I mentioned in my previous article, Archbishop Chaput has been reluctant to state his concerns openly and explicitly about Pope Francis. And in the interview, rather than speaking about these matters directly, he attempts to direct blame towards the pope’s defenders, saying that their defenses lack substance, asserting that, “Turning serious doctrinal concerns into a personality debate is just a convenient way of evading the substantive issues that need to be addressed.”
Yet it’s possible that there isn’t a bishop in the public square who has been less forthright about his own opinions than Archbishop Chaput. For example, in the interview, he says, “I do think the Holy Father’s annual addresses to the curia, which are a matter of public record, have been excessively dark. I’m not sure they inspire or motivate anybody.” If he believes these speeches are dark and uninspiring, he never says why. (Personally, I think they’re great but he’s never asked me.) What is it about these speeches that he dislikes? Why does he find them uninspiring? It’s fair to say that as speeches go, they’re hardly boring and often provocative. Is there something in these speeches that causes him to react negatively? Where’s the beef? Where’s the substance behind this critique?
Indeed, throughout this papacy, Chaput has been less than forthright about his opinions and we can only guess the full range of Francis-related issues that concern Archbishop Chaput. He has written about a few of them publicly, however. As we review these cases, let us ask whether he has taken his own advice. Has he discussed the substantive issues surrounding this papacy openly and seriously, or has he turned “serious doctrinal concerns into a personality debate”?
The Bill Barr Award
In September 2020, Archbishop Chaput published his undelivered keynote address to the Catholic Prayer Breakfast (which is not officially sanctioned by the Catholic Church) on the website of the journal First Things, “in support of the prayer breakfast and General Barr.” At the time, Adam Rasmussen wrote about the scandal this created, given that in Barr’s role as attorney general, he had already ordered and carried out five federal executions and was planning more. Chaput, however, only had good things to say about Barr:
We’re honoring Attorney General Barr today, and I have a word to say about that. It’s “amen.” I heard him speak at Notre Dame last October, and I was deeply impressed by two things: the content of his remarks, and the fact that he obviously meant them. Throughout my life, the men and women I’ve most admired have all had the same qualities: a thinking Catholic brain, a character of substance, and a moral spine. General Barr has all three. As an added bonus, he’s disliked by all the right people. I want to thank the various and interesting critics of General Barr for confirming me in that judgment.
Here, Chaput ignores the fact that Barr was acting openly in opposition to the Church’s teaching on the death penalty while praising Barr’s personal qualities. Chaput also says that his judgement of Barr was confirmed because “he’s disliked by all the right people.” Chaput avoids the substance — the primary reason why Catholics were voicing concerns — that Barr was in the middle of an execution spree. The archbishop takes delight in the idea that the “right people” dislike Barr. To my knowledge, Chaput has never apologized or clarified these statements. He’s never gone into the substance of the matter nor tried to provide a moral justification for his words.
Was Chaput’s “substantive issue” the thought of sticking a thumb in the eye of the pope? Was it lending credence during an election season to a political figure who was openly defying the Magisterium? Was it doctrinal dissent? A “subtle” protest against the pope’s authority? He doesn’t say. All we know is that he likes Barr personally and he dislikes those who don’t like Barr. There’s very little substance in that. All we can do is speculate.
It should be noted, therefore, that on the subject of the death penalty — even though he has spoken in opposition to it — Chaput has not, to my knowledge, ever spoken about Pope Francis’s change to the Catechism on the subject. For example, in a 2019 statement against (ironically) the federal government’s reinstatement of the death penalty, he re-published one of his own statements from 2005, adding, “Nothing of substance has changed in 2019.” Perhaps not in 2019, but in 2018 there was a major development in Catholic teaching. What does he think about the substance of that teaching?
As Catholics, we believe that the death penalty is not merely “needless and wrong,” as Chaput writes. It is inadmissible, according to the Magisterium. Why not mention it? Or does Chaput fall into the group of Catholics who “personally oppose the death penalty” but who think Pope Francis’s teachings are erroneous?
