Curious about the two paths American Catholicism could take? Tom Roberts of National Catholic Reporter uses two high-ranking Capuchins, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, as models for these two churches, so to speak. The key quotes about each man, in my opinion, are below.
“His emphasis throughout his life has been on the poor and those on the margins, and he recalled sheltering people in the wake of riots that broke out in Washington, where he was then living, following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. O’Malley followed that by joining the Poor People’s March, ‘sleeping in a tent city’ and watching protestors get tear-gassed.
“He was a prison chaplain and ministered to immigrants and refugees while staying at Washington’s Centro Catolico Hispano during the 1970s and ’80s…He organized a rent strike among poor tenants until improvements were made to their property.”
“Chaput’s is a rather gloomy view of the church and the world…His language is littered with phrases that are derisive of everyone else…When asked if he sees even a little hope, he replied, ‘I see some lights, but they’re not many and they’re small.’
“Everything, it seems, is someone else’s fault, and Chaput appears to hover above the fray, with both the accusatory analysis and all the answers. Not once did he even hint that perhaps Catholics in places like Philadelphia were leaving in droves because church leaders, especially bishops, deeply and horribly betrayed them in ways that would put the most relativistic, hedonistic secularist to shame. Perhaps they were leaving because they can’t stand to be in an institution led by men who had so little regard for their children that they would tolerate the rape and molestation of those children for decades without saying anything to anyone.”
Roberts concludes with some rhetorical questions, but it is obvious the answers. Americans are faced with the choice between a conservative pessimist who relishes conflict and thrives off condemnation or a more moderate leader who lives out the Gospel of the marginalized (i.e, the Gospel) through dynamism and love. Is there even a decision about where our Church needs to go?
Luckily, it seems Pope Francis seems to get it and perhaps, if we’re lucky, the hyper-partisanship of the US bishops I’ve written about before might cede to a more pastoral leadership we can all embrace. And if Archbishop Chaput needs a little more light and hope in the meantime, I suggest he turn to the blinding light of Christ that can set the world aflame.