Tag Archives: Napa Institute

Pope Francis and economic justice

Napa Institute: Archbishop Charles Chaput challenged common conceptions of Pope Francis . . .

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Charles Chaput

I’m a Capuchin Franciscan, and I’ve often found that people think of Francis of Assisi as a kind of 13th-century flower child.

St. Francis was certainly “countercultural,” but only in his radical obedience to the Church and his radical insistence on living the Gospel fully — including poverty and all of its other uncomfortable demands.

Jesus, speaking to him from the cross of San Damiano, said, “Repair my house.”  I think Pope Francis believes God has called him to do that as pope, as God calls every pope.  And he plans to do it in the way St. Francis did it.

Pope Francis took the name of the saint of Christian simplicity and poverty. As he has said, he wants “a Church that is poor and for the poor.” In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he grounded this goal in Jesus Christ, “who became poor and was always close to the poor and the outcast” (186). That’s a very Franciscan idea.

The Holy Father knows poverty and violence. He knows the plague of corrupt politics and oppressive governments. He has seen the cruelty of human trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

An abridged version of this article appeared in the September issue of Legatus magazine.

Family as the foundation of culture

Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt’s address to this year’s Napa Institute . . .

Archibishop John Nienstedt

Archibishop John Nienstedt

Dear friends in Christ,

Since the beginning of man’s life on earth, the family has served as the cornerstone of society.  The integrity of the family set the standard for society from the beginning of time as the underpinning of our civilization, reflecting the beneficial differences between men and women and the complementarity of their hearts, minds, and bodies.  Aristotle argued that the natural progression of human beings flowed from the family via small communities out to the polis.  The state itself, then, as a natural extension of the family, mirrors this critical institution.  Inspired by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “man is by nature a social being since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort.  Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well.  He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”[1]  And Pope Leo XIII develops Aquinas’ thought further, recognizing that “man’s natural instinct moves him to live in civil society, for he cannot, if dwelling apart, provide himself with the necessary requirements of life, nor procure the means of developing his mental and moral faculties.”[2]  Indeed, just as our communities and the state itself imitate the structure of the family, our economy is also modeled after oikonomia—the Greek word for household management.

I. The Biblical Basis

In the Book of Genesis, we read the story of creation through God’s direct intervention. God breathed life into Adam and then removed one of his ribs to create a woman, Eve.  God did not take a piece of the man’s head so that woman would dominate him, nor did God take a bone from the man’s foot so that he should dominate her.  Rather He took a rib from man’s side, signifying that man would be an equal to woman and she to him.  “And Adam said: ‘This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.  Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.’”  Two become one: male and female God created them[3] together in His image and likeness, a reflection of the goodness of their Creator who blessed them with a command to increase and to multiply, filling every corner of the earth.[4]

II. The Sacramental Reality

Jesus Christ elevated marriage to the dignity of a sacrament and thereby reaffirmed the moral law, reminding us why he came into this world: to perfect that which was imperfect; to loosen our hardened hearts.

“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.  For amen I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law, until all is accomplished.”[5]

The word “sacrament” comes from the Latin sacramentum, which itself is a translation of the Greek word mysterion, a word which signifies one of the seven central liturgical rites of the Church through which participants experience the Paschal Mystery of Christ and grow in the life of grace.  The Church herself is the mysterion, or sacrament of salvation, as she communicates God’s love, which, in turn, draws believers into greater levels of holiness.

The Second Vatican Council called for a renewal in the understanding, approach and practice of the celebration of sacraments within the total life of the Church.  The sacrament of marriage has benefited from this renewal by receiving a greater emphasis on the interpersonal life shared between a husband and wife, on how the spiritual life of the spouses grows from this interpersonal dynamic, and how these two factors both contribute in existential quality to the ongoing development of the marital relationship in a continual process of becoming.[6]  As the result of a sacramental marriage, a couple is truly married “in the Lord” and his redeeming grace penetrates their love and deepens their union.

The family, comprised of one man and one woman, is bound by their love in a lifelong commitment that is mutual, exclusive and open to new life.  Marital love between spouses transcends even each other as they enter into a triune relationship with God.  The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen said, “Love is triune or it dies… [w]hat binds lover and beloved together on earth is an ideal outside both. As it is impossible to have rain without the clouds, so it is impossible to understand love without God. ”[7]  As the author of marriage and love itself, God expresses love in the giving of self, never reserved only to the spouse and the home.  Certainly, it begins and ends there, but it is meant to be shared for the benefit of the common good,[8] making good use of the three theological virtues of hope, faith and charity, and holding an exclusive and preeminent fidelity modeled in Christ and His Church.

The modern world, however, speaks to us about self-fulfillment and self-gratification.  From its perspective, when other people enter into our lives they are said to give our lives meaning. Instead of looking to Christ as our true source of adoration and perfection, our neighbor becomes the source of meaning for our existence.  Yet no mere human being can be substituted for God’s magnificence or His undying love.  Only in Christ can we quench the longing found deep within our hearts.  When we try to find perfection in another person we are quickly disappointed.  Disappointment turns into divorce and divorce shatters families, leaving behind vulnerable children forced to survive the tragic circumstances of their parents’ separation.

