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Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput On The Search For A New Pope

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HH: In this hour, it is the second day in which the Cardinal electors of the Roman Catholic Church have gathered in Rome prior to the beginning of their conclave. And the 116 men who will elect the next pope are in fact part of 2,956 bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. They are bishops themselves. One of their fellow bishops, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia joins me now. Archbishop, thank you for joining me. It’s a real pleasure, and at this time, an honor that you would find some time to talk to  us.

CC: Well, thank you very much, Hugh. You know, every time I hear you theme song, it makes me feel good. Can you imagine that?

HH: That’s good. I’m glad to hear that. I hope you get to listen in Philadelphia more often than when you were the bishop of Denver.

CC: I, it’s a better time for me. Yes, it is, because it was a little too early in the day in Denver for me to hear it very often, but I listen quite often, and I enjoy your show.

HH: Well, Archbishop, let’s get to it. My first question may be a little bit unexpected. How and what are you praying for your fellow bishops who will be entering into the conclave?

CC: Well, any number of people have asked me to pray for a particular candidate. It just happened on Sunday at our cathedral. We had a Mass where we pray together that the Holy Spirit would inspire the cardinals. And after Mass, a number of people approached me and mentioned this cardinal or that cardinal, including my classmate, Cardinal O’Malley from Boston, and asked that I pray that he become the pope. And I said in response to all of them very sincerely, that my prayer is really that the Holy Spirit inspires the cardinals to pick the very best one. And I’m not in the business of doing that myself, because I really…I certainly know Cardinal O’Malley and Cardinal Dolan and the Americans, and a few of the others, but I generally don’t know the group. And I would be making a mistake if I thought I could make the decision from a distance, even with my prayers. So I just have been praying in a general sense that the Holy Spirit knows the needs of the Church and the needs of our times better than we do, would really lead strongly the cardinals to make the right decision.

HH: Are you making special devotions? Do you encourage Catholics and Christians who are of encouragement to the Church generally to do anything differently?

CC: No, I really do, I’m really happy you mentioned non-Catholic Christians. I think a lot’s at stake in terms of the future of Christianity in our world by this election. Even if a person isn’t a Catholic, or even maybe not very friendly to the Catholic Church, there’s no doubt that the pope of Rome is symbolically seen by so many people as the head of the Christian community. So I think all of us has something at stake here, and I just hope my Protestant brothers and sisters, and orthodox brothers and sisters will also be praying with us for the same intention, and you know, people of goodwill and religious people everywhere.

HH: So when a non-Christians hears that the Holy Spirit is in charge, they don’t have an understanding of that. How would you explain that to them, Archbishop Chaput?

CC: Well, I think that Pope Benedict Emeritus, you know, had a very good understanding of this and explanation of it. He was asked this question, and he was asked in the light of so many historically incapable popes, or even bad popes, how can you explain the Holy Spirit being very active in the election of the successor of St. Peter? And his answer was well, the Holy Spirit keeps us from making worse decisions than we’d make on our own. And I think that is the case. You know, the fact that the Holy Spirit is ultimately in charge of the Church doesn’t mean that we can’t make mistakes. But with open hearts and goodwill, and sincere faith, I think the cardinals can, will make the right decision if they’re open to the Holy Spirit.

HH: Are you anxious?

CC: Yes, a little bit. I am, because I’m already 68 years old, and the next pope will be the pope for the rest of my active ministry as a bishop. And I hope I can finish my ministry with a big bang, and so the leadership of the Holy Father is very, very important to me. And so I’m a bit anxious about it, yes.

HH: Now bishops don’t end up being bishops because they are shy, Archbishop Chaput. Not often, at least. So how does a meeting of 116 bishops, who are also cardinals, operate?

