Exclusive Interview

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., sat down with The Catholic Standard & Times this week for an exclusive interview. He speaks with Matthew Gambino, the CS&T’s director and general manager, about the challenges, joys and expressions of faith the current archbishop of Denver anticipates upon his installation Sept. 8 as archbishop of Philadelphia. {{more}}

Q. The Archdiocese is experiencing a decline in Mass attendance and parish life. What is your vision for evangelizing Catholics and helping to reengage them in Catholic life?
A. The decline you speak about is something that is common across the Church in the United States. I think it’s a cultural issue more than anything else. (It’s) also a failure of my generation of Catholics to pass on their faith to their children, and then the next generation to pass it on, in even the way that my generation did. It’s a problem of catechizing, it kind of grows and multiplies as time goes on, in terms of people’s indifference to the Church.

What do you do about it? You preach the Gospel with clarity and enthusiasm and conviction, and the Holy Spirit takes over from there. I think the worst thing you can do is to become depressed about this. It’s partly our fault; it’s partly a result of the culture of our times.

The only solution is for the Holy Spirit to take over and reach us and make effective our poor efforts. Philadelphia is no different than other parts of the country.

Q. Regarding the sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese, it is fair to say that priests, religious and lay people are somewhat demoralized. Can you speak about your vision for healing in this local Church?
A. The beginning point of our demoralization is our embarrassment that this really happened in the family of the Church. That somehow the priests, who are the symbol of sacraments of Christ in our midst, could at the same time be the occasions for such suffering in the lives of other people. It’s hugely embarrassing for the whole Church and also in a unique way for the body of priests. And it’s appropriate. We should be embarrassed that we don’t practice what we preach.

But at the same time the answer to how do you move from here to the future, is the process of conversion in the Church, which is to admit our sin (and) to ask the Holy Spirit to make possible what we’re unable to do alone.

So the healing is going to be partly the effort of the Church to face the issues and to deal with them with courage and transparency, but the bigger part is to be reliant on the Holy Spirit who moves us into a new future that He has in store for us. Conversion always leads to a peace and joy in the life of those who have converted, so we pray that the Lord will accomplish what we can’t do on our own.

Q. How can the morale of priests and the lay faithful be lifted up together?
A. It’s important that they be lifted up together. We see ourselves as partners. The most important part of a priest’s identity is the fact that he is a baptized Christian, and because of that we have a basic bond of unity with all the faithful. In addition to that of course is that a priest is chosen by Christ with a brother’s love in the community and made a symbol of His own presence in the Church. I think it’s very important that the priests know they are loved and respected by the people that they serve, and at the same time the priests know that they’re called to be fathers in the community and to love and respect the lay faithful.

But the only way for us to get through this is to get through it together, and for priests to listen to people and for people to listen to priests, and mutually respect each other and move on to the future that God has for all of us.

Q. How can the Church care for victims?
A. The Church should have a passion for caring for victims because victims are generally alienated from the Church, and therefore in some sense alienated from the love of the Church, the Church that we believe to be the body of Christ. And so all of us, clergy and laity alike, have a great responsibility to reach out to victims and to apologize for the sins that have been committed against them. But it’s a tragedy that people are led into disbelief by the actions of any of us, especially priests.

Q. St. John Neumann is credited with founding the Catholic education system in America. Right now many Catholic grade and high schools are struggling to maintain enrollment, even as they continue to educate young Catholics well and form them in the faith. What is your vision for strengthening Catholic education – from Catholic schools to parish religious education programs to Catholic higher education – in the Archdiocese?
A. The first thing I’d like to do is express my gratitude for the Catholic school system that educated me and has been such an important part of the life of people everywhere and its origins in Philadelphia is a special reason for me to rejoice at being the bishop here. And of course to be a successor to St. John Neumann is beyond my imagination.

Philadelphia has had a reputation across the country as being a place of extraordinary commitment to Catholic education and Catholic schools. I know there are a large number of people who live here who have been educated in Catholic schools, and that number has been diminishing as the years go on across the country for a lot of reasons.

In the past we had the service of religious men and women who made Catholic education affordable and essentially all the money went into the buildings in those days and very little went into salaries. Today we need to focus appropriately on just salaries for our teachers and very little money is left for the infrastructure, for the buildings. And that is a source of worry for all of us who are bishops.

Additionally, it’s become more and more expensive to send kids to Catholic school. Parents who struggle financially find it one of the options they maybe sometimes move away from, for very serious economic reasons. And then there’s the lessening commitment to the Catholic faith that we talked about earlier, which is also why parents are unwilling to make the great financial sacrifices that make Catholic schools even possible.

So how do we find the way through that? I don’t know the answer to that. I think it’s something we need to work on together, the laity, the priests, the religious and the bishops of this diocese. We need to really focus on how to make Catholic education affordable and at the same time maintain its high quality, make it available to many people.