Years ago, Fr. Patrick Peyton sounded the mantra that “the couple who prays together, stays together.”[9]  This is true because, if husband and wife are addressing God together in heartfelt adoration or petition, then the presence of the marital grace that rests in each spouse will be stimulated to new growth.  The married couple should together attend Sunday Mass and other Holy Days of obligation, so as to be nourished by the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist for the sake of their own marriage and in order to be a leaven in the world.

The love that Christ has for His Church provides the model for the complementary love of husband and wife.  As spouses and as parents, they are called to seek “first the kingdom of God and His justice,”[10] pledging to raise their children in the Catholic faith.  This permanent union between one man and one woman with its unitive and procreative properties, shares the joy of heaven with their offspring, their greatest treasures on the earth, gifts entrusted to parents by the love of God.

III. Two Views of Marriage

While our perspective on marriage and family life are radically influenced by our belief in God, his revelation in Jesus Christ as well as the natural moral law, nevertheless the proper use of reason can of itself teach us about the true meaning of marriage.

In a wonderful, recently published book entitled, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: a Defense, Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson and Robert George carefully delineate and evaluate two distinct views of marriage that are prominent in our nation’s ongoing marriage debate.

The first they define is the conjugal view of marriage understood as a comprehensive union, that is to say, the joining of spouses in body as well as in mind, in an act that begins by consent and is then sealed by sexual intercourse.

Being consummated in an act of bodily union, it is especially apt for and deepened by procreation, which calls for the broad sharing of a domestic life uniquely fit for family life.  This all-encompassing act calls for the equally all-encompassing commitment of permanence and exclusivity.  Valuable as it is in itself, its link to the welfare of children make marriage a public good that the state ought to recognize and support.

The second view proposed is what the authors call a revisionist view of marriage.  Here the union is between two people who commit to a romantic partnership and a shared domestic life.  It is essentially an emotional union, merely enhanced by whatever sexual activity the partners find agreeable.  Such unions are seen as valuable as long as the emotion lasts.  The state should recognize them, it is said, because it has an interest in their stability as well as the well-being of any children they may choose to rear.[11]

The authors argue in favor of the conjugal view of marriage, admitting that like friendship, marriage is a type of bond between two persons.  But, they point out, marriage is a special kind of bond because it unites the spouses in body as well as in mind and heart in a way that is apt for and enriched by procreation and family life.  The spouses vow their whole selves for the whole of their lives.  Thus, its comprehensiveness puts the value of marriage in a class apart from the value of other relationships.[12]

The authors are also quite clear about what they see are the dangers of the revisionist view:

“If the law defines marriage to include same-sex partners, many will come to misunderstand marriage.  They will not see it as essentially comprehensive, or thus (among other things) as ordered to procreation and family life—but as essentially an emotional union . . . they will therefore tend not to understand or respect the objective norms of permanence or sexual exclusivity that shape it.  Nor, in the end, will they see why the terms of marriage should not depend altogether on the will of the parties, be they two or ten in number, as the terms of friendships and contracts do.  That is, to the extent that marriage is misunderstood, it will be harder to see the point of its norms, to live by them, and to urge them on others.  And this besides making any remaining restrictions on marriage arbitrary, will damage the many cultural and political goods that get the state involved in marriage in the first place.”[13]

One might assert here: As the understanding of marriage goes, so goes the way of the family and the culture it shapes and fosters.

If indeed marriage is the foundation of the family and the family is the cornerstone of society, then it is essential to the progress of any civilization that the consequences of choosing between a conjugal view or a revisionist view of marriage be weighed carefully and thoughtfully, especially in regard to the other negative forces that are impinging on the social reality of family life.

IV. The family under attack

Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life.  Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.  The source of these machinations is none other than the Father of Lies.  Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of a good solid society, as well as the future of God’s work on earth.

A. Contraception as a primary factor

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, issued in 1968, reaffirmed the Church’s teaching regarding marital love and the rejection of most forms of birth control.  Promulgated just three years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclical rapidly became the most intensely debated Church document in centuries, perhaps more than any other solemn teaching of the Church in the entire history of Christendom.  Public dissent followed. Various scholars and proud public adversaries, then and many still today,[14] view fertility as a hindrance rather than a blessing, falsely arguing in favor of the “right” to enjoy unrestrained sex, within and outside the confines of Holy Matrimony, with no regard for the rights of God or the common good.[15]  

But Humanae Vitae proved itself a prophetic witness, by warning of what would happen should contraception gain widespread acceptance, namely:

1. Artificial methods of birth control would become the leading vehicle towards the lowering of moral standards for the young and a catalyst for marital infidelity.

2. The use of contraception would objectify and disrespect women, and wives in particular.

3. That in the hands of governments, contraception would become a powerful tool in forcing the use of contraceptives on individuals, as well as institutions.