CC: Well, you know, the way the Church is structured at that level, those people are given opportunities to take their turn speaking. And because of that, they don’t speak over each other very often. And I think that’s how it’s possible with so many leader-type personalities in the same room. If it was just an open mic, it probably wouldn’t work very well. But they take their turns, and they sign up to speak. And because of that, there’s a certain kind of order of the exchange. And then of course, after the formal exchanges at these general assemblies, they get together for dinner, and they meet at coffee breaks, and they talk about individual candidates. And I think after a while, the same names will probably be heard by all of them, and it’ll be 10 or 15 people that people begin to focus on. And they’ll begin to ask people who know those candidates better, and the friends of those candidates what they’re really like, and how they might respond to certain kind of problems that are important to the particular cardinal that’s asking the question. And it’ll be, candidates will be narrowed down in that process during this week. And I suspect sometime early next week, they’ll enter into, the 115 who can vote will enter into the conclave, the doors will be locked, and they’ll be taking their votes.

HH: Now the conclave, of course, is sealed. But the general assemblies, which are underway now in the second day concluded, are those more permeable? Are people able to communicate? Are you learning yourself as one of the senior prelates of the American Church, what’s being discussed on the floor there? Or do they also maintain a conclave-like discipline when it comes to in and out information flow?

CC: I think they do maintain a certain kind of quietness about what’s discussed. You know, the general topics are probably shared, but after that, I don’t think they talk about who said what, although I think the part that’s really, that they’re really sworn by oath to maintain secrecy about, is the conclave itself once the election begins.

HH: Now is there a bishopric equivalent to rolling your eyes? Are there some people who stand, you know, I think of the U.S. Conference of Bishops is the closest thing I would have any experience with, where you’ve got a lot of bishops together, or a lot of cardinals together, and there are just some people, they stand up and you just roll your eyes? I mean, is that even allowed? You’re men, obviously, so lots of rolling of eye goes on my studio. I’m looking at Duane right now and rolling my eyes, so…

CC: And I’d imagine he’s rolling his eyes back. Yes, it does go on. And I was reading an interview with one of the African cardinals. I think the interview was done yesterday or today, and he was commenting on the talks at the general assemblies, and he made a remark that you wonder why some of these talks are even given in the sense that we already know what so and so is going to say, so why did he bother saying it again? So I think that kind of thing does exist in all human relationships, and it certainly exists among the cardinals.

HH: Now as you look at the vastness, and you probably know most, a majority of these cardinals, or have met them, but you’ve got such a diversity.

CC: I think I really know maybe 20% of them, is, would be all…

HH: Okay, oh, that’s less that I would have guessed from a senior American bishop. But when you look at the diversity, Archbishop Cardinal Tagle from the Philippines, and Dolan of New York or Scola of Italy, how in the world do they even get to a common data set, because it’s, the worldwide Church is a billion strong, and it’s in every country in the world, and it’s such an incredible array of diverse problems and peoples?

CC: You’re exactly right, and I don’t know that they will arrive at a common set of data to make a decision about, because one issue is extraordinarily important to us may not be of great importance to the bishops in Africa. And I think each bishop will be focusing on the things that existentially are important to him and to his church. So I think that’s where the Holy Spirit kind of sorts things out, that there’s a convergence of, on a candidate who in some ways can speak to all of the issues. But of course, every pope is a human being, and it’s really difficult for anyone to reach, to kind of fit the picture we all have of a perfect pope. Actually, I think the criteria that I would use if I were in the situation is I would try to vote for the person I think would be the best bishop of Rome. You know, the bishop of Rome is the pope of our Church, in light of the fact that he is the successor of St. Peter and the bishop of Rome. And I think that that’s a very, very important part of this election. If he’s a good bishop of Rome, with a tendingness to the needs of the world, he’ll serve the Church adequately well as a great leader.

HH:  Can you unpack that a little bit, Archbishop Chaput, when you say a good bishop of Rome? What do you mean?

CC: Well, you know, St. Peter didn’t see himself as the bishop of the world. And popes are not the Catholic bishop to the world. They are the universal pastor in the sense that they have care for all the local churches throughout the world. But a bishop, or a man becomes a pope by becoming the bishop of Rome. So that is the route of his responsibilities for the care of the universal Church. So I don’t think we should ever lose sight of that, you know, that somehow we’re electing the bishop for the world, because each one of us is the bishop of our own diocese, of our own place, and the pope is the head of that college of bishops, with authority over all of us, but not replacing all of us. And we’re not bishops to do his will, we’re bishops to do the will of God. And he calls us together as brothers, and kind of corrects us if we step out of line. But he himself is a bishop, and the bishop of the See of St. Peter. And that’s why he’s the pope, why he’s the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

— – – –

HH:  But before we go back to that, Archbishop, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave you some pretty tough assignments, and you took them willingly and faithfully. You must have had interesting reactions upon hearing that he had decided to retire. What were those?

