It seems silly now, but when you heard that tone-deaf and child-abusing-priest-enabling Cardinal Justin Rigali was getting ousted by the Vatican, the first thought was that the Catholic Church was finally getting it.
Actually it seems that whatever new Archbishop Charles Chaput's "mission" -- the words used on the front page of the Daily News today -- here in Philadelphia is, it's not really to clean up the big mess here or even put a kinder, gentler face on an archdiocese that's in serious disarray.
"I think that with Chaput you will see a much more politically active archbishop than we saw with Cardinal Rigali," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America and author of numerous books on the Catholic hierarchy.
Reese described Chaput as an "in-your-face" leader who is "going to be a real pain in the neck for the Democratic Party."
Huh? Is Chaput on a mission for God or for Karl Rove? Both, apparently.
But he has been even more forceful in articulating what it means to live as a Catholic. He has regularly rebuked the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.
A month after President Obama's inauguration, Chaput decried what he called a "spirit of adulation bordering on servility" toward Obama by "some . . . Democratic-friendly Catholic writers, scholars, editors and activists. He said, "There's no way to reinvent his record on abortion and related issues with rosy marketing about unity, hope, and change."
Chaput was also quoted in the New York Times in 2004 as saying that anyone who voted for John Kerry was "cooperating in evil" but Chaput claimed that he was misquoted or at least quoted out of context, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.
An early look at Chaput's record in Denver also suggests that his record on the issue at hand -- the child-secual-abuse scandal -- is not that great, as he opposed legislation to increase the statute of limitations for civil suits by alleged victims. Maybe it was sponsored by a Democrat.
A few thoughts:
1) If Chaput is planning to be a "pain in the neck" for the PHILADELPHIA Democratic Party and its traditions of corruption and cronyism I might be OK with that -- but I don't believe that's what is meant here.
2) Whether it's a predominantly black church telling members to pull the Democratic lever or Christian fundamentalist churches pushing GOP candidates, I've never been comfortable with churches overtly getting involved in electoral politics -- and I've thought it a good thing, in extreme cases, when the government looks at the tax-exempt status of such churches. It seems like Chaput -- and his overt partisanship -- is skating on that edge, no?
3) Although personally pro-choice, I have great respect for people -- that would obviously include Catholic leaders and lay people -- who oppose abortion on moral grounds, as it's a complex and difficult issue for most people. But I've never understood why, when it comes to politics, that particular teaching of the Catholic Church seems to override all the other ones, especially the many Catholic teachings that are liberal in nature. Why, for example, would it be any less immoral to vote for Kerry in 2004 than to vote for George W. Bush, whose pre-emptive invasion of Iraq on false pretenses showed an extreme lack of respect for the sanctity of human life?
Was Archbishop Chaput paying attention when Pope John Paul II said this? "The obligation to earn one's bread by the sweat of one's brow also presumes the right to do so. A society in which this right is systematically denied, in which economic policies do not allow workers to reach satisfactory levels of employment, cannot be justified from an ethical point of view, can that society attain social peace." Why does the abortion issue override the rights and the dignity of the working class, the greatest problem facing America today?
If nothing else, Chaput's timing is exquisite. In the 2012 election, Pennsylvania will be a crucial battleground state for President Obama and his Republican opponent -- and Catholics in Philadelphia and its immediate suburbs will be a critical bloc of swing voters. The conservative movement has been looking for a "pain in the neck" for Democrats. Who knew he'd be sent here by Rome?