With regard to the first point, statistics reveal that today only 3% of Catholic married women rely on natural family planning.  At the same time, 70% of unmarried Catholic women are sexually active by their early 20s.[16]

Secondly, few are aware of the World Health Organization’s listing of contraceptives as “group one carcinogens” for breast, liver, and cervical cancers.[17]  Mounting evidence also shows the link between birth control pills and women’s susceptibility to immune disorders such as HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Thirdly, Pope Paul VI’s prediction about government overreach has also found vindication in our current struggle over the Health and Human Services Mandate.  As you know, HHS will require employers to provide insurance coverage of prescription contraceptive drugs and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including sterilization procedures and abortion-causing drugs.  The mandate imposes contraception as a matter of public policy without any recourse to public debate, denying employers the right to follow the dictates of their own consciences and refusing public access to dispute the moral implications of contraceptive use.  Although the purpose of health care is to diagnose, prevent and cure illnesses, and health insurance is meant to lower the cost of treatment, contraception’s raison d’être is to prevent pregnancy, to separate reproduction from the sexual act solely for the private interest of sexual recreation.  Birth control, as G.K. Chesterton warned, “…does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control.”[18]

B. Other challenges to marriage

Besides contraception, there are other forces at work today that challenge the intended reality of marriage as a lifelong, committed and procreative union between one man and one woman, such as:

1. Five of every ten marriages end in divorce[19]

2. Nearly one of every three Americans over the age of 15 has never been married, the highest level in a decade.[20]

3. The rate of cohabitation has accelerated from 450,000 couples in 1965 to well over 5 million couples today.[21]

4. The number of children under the age of 18 living with a single parent has risen from 6 million in 1960 to nearly 21 million in the year 2010.[22]

Between 1950 and 2011, according to calculations by the University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen, the marriage rate fell from 90 marriages a year per 1,000 unmarried women to just 31, a stunning 66 percent decline.  Equally disturbing, 43% of American children grow up in fatherless homes and the percentage of children born out of wedlock is now at a staggering 40.8%.[23]

A marginal—yet growing— opinion also suggests that parental differences are merely imaginary byproducts of social gender constructs.  Academic proponents supporting this thesis claim that men and women are essentially the same and are only different insofar as they are heavily influenced by child rearing, media, school, and other forms of cultural transmission.  According to their theory, child development is purposely directed by the social constructs of compulsory heterosexuality—that is to say, “the social reproduction of male power.”  What we need, they say, is to lift ourselves out of the “stone age” surrounding the male/female distinction.[24]  Proper child-rearing, from this perspective, does not depend on the contributions of both masculine and feminine influences, because their healthy development will occur regardless of gender.

A recent study conducted by New York University, however, claims fathers do play a decisive role in teenage sexual behavior.[25]  Teens whose fathers approved of adolescent sexual activity tended to start having sex earlier than teens whose fathers did not approve, affirming that “fathers may distinctly influence the sexual behavior of their adolescent children,” and fathers may indeed “parent in ways that differ from mothers.”[26]  A 2011 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that consistent with the absence of fathers in the home, 47% of their high school sons or daughters have had intercourse, “leading to unwanted transmission of sexual disease and pregnancy.[27]

The fact remains that family structure works better for children because fathers and mothers do parent differently, in ways that complement one another and boost a child’s well-being and gender identity.  This understanding of the family structure gets to the heart of the same-sex “marriage” debate that many of us have engaged in recent years.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to redefine marriage by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has the intention of altering the historical, traditional and natural concept of marriage between one man and one woman.  Five states retain a statuary ban on same-sex “marriage,” while twenty-eight have a ban en force.  However, the tide is shifting. 70% of Americans born after 1980 believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally, which is 20% higher than the population born between 1965 and 1979, and approximately 30% higher than the Baby Boomer generation.[28]

Unlike friendships or other close relationships, the public purpose of marriage is to unite men and women and the children they create.  Because the environment our children are raised in does play a significant role in their future contribution to and the overall welfare of society, government reasonably recognizes what studies have concluded: the best chance that children have for their future lives is to be raised in stable homes by their biological married parents.

Marriage is clearly a social justice issue as families are dependent upon it for their flourishing.  The differences between children who grow up in intact homes as opposed to those who grow up in broken homes are not inconsequential.  Children separated from their biological parents fare less well, on average, than children who grow up with both natural parents.

Studies suggest that children reared in intact homes do best on the following indices:

– Educational achievement: higher literacy and graduation rates.

– Emotional health: lower rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide.

– Familial and sexual development: stronger sense of identity, normal timing of onset of puberty, lower rates of teen and out-of-wedlock pregnancy and lower rates of sexual abuse.