I don’t have an answer to those problems, but as with everything, we can find the answer together.

Q. St. Katharine Drexel, the other saint from Philadelphia…
A. She means a lot to me personally because of my Indian ancestry.

Q. Can you explain the significance of her life in yours?
A. Well on my mother’s side I’m a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe. The American Catholic community owes a great deal to Katharine Drexel. She developed a great love for both the black and Indian missions and made so many of our Indian Catholic schools possible through her contributions.

As the Indian Catholic community looks at the Church in our country we know that so much of the service to our community was made possible by a woman from Philadelphia who became a saint. So we’re very grateful for that.

But we need a new evangelization among the Indian people as we do across the country. I think one of the blessings of being a bishop and being a Native American as that I can be involved with the recommitment in the new evangelization among the Indian people.

Q. Could you talk about the cultural spanersity in an Archdiocese of this size? You have insight into bringing cultures together and sharing our Catholic faith. Could you speak about that spanersity?
A. I spent 10 years in Pittsburgh, in the western part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

One of the things I noticed when I was in Pittsburgh was the rich cultural spanersity of that part of Pennsylvania, and I am sure Philadelphia is much the same. It’s great blessing, in all kinds of ways, so we can be grateful for that.

As a bishop I serve on the cultural spanersity committee of the (United States) Bishops’ Conference, which is in some ways focusing on the disadvantaged groups in the country, the African Americans, the Asians, Hispanics and (migrants, refugees and travelers).

We have to understand the Church’s culture is rich in many other ways. There’s Polish Americans, Italian Americans … the great part of the Eastern United States has very distinct cultural communities that are a great blessing. Sometimes these communities are in conflict with one another for resources, for jobs and the like. That can never be the case in the Church because in the
Church there is neither free nor slave, neither male nor female. We’re all one in the body of Christ.

I think Philadelphia has a great opportunity to demonstrate that to the country. You know that in the Church we are one family in God and every one of the members of that family is an equal brother and sister.

Q. One of the priorities that Catholics in the Archdiocese are praying for is vocations, under Cardinal Rigali’s leadership. What can we all do together to increase vocations in the Church?
A. I think one of the most important things about vocations is for everyone in the Church, regardless of his or her state, to understand that God has a calling for each of us.

The way we develop vocations is to develop a sensitivity to listening to the voice of Christ who calls us, and my life is not my own. And I will find great happiness in doing what God wills rather than what I want.

And if we can develop a culture of listening to God about the meaning of our life, we will have an abundance of responses to the vocations that God gives to all of us.

Especially important today are the vocations of consecrated life and the sacrament of holy orders because in some ways we’ve seen a diminishment of a response to those vocations in (recent) years. We know that God gives the Church the vocations it deserves.

So we pray that God will make us worthy of many people who listen, who respond when they’re called to religious life, to the priesthood and the diaconate.

But all of this depends on the family. That’s why the Church is so committed to the traditional understanding of what family means. We’re not bigoted against a group. We’re in favor of a stable family of one man and one woman loving each other for the sake of children so that people can have the secure and safe environment of a family where they’re loved by their mother and father.

There’s a lot of tension in the world today over what marriage means, what family means. We know that in the reality of the world there are a lot of us who come from broken families, and it’s important for us to understand that. But that’s not God’s will. God’s will is that we have a stable community of parents who love us.

So I think the way we get vocations to the priesthood and religious life is to have stronger vocations to marriage.

Q. After your installation in September, what are the things you’re looking forward to doing?
A. On a natural level I’m looking forward to seeing the fall, with many colors in the trees. In Colorado we have beautiful Aspen leaves and a lot of evergreens, but we don’t have the deciduous trees like you have here, with multiple colors. I lived in Pennsylvania for 10 years as I mentioned earlier, and I came to love the fall (here), and I look forward to coming in the fall.

In terms of my role as the bishop, my favorite thing to do is to celebrate Mass with the people in the churches I am responsible for, whether it be at the cathedral or the local parishes. That’s really what I look forward to, meeting our people and our priests and deacons, and the whole community to share faith and celebrate the Eucharist.

Q. Can you talk about the importance of Catholic media?
A. Our salvation began in the heart of the Trinity, which is a moment of God self-communicating – which we call the Father loving the Son and the Son loving the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our God is one in a tree of communion and communication. It’s not an accident that the Word became flesh … because the voice of God giving Himself away is the Son.

Those of us who are baptized are baptized into this mystery of communication. By our baptism we become part of the Holy Trinity into a community of dialogue and conversation of love.

So I think Catholic communication is a participation (whereby) the more we can share our love and our faith, the stronger our community becomes.

You’ll find that I am a very strong supporter of Catholic communications not only within the Church but also outside ourselves. That’s what the Church immediately did at Jesus’ instruction – baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – which is to go out and preach.

So I see that Catholic media is an extension of the mandate of Christ to go out and preach. I welcome all the new means of doing that.