Abp. Chaput went to Houston Baptist University and gave a speech which just blew me away. His target is the notion that religion is a private thing, inappropriate for the public square (whether that be the realm of politics, the workplace, or generally outside the home, etc.). Here’s the “end of the beginning” of the speech, which is really worth the read:
Here’s my second caveat: I’m here as a Catholic Christian and an American citizen – in that order. Both of these identities are important. They don’t need to conflict. They are not, however, the same thing. And they do not have the same weight. I love my country. I revere the genius of its founding documents and its public institutions. But no nation, not even the one I love, has a right to my allegiance, or my silence, in matters that belong to God or that undermine the dignity of the human persons He created.
My third caveat is this: Catholics and Protestants have different memories of American history. The historian Paul Johnson once wrote that America was “born Protestant” (1). That’s clearly true. Whatever America is today or may become tomorrow, its origin was deeply shaped by a Protestant Christian spirit, and the fruit of that spirit has been, on the balance, a great blessing for humanity. But it’s also true that, while Catholics have always thrived in the United States, they lived through two centuries of discrimination, religious bigotry and occasional violence. Protestants of course will remember things quite differently. They will remember Catholic persecution of dissenters in Europe, the entanglements of the Roman Church and state power, and papal suspicion of democracy and religious liberty.
We can’t erase those memories. And we cannot – nor should we try to – paper over the issues that still divide us as believers in terms of doctrine, authority and our understandings of the Church. Ecumenism based on good manners instead of truth is empty. It’s also a form of lying. If we share a love of Jesus Christ and a familial bond in baptism and God’s Word, then on a fundamental level, we’re brothers and sisters. Members of a family owe each other more than surface courtesies. We owe each other the kind of fraternal respect that “speak[s] the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). We also urgently owe each other solidarity and support in dealing with a culture that increasingly derides religious faith in general, and the Christian faith in particular. And that brings me to the heart of what I want to share with you.
That a Catholic bishop feels comfortable delivering the “Catholic first, American second” so bluntly is stunning, from the perspective from American history. Abp. Chaput noted, himself: “I’m a Catholic bishop, speaking at a Baptist university in America’s Protestant heartland. But I’ve been welcomed with more warmth and friendship than I might find at a number of Catholic venues.” That he has to deliver this message, that Christianity in all its forms is so threatened in the public square, is stunning for another, sad, reason. Defending morality is considered inappropriately “pushing” one’s religion; Catholic hospitals are being asked to perform abortions or provide referrals; D.C.’s Catholic charities has had to end foster care and spousal benefits, since it was being ordered to give spousal benefits (and foster children) to gay couples.