– Child and adult behavior: lower rates of aggression, attention deficit disorder, delinquency and incarceration.[29]

Even a left-leaning research institution called Child Trends concurs with this assessment:

“[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.  Children in single parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in step-families or cohabitating relationships face higher risk of poor outcomes . . ..  There is this value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents . . ..  [I]t is not simply the presence of two parents . . . but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.”[30]

Recent literature reviews conducted by the Brookings Institution, the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the Institute for American Values all corroborate the critical importance of intact households for children.[31]

Maggie Gallagher, President of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, argues that, all things being equal, good marriages provide strong benefits for the common good of society, while the fragmentation of the home is a leading indicator of what has happened since we’ve institutionalized broken homes through no-fault divorce and other legislation.  She states:

“Marriage is more than a private emotional relationship.  It is also a social good.  Not every person can or should marry.  And not every child raised outside of marriage is damaged as a result.  But communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women and men than do communities that suffer from high rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing, and high-conflict or violent marriages.”[32]

St. John Chrysostom wrote:

“The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together.  When harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result.  Great benefits, both for families and states, result.”[33]  

In the United States, marriage lowers the probability of child poverty by 82%,[34] married women are less likely to experience domestic violence than cohabitating and serially dating women, and marriage increases the likelihood that children enjoy warm, close relationships with parents.

V. Faithful citizenship and the family

As Americans we are abundantly blessed with constitutional freedoms that protect and allow us to participate in public life.  We are grateful to live in a nation that has bequeathed us with the latitude to engage in public discourse and contribute to policy decisions aimed at serving our families and the common welfare.  Catholics have enjoyed a unique relationship that has allowed a rich development and flourishing of our teaching and activities with regard to human life, marriage and family, justice and peace, and good stewardship.  The Church and her institutions, including the family, must be free to fulfill their mission and to collaborate with public authorities without pressure or sacrifice to Her fundamental teachings or moral principles.

Bound by the common destiny we share, obstacles to human flourishing are profoundly challenging for us precisely because they affect our moral being.  The Gospel compels us, as a people who hold fast to faith and reason, to bring the essential truths about human life to the public square and to practice charity for the benefit of those who have less.  There is no realm of worldly affairs that can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion.  Our obligation to teach the morals that shape the lives of every man, woman and child has been given to us by Jesus Christ.  The witness of the Church, therefore, is of Her nature public, and Her proposed rational arguments to shape policy decisions is a working model of the right for individual believers and religious bodies to participate and speak out without government interference or discrimination.

VI. The assault on reason

As the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger warned against allowing orthopraxis (right conduct) to command orthodoxy (right belief).  Ratzinger stressed how behavior is dictated by what we believe, and if we ignore first principles, if we avoid the search for the truth, we will exercise poor judgment and thus experience poor behavior.[35]  The family today has inherited a crisis of confidence in our institutions that is filling a void of proper catechesis and education with human intuition, lacking in any genuine appeal to truth or justice.[36]  This subjectivism has soiled the good, the true and the beautiful with a culture bent on incongruous attacks on reason itself.  Its violence lies in denying the reality of objective truths, thereby aiding and promoting the most intrinsic evils which undermine the meaning of relationships and, therefore, the very fabric of good social order.

To illustrate this attack on reason, one need go no further than the judicial intervention in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  In their plurality opinion, Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, and Souter invoked a famous “mystery clause” to uphold the Court’s 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade. One peculiar passage reads as follows:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

If, by right, one may freely define the meaning of existence without hindrance, the provisioning of law carries no weight whatsoever. Indeed, this “mystery clause” appears inspired by the influential Age of Enlightenment which celebrates a highly individualistic and subjective view of “freedom,” and, therefore, of “choice.”  It creates the impression that choice is, in and of itself, a moral act of human freedom and an ultimate expression of life and it rejects any objective criteria or moral participation in the shaping of social situations.  This view, incompatible with rational thought, is surely the work of Satan, in the words of Blessed John Paul, who lusted after this so-called “liberty” above all else.[37]

VII. The loss of a Catholic culture

Assimilation has played a significant part in diminishing our uniquely Catholic identity, which, in turn, contributed to the decline of the rich, past Catholic subculture historically embedded in our society.  The respectable author Russell Shaw documents how this previous subculture protected against the secularization of Catholic citizens and immigrants.  He writes,

“For a long time, the subculture of immigrant Catholicism more or less successfully shielded Catholics (“ghettoized” them, some would say).  But starting in the late 1950s and continuing through the 1960s and 1970s, American Catholics, instead of reforming and updating their subculture, dismantled this network of distinctively Catholic institutions and programs, organizations and movements that had served them well.”[38]

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, concurs.

“Instead of changing the culture around us, we Christians have allowed ourselves to be changed by the culture.  We’ve compromised too cheaply.  We’ve hungered after assimilating and fitting in.  And in the process, we’ve been bleached out and absorbed by the culture we were sent to make holy.”[39]

Shaw’s response to the growing secularization among Catholics is the recovery of a new Catholic subculture to restore the former communities of their immigrant forefathers, embedding themselves into what were once unique, thriving Catholic communities surrounded by parishes and the pastoral care of parishes; an organic community, distinguishable by common traits that differentiate them from society at large, which witnesses to its unique values and ideals through a deliberate way of life.  This also includes living in close proximity together for the sustainment and the proliferation of Catholic identity.