Where’s the doctrinal substance, Archbishop Chaput? Why didn’t you mention Bill Barr’s record on the death penalty? What do you think of Pope Francis’s revision of number 2267 in the Catechism? Let’s have this discussion about the substance. What are your concerns?
The Work of the Devil
In 2021, Archbishop Chaput wrote a column in the aftermath of Pope Francis’s statement that Catholic media company EWTN was doing “the work of the devil.” He spent much of the column suggesting that the criticism hurled at the pope by the network was the pope’s personal problem (“It’s surprising to hear any pope be so publicly and personally sensitive to perceived ill will from a few commentators at a modest network”), and spent the rest of the article making personal attacks on Austen Ivereigh and other defenders of the pope.
Chaput’s classification of the pope’s comments as “publicly and personally sensitive” are interesting, especially because Pope Francis was clear that his criticism of EWTN was not personal. Here is what Francis told a gathering of Jesuits in Slovakia about EWTN (emphasis added):
There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope. I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.
The way Pope Francis is treated by many Catholic public figures and media entities is truly scandalous. He is right, “the Church does not deserve them.” It’s harming the Church. How can so much antipathy towards the pope not hurt the Church? Yet nonstop opposition is the name of the game when the goal is to ruin this papacy. This is enabled by clerics like Chaput, when they write things like:
As an EWTN board member for many years before retiring, I’m well acquainted with the network’s shortcomings. It can always improve. But it has managed to serve the gospel for decades now with skill and endurance where many others have failed.
Although the archbishop claims to be “well acquainted with the network’s shortcomings,” he never gives us the substance. He won’t say what these shortcomings are, and he seems to disagree wholeheartedly with the shortcomings described by the pope and his supporters. And once again, he turns substantive criticisms of EWTN into a personality debate:
Thus, it’s hard to read critics of the network without also sniffing their peculiar cologne of faux piety, jealousy, and resentment. EWTN’s achievements deserve praise and warrant pride. I admire the dedication of its leaders and staff. I’m grateful for the network’s service to the Word of God. And any suggestion that EWTN is unfaithful to the Church, the Second Vatican Council, or the Holy See is simply vindictive and false.
Is he joking? Plenty of Catholics, including contributors at Where Peter Is, have chronicled countless instances of dissent, rebellion, and opposition to the pope and his teachings on EWTN. EWTN has platformed books, political figures, dissidents, and extremists on their network, and the common thread between all of them is opposition to the pope. But these are the sorts of things he has to say about critics of the network:
No pontificate is well served when its promoters show contempt and belligerence toward perceived enemies. That kind of flackery simply produces more, and even more determined, critics who do indeed elide into enemies. One can hope that Pope Francis understands this. In the meantime, it’s worth stressing that the latest attacks on EWTN are both ugly and unjust, and calling them something else is, to borrow a thought from Mr. Ivereigh, “just putting lipstick on a pig.”
Contempt, belligerence, flackery — this is how Archbishop Chaput sees criticism of EWTN, calling it “ugly and unjust.” He defends EWTN’s criticism of the pope by saying, “not all criticism in a family is ill-intended or disloyal or inaccurate. Some anger, even anger at legitimate authority, is righteous.”
And in these personal attacks, Chaput avoids the substance. What does he think about the Papal Posse’s open dissent against the pope’s teaching on the death penalty, their accusations of paganism at the Vatican in 2019, or the fact that in 2018 Sebastian Gorka appeared on the network and described dropping the atom bombs on Japan in 1945 as the “the fruits of peace”?
Archbishop Chaput, let’s discuss the substantive concerns many Catholics have about the views and content promoted by EWTN. Let’s talk about the doctrinal and magisterial problems with their programming. Let’s discuss the open dissent that is promoted by the personalities on their network. Let’s discuss the morality of dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, and whether those who support it should be openly discussing their views on the network.
There are countless other examples, but I have long held that the breaking point for Archbishop Chaput with Pope Francis and the biggest elephant in the room is the pope’s major document on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia. And that will be the subject of part 3.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.