Archbishop Chaput Rebuts pro-Obama Vatican Theologian

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A prestigious Italian daily has chosen to publish Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput rebuttal of arguments made in support of President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame last spring by Cardinal Georges Cottier,Theologian Emeritus of the Pontifical Household.

Il Foglio published an article on Oct. 6 by Archbishop Chaput entitled “The ax of the red skin Bishop  – Charles J. Chaput against Notre Dame and the illustrious cardinal seduced by the pro-abortion Obama.” In the article, the Archbishop contests the many pro-Obama assertions made by Cardinal Cottier last July in the International Catholic magazine, 30 Days.

According to the text of the essay, obtained by the Catholic News Agency, Archbishop Chaput claims to have two motives for taking on Cardinal Cottier’s article.

“First, men and women from my own diocese belong to the national Notre Dame community as students, graduates and parents.  Every bishop has a stake in the faith of the people in his care, and Notre Dame has never merely been a local Catholic university.  It is an icon of the American Catholic experience. 

“Second, when Notre Dame’s local bishop vigorously disagrees with the appearance of any speaker, and some 80 other bishops and 300,000 laypeople around the country publicly support the local bishop, then reasonable people must infer that a real problem exists with the speaker – or at least with his appearance at the disputed event.  Reasonable people might further choose to defer to the judgment of those Catholic pastors closest to the controversy.”

He goes on to say that “Regrettably and unintentionally, Cardinal Cottier’s articulate essay undervalues the gravity of what happened at Notre Dame.  It also overvalues the consonance of President Obama’s thinking with Catholic teaching.”

The Archbishop points out several key points to remember:

“First, resistance to President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame had nothing to do with whether he is a good or bad man.  He is obviously a gifted man.  He has many good moral and political instincts, and an admirable devotion to his family.  These things matter.  But unfortunately, so does this:  The President’s views on vital bioethical issues, including but not limited to abortion, differ sharply from Catholic teaching. . . . ”

Even though much is made in some religious circles about the President’s sympathy for Catholic social teaching, “defense of the unborn child is a demand of social justice,” the Archbishop writes. “There is no ‘social justice’ if the youngest and weakest among us can be legally killed.  Good programs for the poor are vital, but they can never excuse this fundamental violation of human rights.”

Second, much of the conflict surrounding the Notre Dame appearance could have been avoided had the university simply asked the president to give a lecture or public address.

“But at a time when the American bishops as a body had already voiced strong concern about the new administration’s abortion policies, Notre Dame not only made the President the centerpiece of its graduation events, but also granted him an honorary doctorate of laws – this, despite his deeply troubling views on abortion law and related social issues.
“The real source of Catholic frustration with President Obama’s appearance at Notre Dame was his overt, negative public voting and speaking record on abortion and other problematic issues.”

Thus, the debate in American Catholic circles this spring over the Notre Dame appearance was not about partisan politics but about serious issues of Catholic belief, identity and witness, the Archbishop said.

“Third, the Cardinal wisely notes points of contact between President Obama’s frequently stated search for political ‘common ground’ and the Catholic emphasis on pursing the ‘common good.’”

These goals are not the same thing, the Archbishop says. “So-called ‘common ground’ abortion policies may actually attack the common good because they imply a false unity; they create a ledge of shared public agreement too narrow and too weak to sustain the weight of a real moral consensus. The common good is never served by tolerance for killing the weak – beginning with the unborn.”

Fourth, Cardinal Cottier reminds readers of the mutual respect and cooperative spirit required by citizens in a pluralistic democracy. “But pluralism is never an end in itself,” Archbishop Chaput writes. “It is never an excuse for inaction.  As President Obama himself acknowledged at Notre Dame, democracy depends for its health on people of conviction fighting hard in the public square for what they believe – peacefully, legally but vigorously and without apologies.”

Too often in recent American experience, pluralism and doubt have become alibis for Catholic moral and political lethargy, Archbishop Chaput writes. 

“Perhaps Europe is different.  But I would suggest that our current historical moment – which both European and American Catholics share – is very far from the social circumstances facing the early Christian legislators mentioned by the Cardinal.  They had faith, and they also had the zeal – tempered by patience and intelligence – to incarnate the moral content of their faith explicitly in culture.  In other words, they were building a civilization shaped by Christian belief.  Something very different is happening now.”

He concludes by praising Cardinal Cottier’s generous spirit and his praise for President Obama’s “humble realism.”

“I hope he’s right,” Archbishop Chaput writes. “American Catholics want him to be right.  Humility and realism are the soil where a commonsense, modest, human-scaled and moral politics can grow.  Whether President Obama can provide this kind of leadership remains to be seen.  We have a duty to pray for him — so that he can, and does.”

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