Archbishop Chaput and the 2004 Election
Cathleen Kaveny April 20, 2007 - 3:30pm
In her recent column in Commonweal, Melinda Henneberger recounts an interestingand disconcertinginterview with Archbishop Charles Chaput from Denver. Apparently, hes quite astonished about the reaction his foray into presidential politics created in 2004. I quote from the column:He insists that all the attention paid to his statements about abortion during the 04 presidential campaign was unexpected. On one level, it was uncomfortable to be called a Republican when Im not and astonishing to receive a more heated and prodigious response than even the clerical sex-abuse scandals had provoked.
Do I think there are people in the last election who voted for a prochoice candidate and did so sincerely after reflection and prayer? Yes, I do? Did they do wrong? No, they followed their conscience. But that serious reflection and prayer, thats really important, and not just being swayed by party sympathies or thats the way you always vote. It has to be about the issues.I have to say, Im astonished at the Archbishops astonishment. With all due respect, I dont remember him expressing anything at all like the sentiments in the preceding paragraph in 2004. In fact, I remember him expressing very different sentiments indeed.In a column entitled, How to Tell a Duck from a Fox: Thinking with the Church as We Look Toward November, we find the following statement from the Archbishop:
Candidates who claim to be "Catholic" but who publicly ignore Catholic teaching about the sanctity of human life are offering a dishonest public witness. They may try to look Catholic and sound Catholic, but unless they act Catholic in their public service and political choices, they're really a very different kind of creature.
And real Catholics should vote accordingly. In an interview with the New York Times, Archbishop Chaput indicated that it was sin to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. He does not distinguish between voting for a candidate foreseeing, but not intending, the support of abortion rights; nor does he distinguish between formal and material cooperation.In an interview in his residence here, Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion.
"If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" he asked. "And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes."The Archbishop does mention conscience in a column entitled: Lets Make a Deal: Catholic Conscience and Compromise. He does not entertain the possibility that a Catholic could under any circumstances vote for a pro-choice candidate in good conscience. Indeed, the column suggests quite the opposite: The last two paragraphs.
Next month, October, is Respect Life month. Its a good time to reflect on the meaning of the Kennedy-Cuomo legacy. In brief, its OK to be Catholic in public service as long as youre willing to jettison whats inconveniently Catholic.
Thats not a compromise. Thats a deal with the devil, and it has a balloon payment no nation, no public servant and no voter can afford. According to their plain meaning, Archbishop Chaput's comments in 2004 convey that a real Catholic wouldnt vote for a pro-choice candidate under any circumstances; especially a pro-choice Catholic. Its a sin; a deal with the devil. His statements from that era leave no room for a good faith difference of opinion about whom to vote for as president --they leave no room for the fact that a Catholic might vote for a pro-choice candidate foreseeing, but not intending his or her stance on abortion.But maybe he didn't say everything he meant. Maybe he meant to leave more room for a difference in practical judgment about who would be the best President of the United States. If so, the question remains: If Archbishop Chaput's remarks were so pervasively misinterpreted in 2004, why didnt he make a straightforward statement like the one in Hennebergers column at the time? Why did he wait until years later, when the political and ecclesiastical winds have shifted?
About the Author
Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.