Archbishop Chaput speaks on election, culture, faith

The Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, delivered a lecture concerning faith, sexuality, society, and politics to what was a standing room only audience in Hesburgh Library’s Carey Auditorium on September 15.

Presented by Notre Dame’s Tocqueville Program for Inquiry into Religion and Public Life, the Archbishop’s lecture began by looking at the 2016 election. Assessing the major candidates as “very bad news for our country, though in different ways,” he noted that unsavory politicians and choices do “not [allow] the luxury of cynicism” for Christians. Citing our “duty to leave the world better than we found it,” Archbishop Chaput noted the importance of participation in democracy, although he also emphasized a call for self-examination first. “[C]hanging the country,” he said, “means first changing ourselves.”

The Archbishop then evaluated the current state of the American family and individual. Acknowledging the rise in “promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence, and sexual confusion” as leading to “a dysfunctional culture,” Archbishop Chaput stated that it is thus no surprise that the political state is the way it is. “People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them—and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else,” he said, going on to note the tendency of the U.S. government to reflect and enforce the confused moral state of affairs.

In contrast to this self-centered culture, the Archbishop pointed to his view of the ideal starting points for building a healthy culture (politically and otherwise): the family and faith. “[F]amilies and churches stand between the individual and the state … resisting [the government’s] tendency to claim the entirety of life,” he remarked. “But they also pull us out of ourselves and teach us to engage generously with others.”

The Archbishop devoted the rest of his talk to describing the need for the effective witness of Christians in promoting selfless, family-oriented ideals. “If we want strong families, we need strong men and women,” he said, adding that the Church, also a family, needs committed, self-sacrificing support. Condemning the tendency of Catholics to be “too tepid or comfortable … or frankly too afraid of public disapproval,” he emphasized the need to prevent the spread of apathy. Noting the role of passive cooperation with the self-centered mentality of the times leading to decisions such as 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he emphatically stressed the message that such complicity is dishonesty.

Reiterating this last example, he noted the frequent discomfort among Christians in defending the Church’s teaching on abortion. While agreeing “that Catholic teaching is bigger than just one issue,” he said that if one is to be pro-life, “it does and it must begin” with confronting abortion. For, he pointed out, in abortion “an innocent life always dies.” And as a consequence of this, he added, to equivocate abortion with other issues such as “homelessness, the death penalty, and anti-poverty policy … is a debasement of Christian thought.”

The Archbishop used this last point to segue into a discussion of the university’s responsibility to offer a committed Christian witness. Calling its awarding of the Laetare Medal to Vice President Biden “a contradiction of Notre Dame’s identity” as well as “a baffling error of judgment,” Archbishop Chaput noted the issue of the university’s “public witness and the damage it causes both to the faithful and the uninformed.”

Archbishop Chaput nevertheless praised Notre Dame as a “deeply Catholic” school—largely due to a strong community of faculty and students who adhere to their faith—and called upon it to retain and nourish this identity: “What the Church needs now is a university that radiates the glory of God in an age that no longer knows what it means to be human.” Referencing his earlier call for “a different kind of people” in the troubled age, he stated that forming people in the truth “should be the mission of this university.”

James Rahner is a sophomore philosophy major living in Alumni Hall who can often be found flying a kite on the far side of the lake. Contact him at