VIII. Conclusion

Politics cannot solve the cultural problems that the family faces today.  Clearly, the fundamental causes of the decline of the family are rooted in an erosion of spiritual development.[40]  Those who have been baptized and confirmed in the Catholic faith share in the Church’s mission of salvation and are called to make the Church present and active as salt and light to the world.  We cannot stand by and allow false ideologies to crumble the moral foundations of our civilization and the vital institution of the family.  

Indeed as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in December 2011 to the Pontifical Council for the Family, that the new evangelization will only succeed if the family is seen as a vital component of its exercise.  His words:

“The New Evangelization depends largely on the Domestic Church. …  Just as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, so the new evangelization is inseparable from the Christian family.  The family is indeed the way of the Church because it is the “human space” of our encounter with Christ. …  The family founded on the Sacrament of Marriage is a particular realization of the Church, saved and saving, evangelized and evangelizing community.  Just like the Church, it is called to welcome, radiate, and show the world the love and presence of Christ.”[41]

As Christians, we must renew our commitment to present the truth of the Gospel to all, stepping out onto the public square, articulating a new evangelization for this secular age, submerging ourselves in the vigorous baths of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy; always displaying, as St. Paul urges, “the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”[42]

For my conclusion, I ask us prayerfully to call upon the intercession of the Holy Family.

Dear Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,

Bless us and grant us the grace of loving the Church as we should,
above every other earthly thing, and whenever duty calls, of ever showing our love by courageous deeds in the defense and propagation of the Faith,
whether by word or by the sacrifice of our possessions or even our very lives.

Bless especially our efforts to build up a culture of family life that models the example of Your Holy Family so that after battling the challenges of this earthly life we may enjoy your everlasting companionship in heaven.


MOST REV. JOHN NIENSTEDT is the archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul. He delivered this address at the Napa Institute on Aug. 2. An abridged version of this address appeared in the September issue of Legatus magazine

[1] Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Ethicorum Aristotelis Expositio, Lib. I, lect. 1. “Man is by nature a social animal, since he stands in need of many vital things which he cannot come by through his own unaided effort (Avicenna). Hence he is naturally part of a group by which assistance is given him that he may live well. He needs this assistance with a view to life as well as to the good life.”
[2] Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, § 3 (1885).
[3] Genesis 1:27.
[4] Id. at 1:28.
[5] The Gospel According to Saint Matthew 5:17.
[6] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, § 17 (1994).
[7] Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married. New York: Scepter Publishers, 1996.
[8] John Paul II, Gratissimam Sane, § 25 (1981).
[9] Rev. Patrick Peyton, All For Her: The Autobiography of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., 1967.
[10] The Gospel According to Saint Luke 12: 31.
[11]. Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, Robert George, What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, (New York, Encounter Books, 2012), 1-4.
[12] Ibid., 37.
[13] Ibid., 7.
[14] Gary Gutting: “The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church… the issue has been settled by the voice of the Catholic people.” opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15 (accessed June 28th).
[15] Leo XIII, Permoti Nos. (1895) “Catholics must urgently wish for and pursue only those goals which are seen quite truly to lead to the common good, in preference to their own personal opinions and interests.”
[16] RK Jones RK and J Dreweke, Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use, New York: Guttmacher Institute, 2011.
[17] World Health Organization Statement, Carcinogenicity of combined hormonal contraceptives and combined menopausal treatment (2005).
[18] G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.
[19] Tejada-Vera B, Sutton PD. “Births, Marriages, Divorces, and Deaths: Provisional data for 2009. National vital statistics reports; vol 58, no 25. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010. National Vital Statistics Reports. Vol. 58 Nm. 25. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_25.pdf  (accessed May 29th, 2013).
[20] Id, at Table MS-1.
[21] Households and Families 2010, U.S. Census Bureau, Table 2. Households by Type: 2000 and 2010. http://www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf (accessed July 1, 2013) 
[22] Id, at Table 2.
[23]Helen M. Alvaré, “Father-Absence, Social Equality and Social Progress,” Quinnipiac Law Review, vol. 29, No 1, 2011, pp. 123-163.
[24] Sandra Lipsitz Bem, “Dismantling Gender Polarization and Compulsory Heterosexuality: Should We Turn the Volume Down or Up?” The Journal of Sex Research. Vol. 32, No. 4, 1995.
[25] Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, “Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review.” In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Originally published online, October 15, 2012 (accessed June 4th, 2013)
[26] Id.
[27] Key Graphics on Trends Among High School Students from CDC’s National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), 1991-2011. Centers for Diseas Control. http://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/2012/YRBS-Graphics2012.html (accessed June 24, 2013)
[28] 2013 May Survey, The Pew Poll Forum. 
[29] See Marriage and the Public Good Ten Principles (Princeton, N.J.: The Witherspoon Institute, 2008), 9-19.
[30] Kristin Anderson Moore, Susan M. Jekielek, and Carol Emig, “Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, and What Can We Do About It?”, Child Trends Research Brief (June 2002) 1-2, 6.
[31] W. Bradford Wilcox, William J. Doherty, Helen Fisher, et al., Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences, 2nd ed. (New York: Institute for American Values, 2005), 6.
[32] Maggie Gallagher, “(How) Does Marriage Protect Child Well-Being?” 197-212, 199, in The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market and Morals eds. Robert P. George & Jean Bethke Elshtain (2006).
[33] The Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. ed. Rev. J. B. Morris. London: James Park and Co., 1879.
[34] Robert Rector, “Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty” http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty. (accessed May 29, 2013)
[35] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.
[36] Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. “This remains the mandate of the Church: she does not preach what the powerful want to hear. Her criterion is truth and justice, even if that garners no applause and collides with human power.” (Homily delivered in Frascati, Italy, on July 15, 2012).
[37] Leo XIII, Libertas praestantissimum, § 14 (1888).
[38] Russell Shaw, “Tending the New Catholic Subculture,” Catholicity.com. http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/rshaw/08871.html. (accessed June 22, 2013) Shaw also writes, “22 million ex-Catholics make up the third largest group in the United States identifiable in religious terms, after Catholics and Southern Baptists.”
[39] Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, “Young People Today Have Lost ‘Moral Vocabulary,” Catholic News Agency, October 16, 2010.
[40] Leo XIII, Inscrutabili Dei Consilio. (1871) ( “A religious error is the main root of all social and political evils.”
[41]Benedict XVI, Address to Participants at the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family, December 1, 2011.
[42] 1 Thessalonians 5:8

