Notre Dame President publicly misrepresents Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, a critic of his Laetare Medal award to Vice President Biden.
In a just published Commonweal interview, Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, levels a wholly baseless charge against Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, one of the Church’s most respected and gifted leaders. Without any visible means of support, Father Jenkins claims that, in a recent talk at Notre Dame, Archbishop Chaput “presumed to know the consciences of Vice President Biden and Senator Kaine sufficiently to question the genuineness of their faith and condemn them personally.” One would not expect a priest, president of Notre Dame or not, to arraign an archbishop publicly in this way even with good reason. It is a great deal worse when, as here, the priest has no reason whatever. The pertinent facts are simple and unambiguous, though the sloppiness of the interviewer, John Gehring, requires more unraveling of two recent addresses by Archbishop Chaput than should be necessary. Let us get that out of the way first for the benefit of those who will read the addresses — and we hope all will, for they are outstanding. In September, Archbishop Chaput gave the Tocqueville Lecture at Notre Dame, which we featured in an earlier bulletin, and in October he addressed a bishops’ symposium on the campus. Mr. Gehring referred to only one of these, which he identified by quoting a passage unrelated to the matter at hand. That passage appears in the October speech. Mr. Gehring said that, in this talk, Archbishop Chaput criticized Vice President Biden and Senator Kaine for their stance on abortion. He did not. He referred to them in a single sentence in relation to same-sex marriage. It was in the September address that the Archbishop discussed Biden’s position on abortion. He did that in connection with the award to Biden of the Laetare Medal. He did not mention Senator Kaine. Let us set aside this disarray and consider the matter as both Gehring and Father Jenkins rearranged the facts. Mr. Gehring asked Father Jenkins what he thought of the Archbishop’s “suggestion” in a “recent speech” at Notre Dame that Vice President Biden and Senator Kaine “are Catholic in name only because of their position on abortion.” Converting the “Catholic in name only” question into something considerably more damning, Father Jenkins, as we noted above, declared he was “baffled” at “how [the archbishop] can presume to know the consciences of Vice President Biden and Senator Kaine sufficiently to question the genuineness of their faith and condemn them personally.” What is truly baffling is to figure out what Father Jenkins is talking about. Here is all Archbishop Chaput said in pairing Biden and Kaine in the October address that Mr. Gehring cited:
We might reflect on what assimilation has actually gained for us when Vice President Biden conducts a gay marriage and Senator Kaine lectures us all on how the Church needs to change and what kind of new creature she needs to become.
This is why so many Catholics – beginning, to his credit, with Bishop Rhoades – were so deeply troubled when Vice President Biden received the university’s Laetare Medal earlier this year. For the nation’s leading Catholic university to honor a Catholic public official who supports abortion rights and then goes on to conduct a same-sex civil marriage just weeks later is – to put it kindly – a contradiction of Notre Dame’s identity, It’s a baffling error of judgment. What matters isn’t the vice president’s personal decency or the university’s admirable intentions. The problem, and it’s a serious one, is one of public witness and the damage it causes both to the faithful and to the uninformed. I mention this no less to criticize than to encourage. (First set of italics supplied.)