Barely two months ago the ecclesiastical news circuit was rocked with the revelation that Pope Francis had decided not to renew Cardinal Burke’s membership on the Congregation for Bishops.
At the time, I proposed a counter-narrative: Pope Francis is not about to purge “conservatives” from the curia and we shouldn’t read too much into the Burke news.
Well, my counter-narrative received a big boost last week.
You shouldn’t feel bad, of course, if you missed the news — it arrived last week, and, more to the point, the same outlets that saw such importance in the Burke news evidently missed or conveniently overlooked the “Chaput shocker”.
I found out at the same time as his 98,000 fans on Facebook:
This, my papist friends, is a big deal.
As Rocco points out, this is Chaput’s first appointment to a curial assignment. And it came, not from Bl. John Paul, not from Pope Benedict – but from Pope Francis. The very same Pope Francis who supposedly “has it in” for conservative prelates, if you believe the New York Times. Pope Francis also did something extraordinary by appointing Abp. Chaput as the only non-cardinal to be appointed to the dicastry.
In other words, if the Burke news harbored any significance, this Chaput news certainly does as well, if not even more so!
If secular news outlets and progressive Catholics want to frame a narrative based on the Burke news, they owe us an explanation for what’s going on with this Chaput elevation. You don’t get to just pick and choose what’s important. If the Burke news meant that Pope Francis doesn’t want to retain or elevate conservative voices, what are we to make of this decision?
I think a case can be made that Pope Francis trusts and respects Archbishop Chaput.
Rocco helpfully explains some of the likely back story:
“…there is a history [between Chaput and Francis] – the then-archbishops of Denver and Buenos Aires became friendly at the 1997 Synod for America, where Chaput’s intervention struck a nerve with the future Pope. (During the October reunion seen above, Francis is said to have warmly recalled the talk yet again.)”
Abp. Chaput deserves this appointment on his own merits: his episcopate has been conspicuous for his encouragement of faithful lay movements (FOCUS, the Augustine Institute, etc.). He continually writes and speaks to encourage and inspire greater lay participation in the Church’s mission. And his diocesan governance style draws heavily upon lay talent and initiative. He personifies a fruitful collaboration between a bishop and the laity.
But let’s not forget another important point — when Pope Francis visits the USA for the first time in 2015 for the World Meeting of Families, Abp. Chaput will be his host as the organizer!
Some progressive Catholics can’t abide the situation. Sadly, their petty ideological sniping often succeeds in masquerading as commentary, and they’ve already got the guns out for Chaput. This quote from Fr. Tom Reese, S.J. in the Philadelphia Inquirer is a perfect example of their attempts to create distance between Chaput and Francis:
“The Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America and now a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, a liberal weekly, said after the election [for VP of the USCCB] that the mere perception that Chaput might be in opposition to Francis’ agenda might have made some of his fellow bishops nervous.
“I think there was concern that the secular media would be coming out with headlines reading ‘Bishops Elect Critic of Francis,’ ” said Reese.”
Oh please! This is laughable. Chaput continues to be admired by his fellow bishops — he only failed to be appointed VP of the USCCB by one vote this last go around, and he freely admitted to not voting for himself because he already has more than enough responsibilities. Fr. Reese forgets his own reaction in 2010 when the U.S. bishops upended fifty years of tradition to appoint Dolan over Kicanas:
“The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Seminary at Georgetown University and a liberal Catholic commentator, said, “The two vice presidential finalists were the two most conservative on the ballot. That says something about where this conference is going.”
Over three years later, the trajectory of the bishops conference is still clear, as is, I would argue, the overall trajectory of the church.
We catholics need to develop a better memory, do our homework, and fill in the blind spots that are created by the intentionally-selective, agenda-driven media, and by progressive commentators like Fr. Tom Reese. In the months and years ahead, we are going to witness more and more of these attempts to turn every bit of news into the false narrative of “liberal Pope Francis vs. conservative bishop so-and-so”.
But here’s what we need to be focused on: good bishops like Abp. Chaput and Cardinal Burke have a huge amount of work on their plate. Chaput especially has the tallest of orders: saving the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and organizing the World Meeting of Families, in addition to his new responsibilities at the Council for Laity.
They don’t need us worrying about a false distance between them and the Holy Father. They need faithful catholics like us to roll up their sleeves and help right the Barque of Peter.
So help spread this good news to our brothers and sisters who are still smarting over the Burke business by making sure they are also aware of the Chaput shocker.