A culture of religious freedom

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput’s inspiring address to the Napa Institute . . .

Archbishop Charles Chaput

A friend of mine, a political scientist, recently posed two very good questions. They go right to the heart of our discussion today. He wondered, first, if the religious freedom debate had “crossed a Rubicon” in our country’s political life. And, second, he asked if Catholic bishops now found themselves opposed — in a new and fundamental way — to the spirit of American society.

I’ll deal with his first question in a moment. I’ll come back to his second question at the end of my remarks. But we should probably begin our time together today by recalling that even at the height of anti-Catholic bigotry, Catholics have always served our country with distinction. More than 80 Catholic chaplains died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. All four chaplains who won the Medal of Honor in those wars were Catholic priests.

Time and again, Catholics have proven their love of our nation with their talent, hard work and blood. So, if the bishops of the United States ever find themselves opposed, in a fundamental way, to the spirit of our country, the fault won’t lie with our bishops. It will lie with political and cultural leaders who turned our country into something it was never meant to be.

So, having said that, let’s turn to my friend’s first question.

The Rubicon is a river in northern Italy. It’s small and forgettable, except for one thing. During the Roman Republic, it marked a border. To the south lay Italy, ruled directly by the Roman Senate. To the north lay Gaul, ruled by a governor. Under Roman law, no general could enter Italy with an army. Doing so carried the death penalty. In 49 B.C., when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his 13th Legion and marched on Rome, he triggered a civil war and changed the course of history. Ever since then, “crossing the Rubicon” has meant passing a point of no return.

Caesar’s march on Rome is a very long way from our nation’s current disputes over religious liberty. But “crossing the Rubicon” is still a useful image. My friend’s point is this: Have we, in fact, crossed a border in our country’s history — the line between a religion-friendly past and an emerging America much less welcoming to Christian faith and witness?

Let me describe the nation we were and the nation we’re becoming. Then you can judge for yourselves.

People often argue about whether America’s Founders were mainly Christian, mainly Deist or both of the above. It’s a reasonable debate. It won’t end anytime soon. But no one can reasonably dispute that the Founders’ moral framework was overwhelmingly shaped by Christian faith. And that makes sense because America was largely built by Christians. The world of the American Founders was heavily Christian, and they saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers and to welcome their active role in public life.

The Founders also knew that religion is not just a matter of private conviction. It can’t be reduced to personal prayer or Sunday worship. It has social implications. The Founders welcomed those implications. Christian faith demands preaching, teaching, public witness and service to others — by each of us alone and by acting in cooperation with fellow believers. As a result, religious freedom is never just freedom from repression, but also — and more importantly — freedom for active discipleship. It includes the right of religious believers, leaders and communities to engage society and to work actively in the public square. For the first 160 years of the republic, cooperation between government and religious entities was the norm in addressing America’s social problems. And that brings us to our country’s current situation.

Americans have always been a religious people. They still are. Roughly 80% of Americans call themselves Christians. Millions of Americans take their faith seriously. Millions act on it accordingly. Religious practice remains high. That’s the good news. But there’s also bad news.  In our courts, in our lawmaking, in our popular entertainment and even in the way many of us live our daily lives, America is steadily growing more secular. Mainline churches are losing ground. Many of our young people spurn Christianity. Many of our young adults lack any coherent moral formation. Even many Christians who do practice their religion follow a kind of easy, self-designed Gospel that led author Ross Douthat to call us a “nation of heretics.”[1]  Taken together, these facts suggest an American future very different from anything in our nation’s past.