CC: Well, I was astonished, like so many of us, maybe almost the whole world, saddened because I really liked the Pope personally. I’ve never met a brighter man, and never met somebody who could console me so well in the midst of difficult ministries, because he was able to, his mind was able to pierce whatever problem you wanted to talk about and bring light to that problem. So I really see his retirement as a loss. Having said that, as I said earlier, I think maybe even talking to you, that I think it was an act of very creative courage for him to decide to retire, because there was great pressure on him not to think of doing that, because no one’s done it for more than 600 years. But he’s, again, and people generally think of him as a very traditional man. He’s really a very orthodox man, but I think he has a creativity that takes him beyond just tradition to make bright decisions and even to make, to do surprising and even difficult things.

HH: Do you hope to see him again?

CC: I do hope to see him again, but I don’t know if I will. I think that’s a question a number of us are wondering. I get to Rome quite often, and when I go there, I usually stay at Doma Santa Marta, which is the house of St. Martha, where the cardinals will stay during the conclave. It’s a hotel for people who have business at the Vatican. It’s a lovely place. And it is, it’s a little bit more than a stone’s throw distance from where the Pope’s new home will be, Pope Benedict XVI’s home will be. So I have said, I wonder if I can go up and knock on his door? I wonder if it’s possible to get an appointment. I don’t know what his style’s going to be. He tends to be personally a very shy man, and I think he’s going to be very, very careful about not doing anything that would interfere in the life of his successor.

HH: Now legacies of popes are very difficult to assess. Just yesterday, I was talking about Leo XIII with George Weigel, so here it is 120 years later, and we’re talking about Leo XIII. That having been said, what do you think Benedict XVI’s legacy is going to emerge, at least in the short term, as?

CC: Short term, I think that those of us who knew him and love his writings and his talks, will always be grateful for that, and will use them constantly as refreshing points for our own preparations to speak. In the long term, I think he could become a doctor of the Church. You know, the Church gives that title to women and men who are extraordinary teachers, whose teachings have made a huge impact on subsequent Church history. I think that he will be a doctor of the Church without doubt, not only because of the amount of writing, but the clarity of his writing.

HH: Now there’s much discussion of the new evangelization, which actually originated as a term under John Paul II, but embraced by Benedict XVI. What does that mean? And how important is it, both in these general assemblies, which are underway this week, yesterday and today, and in the conclave when it begins?

CC: You know, some of the older priests that I’ve been working with over the years have been irritated by that term new evangelization. They ask what’s wrong with the old evangelization? And I think those of us who look around and see our churches empty, and see the diminished amount of participation, lapse of the Church over the last 50 years, do see something wrong with the old evangelization, not in its initiation, but as things develop. You know, the term was used by Pope John Paul II regarding bringing of the faith to the Americas – North and South America. And that first evangelization was accomplished by the work of Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries, you know, mostly priests and brothers and religious women – sisters. New evangelization is the evangelization of those same places at a different time when, and it’s an evangelization of people who maybe were already baptized, or who were Catholic at one time, and now are just Catholic in name. And so it’s a harder evangelization, because it’s harder to convince somebody that thinks he or she is a Catholic that you might not be because of the positions he holds or the lifestyle he or she is living, than to convince somebody who’s not a Catholic at all, or Christian at all, that they need to embrace Jesus Christ. It’s really a harder kind of evangelization. The Agents are new. You know, in the past, they were mostly priests and the religious. Now, I think the primary agents of evangelization are the laity. In the past, it was parents passing on their faith through their children. Now, in so many situations, young adults are bringing the faith to their parents, and bringing them back to the practice of faith. The new communication technologies that are available today make it easier, but also much more complicated in the sense that the Gospel message is competing against so many millions and millions of other messages that are contrary to the Gospel and the new media. So I think it’s an exciting time. But the heart of the new evangelization is that it’s the evangelization of people who have already heard the Gospel and have kind of turned it off. And to get through to them is a much more difficult task than the fresh first evangelization.

