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Considering the subtitle of Michael Sean Winters’ attack upon the newly selected Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, to wit, “The problem with Culture Warrior Bishops,” one is tempted to remark that the “trouble” is that there are far too few of them. But that would be to accept Winters’ misleading and unhelpful characterization of the issue, and that would be a mistake.

It is difficult to imagine a time when Catholic teaching was as challenged as it is now. As we know, marriage formation rates are low, and marriage maintenance rates are, if anything, worse. Many young people demand both a right to live with their girlfriend (or boyfriend) and the “right” to a Catholic marriage. Regarding marriage itself, there is a determined, organized effort to redefine it to include same-sex relationships, which has met with success in, among other places, the New York legislature and the California courts.

The federal government funds research directly tied to the destruction of the smallest, youngest, most defenseless, and most dependent of human beings”the embryo”and some states, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy (such as California), rush to do likewise. This is done in the name of a “greater good” (curing suffering) while neglecting the elemental fact that the very idea of the common good is contradicted when some members of the human family are defined outside the protection of the law. In America, abortion is still legal, for any reason and during all nine months, pursuant to legal opinions by the Supreme Court ( Roe v. Wade , Doe v. Bolton , Planned Parenthood v. Casey ) that scholars on the left as well as the right regard as laughable.

If Catholic teaching on matters of life and death and marriage and the family were purely sectarian, it nonetheless seems to me that, given the existence of the “legalized” wrongs mentioned above, no one could fairly object to Catholic leaders calling upon Catholics to do something about it. But of course, those teachings are anything but sectarian. They are addressed to “people of good will” and seek to secure the common good, not a Catholic good, but a common good, for all citizens. The reason it is reasonable for those teachings to address all citizens (including Catholics) is that the matters addressed are fundamental to a free and virtuous society.

For instance, it is a mockery of the very concept of “social justice” to think a society can be “just” when it kills over 3000 of its children every day. As Mother Teresa taught the assembled magnates when she won the Nobel Prize, “the unborn are the poorest of the poor.” Pope John Paul II put it clearly: The right to life is the “first right;” without its guarantee it is meaningless to speak of other “rights””nothing can be guaranteed if freedom from arbitrary killing is not.

Likewise, matters that were once purely science fiction (think, Brave New World ) are now scientifically possible (human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, genetic manipulation). Indeed, an industry may soon be built upon the scavenged bodies of embryos (through stem cell research).

If one merely understands the scientific fact of when life begins (a commonplace of embryology), one sees that killing those unborn is wrong, and it beggars the imagination that any society can hope to achieve “equality” with such a deep contradiction at its core.

Does marriage matter? Social science research shows that for a society to be healthy, healthy marriages are needed. Thus, the Church sanely teaches: “a family policy must be the center and driving force of all social policy.”

Does it matter who marries whom? No, if marriage is simply about emotional fulfillment of adults. But, if marriage is instead about the best interests of children rather than adults, if is about the perpetuation of society itself, if it is about (most importantly) finding the proper structure for the expression of sexuality, then, yes, it matters a great deal. The consequences of a misunderstanding of human sexuality surround us”indeed, they threaten to submerge us”broken marriages, kids raised without one (or both) parents, sexually transmitted diseases, teen suicide, depression, etc., etc., etc.

And anyone with eyes to see will notice one thing: on all these matters, legal changes were acquiesced in, if not lead by, self-identified “Catholic” politicians.

Any bishop who calls attention to these things is not a “warrior,” as Winters asserts; he is merely being honest. If a man sees his home ablaze and cries, fire, he is not being reactionary; he is merely reacting properly, for there is no way to put out the fire”and eventually to re-build the house”unless someone calls attention to the fact that it is now burning down.

Charles Chaput is one of the kindest, gentlest men you can imagine. He does not thunder, he does not condemn; rather, he simply and clearly tells it like it is. He repeats the teaching of the Church, a teaching that is meant for the common good and which benefits us all, a teaching about fundamental human rights.

Philadelphia is lucky to get him. And we all will benefit”Catholics and non-Catholics alike”when, as is likely, he is elevated to the College of Cardinals. He is a man of good common sense and moral courage. What is there to complain about?

William L. Saunders is an attorney in Washington, DC. The views expressed are his own.


Michael Sean Winters, The Problem With Culture Warrior Bishops

Matthew Schmitz, Chaput in First Things

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