There’s more. Contempt for religious faith has been growing in America’s leadership classes for many decades, as scholars like Christian Smith and Christopher Lasch have shown.[2] But in recent years, government pressure on religious entities has become a pattern, and it goes well beyond the current administration’s HHS [Health and Human Services] mandate. It involves interfering with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers and individual citizens. And it includes attacks on the policies, hiring practices and tax statuses of religious charities, hospitals and other ministries. These attacks are real. They’re happening now. And they’ll get worse as America’s religious character weakens.

This trend is more than sad. It’s dangerous. Our political system presumes a civil society that pre-exists and stands outside the full control of the state. In the American model, the state is meant to be modest in scope and constrained by checks and balances. Mediating institutions like the family, churches and fraternal organizations feed the life of the civic community. They stand between the individual and the state. And when they decline, the state fills the vacuum they leave. Protecting these mediating institutions is therefore vital to our political freedom. The state rarely fears individuals, because, alone, individuals have little power. They can be isolated or ignored. But organized communities are a different matter. They can resist. And they can’t be ignored.

This is why, for example, if you want to rewrite the American story into a different kind of social experiment, the Catholic Church is such an annoying problem. She’s a very big community.  She has strong beliefs. And she has an authority structure that’s very hard to break — the kind that seems to survive every prejudice and persecution and even the worst sins of her own leaders. Critics of the Church have attacked America’s bishops so bitterly, for so long, over so many different issues — including the abuse scandal, but by no means limited to it — for very practical reasons. If a wedge can be driven between the pastors of the Church and her people, then a strong Catholic witness on controversial issues breaks down into much weaker groups of discordant voices.

The theme of our time together today is “building a culture of religious freedom.” How do we do that?

We can start by changing the way we habitually think. Democracy is not an end in itself.  Majority opinion does not determine what is good and true. Like every other form of social organization and power, democracy can become a form of repression and idolatry. The problems we now face in our country didn’t happen overnight. They’ve been growing for decades, and they have moral roots. America’s bishops named the exile of God from public consciousness as “the root of the world’s travail today” nearly 65 years ago. And they accurately predicted the effects of a life without God on the individual, the family, education, economic activity and the international community.[3] Obviously, too few people listened.

We also need to change the way we act. We need to understand that we can’t “quick fix” our way out of problems we behaved ourselves into. Catholics have done very well in the United States. As I said earlier, most of us have a deep love for our country, its freedoms and its best ideals. But this is not our final home. There is no automatic harmony between Christian faith and American democracy. The eagerness of Catholics to push their way into our country’s mainstream over the past half century, to climb the ladder of social and economic success, has done very little to Christianize American culture. But it’s done a great deal to weaken the power of our Catholic witness.

In the words of scholar Robert Kraynak, democracy — for all of its strengths — also “has within it the potential for its own kind of ‘social tyranny.’” The reason is simple: Democracy advances “the forces of mass culture which lower the tone of society … by lowering the aims of life from classical beauty, heroic virtues and otherworldly transcendence to the pursuits of work, material consumption and entertainment.” This inevitably tends to “[reduce] human life to a one-dimensional materialism and [an] animal existence that undermines human dignity and eventually leads to the ‘abolition of man.’”[4]

To put it another way: The right to pursue happiness does not include a right to excuse or ignore evil in ourselves or anyone else. When we divorce our politics from a grounding in virtue and truth, we transform our country from a living moral organism into a kind of golem of legal machinery without a soul.

This is why working for good laws is so important. This is why getting involved politically is so urgent. This is why every one of our votes matters. We need to elect the best public leaders, who then create the best policies and appoint the best judges. This has a huge impact on the kind of nation we become. Democracies depend for their survival on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square — legally and peacefully, but zealously and without apologies. That includes you and me.

Critics often accuse faithful Christians of pursuing a “culture war” on issues like abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family and religious liberty. And, in a sense, they’re right. We are fighting for what we believe. But, of course, so are advocates on the other side of all these issues — and neither they nor we should feel uneasy about it. Democracy thrives on the struggle of competing ideas. We steal from ourselves and from everyone else if we try to avoid that struggle. In fact, two of the worst qualities in any human being are cowardice and acedia —and by acedia I mean the kind of moral sloth that masquerades as “tolerance” and leaves a human soul so empty of courage and character that even the devil Screwtape would spit it out.[5]

In real life, democracy is built on two practical pillars: cooperation and conflict. It requires both.  Cooperation, because people have a natural hunger for solidarity that makes all community possible. And conflict, because people have competing visions of what is right and true. The more deeply they hold their convictions, the more naturally people seek to have those convictions shape society.

What that means for Catholics is this: We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We have a duty to seek common ground where possible. But that’s never an excuse for compromising with grave evil. It’s never an excuse for being naive. And it’s never an excuse for standing idly by while our liberty to preach and serve God in the public square is whittled away.  We need to work vigorously in law and politics to form our culture in a Christian understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom. Otherwise, we should stop trying to fool ourselves that we really believe what we claim to believe.