HH: And what kind of skill sets help that?

CC: Well, I think the confidence in what you believe is the first requirement. I mean, if you don’t have that, you don’t risk and you don’t put much energy into what you’re doing. I think creativity, to be faithful and orthodox, but not to be caught in forms that can change, and actually might get in the way of the good news of Jesus Christ today, working in community, you know, no one can do it alone. No one can do it alone. No one ever could do it alone. Jesus sent out His disciples in pairs for good reason, that we need the support and good example of one another. All this kind of enthusiastic characteristics of the evangelical churches of our time are now available to Catholics, too. You know, we used to see this kind of evangelical energy as encouragement to Protestant Churches, and not the way we Catholics did it. And that was a huge mistake, because I think the evangelical Protestant Churches have shown us the value and importance of that experiential love of Jesus Christ and enthusiastic preaching, and the centrality of community in our life as Christians.

HH: Now you just used an interesting term, Archbishop Chaput – energy. And the only time I have ever associated popes, even though as I greatly love, with the term energy was early in the pontificate of John Paul II when, of course, he went skiing and all this other stuff. How important is visible energy in the pontiff at this time?

CC: I think that if he, if the pontiff is able to encourage the younger people of the Church to be enthusiastic and energetic, and to recommit themselves, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference about his age. I mean, I think that for a pope to be able to focus on the multiple tasks he has before him, requires a certain kind of energy and youth. But I don’t, you know, even his last years, John Paul II was able to draw energy from young people. And I think the response of Catholics to the Pope Benedict’s retirement, the great crowds that came, and you know, he had even better numbers on the Wednesday audiences than Pope John Paul II. So even in his being elected pope in his 70s, didn’t mean that he couldn’t energize the Church. So I think physical age is an issue, you know, and better someone younger than someone older, all things being equal. But we really want the best leader, regardless of age or where he’s from, whatever.

— – –

HH: I’m joined this hour by Archbishop Charles Chaput of the wonderful Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where he suffers greatly, as he now has to applaud the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia Eagles. Do they even have professional basketball in Philadelphia?

CC: Yeah, we do.

HH: Okay, just checking.

CC: They’re a lot better than Cleveland.

HH: We have got Kyrie Irving, and so I would, I’m going to correct you. In any event, I don’t argue with archbishops. Archbishop, if you’re a young seminarian out there, or just a young man considering the seminary, or a young woman considering a vocation as a sister, how do you recommend they watch and react to this week and the next two or three weeks, which are going to be so pivotal to their lives?

CC: Well you know, this time of year, I’m interviewing one or two, sometimes three guys a week who are thinking about becoming priests. You know, it’s, we’re getting the final applications in for next year’s seminary program. And that they’re already watching with a great enthusiasm. I don’t really have to give them instructions. They’re probably paying as much attention to it as I am, maybe even closer, because they have, they’re fascinated by this experience, which is the first time they’ve had the experience, for many of them, even though Pope Benedict was only elected eight years ago. Many of them weren’t paying much attention back in those days. So this is kind of fresh and new and exciting, so they’re paying close attention. I would encourage them not to pay a whole lot of attention to what the commentators are saying on media, but to try to look at it through their own eyes, and not through the interpretation as others give it, and to do it in a prayerful kind of way that leads them to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit calling them in their own life to whatever work God wants them to do in the Church.

HH: Now you mentioned commentary. Yesterday, I asked George Weigel who he read and listened to among the lay, and he said basically John Allen and himself, and that was it. What about, advice…obviously, as a bishop, you have your own sources, and stuff you can’t share, and that’s especially as a senior bishop. But for the average Joe Bag O’Donuts wandering around the United States, what do you recommend that they do read and they do pay attention to?

