On Thursday, the Catholic News Agency (CNA) published an unattributed defense of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, arguing that he did not endorse the ‘testimony’ of Archbishop Carlo Viganò, and that Chaput was a supporter of the Holy Father. In his testimony, the former nuncio accused Pope Francis of lifting formal sanctions on then-Cardinal McCarrick and called on Francis to resign. The CNA article then recounted several other instances suggesting Abp. Chaput is a supporter of Francis and his papacy.

The article was a response to an essay by Massimo Faggioli, Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, in the French online Catholic periodical La Croix International on the increasing tensions between populist and right-wing governments and the Catholic Church. The piece took its title (“The rise of ‘devout schismatics’ in the Catholic Church”) from a quote about Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini:

“If Matteo Salvini becomes prime minister, Italy will have a government led by a Catholic who is devout but schismatic.”

So said Sergio Romano, a former Italian ambassador to NATO and the ex-Soviet Union, in a recent opinion piece in the Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera.

Faggioli’s 2,000-word essay touches on a number of issues, including those Catholics, particularly in the United States and Italy, whose political views diverge from those of the pope on Islam, immigration, religious pluralism, and wars undertaken by Western governments. Faggioli’s thesis is that Pope Francis has been the catalyst behind the tension (and sometimes open hostility) between populist or right-wing Catholics and the institutional Church.

Towards the end of the essay, Faggioli suggested that this “devout schismatic” attitude also extended to some bishops:

“These ‘devout schismatics’ are not only politicians. They also include some theologians, priests, bishops and even cardinals. Their schismatic instincts have been on display since the beginning of Francis’ pontificate. But they were particularly visible in August 2018, when some of them – such as Archbishops Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, as well as Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler (Texas) – sided with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to Washington who called on Francis to resign.”

Rather than engaging the key arguments of the essay, or even mounting a defense of all three bishops, the article focused on the essay’s sole mention of Chaput. On Twitter, Faggioli noted that CNA attempted to contact him only 30 minutes before the publication of the article, and did not receive the message until after the article was published. Later, the article was amended to include his comments.

It strikes me as odd that such a spirited and extensive defense of the archbishop was written about a single passing reference to him in an essay. Granted, describing Catholics as “schismatic” is a bit extreme, especially when the canonical criteria for schism are not met, but in the context of the article, Faggioli was being hyperbolic and not using the term according to its precise canonical meaning. In addition, he tempered his comments about the bishops by describing their “schismatic instincts,” in reference to their opposition to Pope Francis. He didn’t say that they had refused submission to him. I don’t agree with everything Faggioli wrote in the essay, and certain things could certainly have been worded more accurately or diplomatically. That said, there was a thread of truth to his identifying three US prelates whose opposition to the pope on key points has been well-established.

CNA was wise in not attempting to defend Strickland or Cordileone against these charges, saying:

After the testimony was released, Strickland issued a statement calling Viganò’s allegations “credible,” and Cordileone said he could confirm that some of Viganò’s statements were true.

The CNA article failed to note just how far those statements went. Strickland’s letter ordered priests to disseminate these allegations widely, writing, “I direct all priests to include this notice in the masses on August 26, and post it on their websites and other social media immediately.”

Cordileone’s defense of Viganò was even more robust. He wrote:

“I came to know Archbishop Viganò well during the years he served as Apostolic Nuncio here in the United States. I can attest that he is a man who served his mission with selfless dedication, who fulfilled well the Petrine mission entrusted to him by the Holy Father to “strengthen his brothers in the faith,” and who would do so at great personal sacrifice and with absolutely no consideration given to furthering his “career” – all of which speaks to his integrity and sincere love of the Church. Moreover, while having no privileged information about the Archbishop McCarrick situation, from information I do have about a very few of the other statements Archbishop Viganò makes, I can confirm that they are true. His statements, therefore, must be taken seriously.”

Chaput, on the other hand, did issue a more tempered response to Vigano’s allegation in August 2018. CNA pushed back against Faggioli’s assertion, saying, “Contrary to Faggioli’s claim, however, Chaput did not endorse Viganò’s allegations. A spokesman told reporters in August that Chaput ‘enjoyed working with Archbishop Viganò during his tenure as Apostolic Nuncio,’ adding that Chaput found Viganò’s time at the nunciature ‘to be marked by integrity to the Church.’ However, the spokesman said that Chaput could not comment ‘on Archbishop Viganò’s recent testimonial as it is beyond his personal experience.’”