There’s more. To work as it was intended, America needs a special kind of citizenry: a mature, well-informed electorate of persons able to reason clearly and rule themselves prudently. If that’s true — and it is — then the greatest danger to American liberty in our day is not religious extremism. It’s something very different. It’s a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in dumbed-down, bigoted news, vulgarity, distraction and noise, while methodically excluding God from the human imagination. Kierkegaard once wrote that “the introspection of silence is the condition of all educated intercourse” and that “talkativeness is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness.”[6] Silence feeds the soul. Silence invites God to speak. And silence is exactly what American culture no longer allows. Securing the place of religious freedom in our society is therefore not just a matter of law and politics, but of prayer, interior renewal — and also education.

What I mean is this: We need to re-examine the spirit that has ruled the Catholic approach to American life for the past 60 years. In forming our priests, deacons, teachers and catechists — and especially the young people in our schools and religious-education programs — we need to be much more penetrating and critical in our attitudes toward the culture around us. We need to recover our distinctive Catholic identity and history. Then we need to act on them. America is becoming a very different country, and as Ross Douthat argues so well in his excellent book Bad Religion, a renewed American Christianity needs to be ecumenical, but also confessional.  Why?  Because: “In an age of institutional weakness and doctrinal drift, American Christianity has much more to gain from a robust Catholicism and a robust Calvinism than it does from even the most fruitful Catholic-Calvinist theological dialogue.”[7]

America is now mission territory. Our own failures helped to make it that way. We need to admit that. Then we need to re-engage the work of discipleship to change it.

I want to close by returning to the second of my friend’s two questions. He asked if our nation’s Catholic bishops now find themselves opposed — in a new and fundamental way — to the nature of American society. I can speak only for myself. But I suspect that for many of my brother American bishops the answer to that question is a mix of both No and Yes.

The answer is No in the sense that the Catholic Church has always thrived in the United States, even in the face of violent bigotry. Catholics love and thank God for this country. They revere the American legacy of democracy, law and ordered liberty. As the bishops wrote in 1940 on the eve of World War II, “[We] renew [our] most sacred and sincere loyalty to our government and to the basic ideals of the American republic … [and we] are again resolved to give [ourselves] unstintingly to its defense and its lasting endurance and welfare.”[8] Hundreds of thousands of American Catholics did exactly that on the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific.

But the answer is Yes in the sense that the America of Catholic memory is not the America of the present moment or the emerging future. Sooner or later, a nation based on a degraded notion of liberty, on license rather than real freedom — in other words, a nation of abortion, disordered sexuality, consumer greed and indifference to immigrants and the poor — will not be worthy of its founding ideals. And, on that day, it will have no claim on virtuous hearts.

In many ways, I believe my own generation, the “boomer generation,” has been one of the most problematic in our nation’s history because of our spirit of entitlement and moral superiority; our appetite for material comfort unmoored from humility; our refusal to acknowledge personal sin and accept our obligations to the past.

But we can change that. Nothing about life is predetermined except the victory of Jesus Christ.  We create the future. We do it not just by our actions, but by what we really believe — because what we believe shapes the kind of people we are. In a way, “growing a culture of religious freedom” is the better title for this talk. A culture is more than what we make or do or build. A culture grows organically out of the spirit of a people — how we live, what we cherish, what we’re willing to die for.

If we want a culture of religious freedom, we need to begin it here, today, now. We live it by giving ourselves wholeheartedly to God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ — by loving God with passion and joy, confidence and courage. And by holding nothing back. God will take care of the rest. Scripture says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). In the end, God is the builder. We’re the living stones. The firmer our faith, the deeper our love, the purer our zeal for God’s will — then the stronger the house of freedom will be that rises in our own lives and in the life of our nation.

Archbishop Charles Chaput is archbishop of Philadelphia. He delivered this address at the Napa Institute on July 26. An abridged version of this address was published in the September issue of Legatus magazine.


[1] For patterns of religious belief in various age groups, see Barna Group and Pew Research Center data.  For the state of moral formation among young adults, see Christian Smith, editor, Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood, Oxford University Press, New York, 2011.  For an overview of American religious trends and their meaning, see Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Free Press, New York, 2012

[2] See Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, W.W. Norton, New York, 1995; and Christian Smith, editor, The Secular Revolution: Power, Interests and Conflict in the Secularization of American Public Life, University of California Press, Los Angeles, 2003

[3] “Secularism,” a pastoral statement by the Administrative Board of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, on behalf of the bishops of the United States, November 14, 1947; as collected in Pastoral Letters of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1970, Hugh J. Nolan, editor, Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN, 1971

[4] Robert Kraynak, “Citizenship in Two Worlds: On the Tensions between Christian Faith and American Democracy,” Josephinum Journal of Theology, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2009; see also a more extensive discussion of this theme in his book, Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, IN, 2001

[5] C.S. Lewis, see his “Screwtape Proposes a Toast” in The Screwtape Letters, HarperCollins, New York, 2001

[6] Soren Kierkegaard, The Present Age: On the Death of Rebellion, HarperPerennial, New York, 2010, p. 44-45

[7] Douthat, Bad Religion,  p. 286-287

[8] “The American Republic,” a statement by the bishops of the United States, November 13, 1940; as collected in Pastoral Letters of the American Hierarchy, 1792-1970