CC: Well actually, George was giving you recommendations that I would give. I think John Allen is one of the finest commentators on the life of the Church, international life of the Catholic Church these days. He writes for the National Catholic Reporter. And every day since the announcement, almost, he’s been highlighting another cardinal as a possible candidate for pope, and has been presenting the positive and negative sides of that decision in a rather objective way. He does a great job. And George does, too. George is on NBC, I think, and he’s been commenting for them. John Allen’s on CNN, I think.

HH: Yes.

CC: But I read their things more than actually listen or watch the television. In Philadelphia, we have a young man by the name of Rocco Palmo, who has a blog site called Whispers In The Loggia, and not only does he do his own commentary, but he gives us connections to other sites of just about everybody commenting on it. And his selection of those commentaries are very, very good. He’s somebody else that I would recommend. There’s a Catholic News Agency, the head of that is a Peruvian by the name of Alejandro Bermudez. And Alejandro is over in Rome. He does commentary for EWTN in Spanish. But also, his network, his news network, which is part of the Catholic register system, and part of the EWTN system, is very useful. It’s called the Catholic News Agency. Those are the ones I look to every day, maybe two or three times a day these days, because they’re constantly posting new things.

HH: Well, Whispers In The Loggia…

CC: And there’s, you know, there’s Hugh Hewitt. I enjoyed your own article from the Washington Examiner, I think it was.

HH: Yeah, but all I do is comment. But I did quote Cardinal…I don’t report, because I don’t have any sources, but Cardinal George’s interview with John Allen was fascinating when he spoke about governance.

CC: It was.

HH: And people hear about the Curia, and I’m a lifelong cradle Catholic, I still don’t quite understand how big or dense it is. What’s your guidance to the average layman out there about how big and how dense and how valuable governance skills are?

CC: Well you know, for Americans, and probably for Westerners, it’s a big issue, because we like immediate responses to our questions. And when there’s issues bubbling in the life of the Church, on political issues or issues about life, and about marriage and those kinds of things, we want the Holy See to be very involved in those discussions, and respond quickly to the questions, and quickly to our concerns. So that when we talk about governance, and we complain about governance from the Holy See, it’s that they don’t seem too responsive to our concerns in the time frame that we want it. Now you talk to people from Latin America, and listen to the bishops from Africa, they don’t have the same concerns, because those issues aren’t the same issues for them. And they’re not used to the kind of immediate response that we are in the West. So the governance issue, I think, is basically that. It’s about responsiveness. The pope’s secretariats are not always responsive as we like them to be.

— – –

HH: Archbishop, everybody who cares about the Church knows about the abuse scandals. And they’ve covered them in depth, and they understand the importance to the conclave. But what are the other issues out there that don’t get that level of attention that should be getting a lot of attention as people consider where the Church is going to go under a new pope?

CC: Well, I think the biggest issue for those of us in the Western world, and that’s Europe and North America, is the falling off of Catholic practice, and the diminishment of numbers. A church’s strength isn’t proven by the numbers of members, but for us to lose so many, for church attendance to drop from 75% to 30% is a huge issue. And so I think the new evangelization is probably the most important issue for the Church of our time. You know, that’s, the new evangelization is undermined by the sexual abuse scandal, and the diminishment of the Church wasn’t caused by the sexual abuse scandal. It was abetted by it and helped, but it wasn’t caused by it, because the diminishment began long before that was the public scandal that it is today. So I think how do we bring people past old forms to come to know Jesus Christ, and to fall in love with Him and to commit themselves to His teaching. That’s what the Church is about. And we have to find fresh ways of doing that. Here, I’m the bishop of Philadelphia now, and I’m actually the bishop of a church that is in decline in terms of the institutions. We were a hugely successful institutional church. At one time, we had 267,000 young people in our schools…

HH: Wow.