It has been noted that the story originally omitted the part of the statement where Chaput says that Viganò’s service as nuncio was “marked by integrity to the Church.” It, along with Faggioli’s comments, were added at a later time, perhaps after this Tweet by theologian and author Dawn Eden Goldstein:

Indeed, this article lacks a full account of Chaput’s record with regards to Pope Francis’s papacy and teaching, selectively referencing two quotes, one from 2013 and one from 2018, where the archbishop praised Pope Francis.

It’s a fair critique to note that Chaput’s non-comment included high praise for the pope’s accuser and no mention of support for the pope, not even a response to the call for the pope’s resignation. Technically speaking, Chaput and his supporters could argue that he did not comment on Viganò’s testimony, but if he truly had no comment, then why did he compliment Viganò so wholeheartedly?  What are readers to understand from Chaput’s statements? At the very least, one can expect an archbishop to repudiate Viganò’s intemperate call for Francis’s resignation, and a demand that Viganò provide evidence for his charges.

Unfortunately, there are many other instances where Archbishop Chaput’s words and actions indicated a much more critical attitude towards Francis and his teachings that CNA did not mention. Typically, Chaput’s criticisms are polite and carefully crafted, careful not to contain any direct accusations or harsh words against the pope, but indicate that he is unhappy with Francis’s teachings and actions. There have been several instances over the past few years that have suggested that Chaput has an agenda that is not in sync with Francis’s.

One obvious instance of this that was not mentioned in the CNA article was his endorsement and promotion of Ross Douthat’s book, To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (read Dan Amiri’s review for WPI here). He wrote in his weekly column for April 6, 2018:

To Change the Church is an equally intelligent and absorbing work, even when the reader finds himself questioning or disagreeing with it.

I’ve been pleased to welcome Ross Douthat as a speaker at the Archbishop’s Lecture Series here in Philadelphia in the past. It’s a pleasure now to encourage readers to attend his April 10 presentation at 4 p.m., at Villanova’s Charles Widger School of Law, in the Arthur M. Goldberg ’66 Commons. Admission is free; there’s no charge.

It is rare to find the explicit promotion of a book event in a bishop’s weekly column, and even more rare to find one promoting a book in which the author suggests that Pope Francis’s pontificate opens up questions “about the authority of Scripture generally, and whether the church’s past teachings on any moral issue can be considered permanently reliable, or whether all things Catholic are subject to Holy Spirit-driven change.”

A second instance where Chaput indicated alliance with opponents of Pope Francis on April 21, 2018, when Cardinal Raymond Burke — perhaps the face of resistance to the pope — and the notorious Fr. Gerald Murray were invited to speak at a conference in Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. The conference’s topic was on Marriage and the Family, and while I’m unable to find any video or transcripts from the conference, I’m confident that the talks were not a celebration of Amoris Laetitia.

Speaking of Amoris Laetitia, the article fails to mention that Archbishop Chaput’s pastoral guidelines for the implementation of the exhortation ignore (or even contradict) what Pope Francis proposed in chapter 8 of Amoris. Perhaps in some situations, one could chalk this up to “confusion” about what Amoris actually says, but towards the end of this 2017 interview with John Allen of Crux, Archbishop Chaput admits that he would defy the pope if it was made explicitly clear that footnote 351 of the document does indeed permit those in irregular situations to receive the sacraments in certain situations. (And as Pedro Gabriel pointed out last year, it’s already clear.)

These are just a few examples of actions that lead to legitimate questions about Archbishop Chaput’s support for and fidelity to the pope. Who can forget Chaput’s public call for the cancellation of last year’s Synod on the Youth? First he attempted to call for its cancellation due to the urgency of the sexual abuse crisis, and then he attacked its Instrumentum Laboris by publishing a critique written by an anonymous theologian in First Things.

Is Chaput schismatic? No, of course not (although I have pointed out one instance where he has admitted he would refuse submission to the pope). Was his statement in response to Viganò “supportive” of Viganò’s claims? No, but he certainly vouched for him as a character witness. Is Archbishop Chaput a supporter of Pope Francis? The case for that is tenuous, at best. What is the justification for publishing such an enthusiastic apologia for Chaput’s support for the pope, one that omits key facts and was prompted by a single mention in a lengthy essay?

Perhaps I have misjudged Archbishop Chaput’s positions in this piece. But his public record has shown some very clear signs of resistance to — and even subversion of — Pope Francis and his teachings. If I am wrong about this, I would love to be corrected. It would be helpful if Archbishop Chaput could clarify these words and actions, as well as express his support for the Holy Father, in his weekly column.

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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.

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