CC: …more than the public school system of Philadelphia. We had 4,000 nuns teaching in those schools at that time. And now, we only have 60,000 kids in our school system, and maybe 400 sisters. And that shows a diminishment. But we still have all those buildings. We still have those schools. And people are still attached to what we did in the past, which we’ll never do again. You know, there’s no way we can fill up our schools if we charge the kind of tuition we need to charge. And we have to charge the tuition, and we don’t have religious women and men who are able to work for the kind of salaries that made Catholic education possible and affordable back in those days. So we have to do things differently. And I think those are the real issues of our time. How do we get through the blocks that the old structures pose towards a fresh new evangelization?

HH: There’s also, I mean, the spirit of the age is one of aggressive secularism, almost a metastasizing animosity to faith, and to arguments made from Scripture, and patristic tradition. How great of a challenge to the new pope is that? And do you, you know, Benedict went to war with that and battled it, as did John Paul II, but it certainly was at best a standoff.

CC: Right, and again, if you compare the Church of the northern hemisphere with the Church of the southern hemisphere, you have different issues, because the Catholic Church is growing incredibly quickly in Africa. It’s doing better than Islam, actually, and people aren’t aware of those kind of things, so that the issues of the bishops in the southern hemisphere are different from the bishops in the north. So the bishops from the south want a pope that won’t just focus on secularization in Europe and North America, but also helps focus on the tension between Islam and Christianity and the evangelization of their part of the world. So you know, we need a pope who can keep his eye and his heart on many different things at the same time. And that’s why, again, that’s why his staff, or the Curia, that’s a word for staff, is so important, that the Curia isn’t just concerned about structural issues and the issues of the past, the issues of the Western world, but also is very attuned to the needs of the newer churches in the south.

HH: Archbishop, if under the new pope the Church in North America and Europe were to continue its decline, almost so that it could continue its increase in the southern hemisphere and in the Far East, would that mark a successful pope? Or does the Church in the West have to be strong for a pope to be successful?

CC: You know, the pope is successful if he’s faithful to his vocation, and calls the Church to holiness. And again, the numbers aren’t a sign of that. Inattentiveness to those issues would be a bad sign, and a failure on the part of the pope, but you know, as Saint…and I shouldn’t say saint, but Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, God doesn’t ask us to succeed. He asks us to try. And that’s what’s really important. Now having said that, it would be tragic if the birthplace of Christendom, you know, Europe, would see Christianity continue to disappear, and disappear completely. That would be tragic. Can you imagine Italy without Catholics? It wouldn’t make any sense at all. So I think it’s very important for all of us to focus on the part of the world that God has given us, and to do the new evangelization where the Gospel’s already been preached, and encourage the first evangelization where it hasn’t. And God will decide how He wants to show…

HH: You had this amazing seminary in Denver, and I haven’t yet visited your Philadelphia seminary, but of the young men you are talking about who will be priests for many popes, how do they strike you compared to you and your classmate, Cardinal O’Malley, and the rest of them who came in when you were a young seminarian?

CC: I think all of us who know the past and the present and the future of the Church, in the seminarians, are very impressed with them. The difference between them and us would be basically this, that they are much more, they start off being much more orthodox than the seminarians of my generation. But they also come from broken families in a way that we didn’t, so they have in some sense, more personal issues to deal with than we did. But they certainly have an apostolic energy that matches ours, and I think they’ve sacrificed so much more to be priests than we ever did, because when I went to seminary, everybody thought it was a really wonderful thing. Now, many of these young guys are embracing seminary life when their families don’t support it, and certainly their friends think they’re strange for doing so. So I think that we’re dealing with a new crop of very fresh, enthusiastic and creative vocations.

HH: And a last question, Archbishop Chaput, do you think we’ll have a new pope by Easter?

CC: Yes, I would hope we’d have a new pope by the end of next week. It’s a hope, you know. I really don’t have any better way of predicting this than you do, Hugh, or anybody listening. But it seems to me that once they start, they’ll get it done in a week at the most.

HH: Oh, wow. I look forward to talking to you after the identity of the next pontiff is revealed. Thank you so much for your time, Archbishop. I know it’s a valuable commodity, and I appreciate you taking the time late in the afternoon, early evening in Philadelphia.

CC: It’s a joy for me to talk to you.

HH: Thank you, my friend.

End of interview.


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