Must read: Archbp. Chaput’s address at U of Pennsylvania

Everyone should read the Most Rev. Charles Chaput’s (Archbp. of Philadelphia) 7 November speech at the University of Pennsylvania.




Most of us here tonight believe that we have basic rights that come with the special dignity of being human. These rights are inherent to human nature. They’re part of who we are. Nobody can take them away. But if there is no Creator, and nothing fundamental and unchangeable about human nature, and if “nature’s God” is kicked out of the conversation, then our rights become the product of social convention. And social conventions can change. So can the definition of who is and who isn’t “human.”

The irony is that modern liberal democracy needs religion more than religion needs modern liberal democracy. American public life needs a framework friendly to religious belief because it can’t support its moral claims about freedom and rights with secular arguments alone. In fact, to the degree that it encourages a culture of unbelief, liberal democracy undermines its own grounding. It causes its own decline by destroying the public square’s moral coherence.

That leads to my fourth and final point. The pro-life movement needs to be understood and respected for what it is: part of a much larger, consistent, and morally worthy vision of the dignity of the human person. You don’t need to be Christian or even religious to be “pro-life.” Common sense alone is enough to make a reasonable person uneasy about what actually happens in an abortion. The natural reaction, the sane and healthy response, is repugnance.

What makes abortion so grievous is the intimacy of the violence and the innocence of the victim. Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and remember this is the same Lutheran pastor who helped smuggle Jews out of Germany and gave his life trying to overthrow Hitler—wrote that the “destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

Bonhoeffer’s words embody Christian belief about the sanctity of human life present from the earliest years of the Church. Rejection of abortion and infanticide was one of the key factors that set the early Christians apart from the pagan world. From the Didache in the First Century through the Early Fathers of the Church, down to our own day, Catholics—and until well into the twentieth century all other Christians—have always seen abortion as gravely evil. As Bonhoeffer points out, arguing about whether abortion is homicide or only something close to homicide is irrelevant. In the Christian view of human dignity, intentionally killing a developing human life is always inexcusable and always gravely wrong.

Working against abortion doesn’t license us to ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant. It doesn’t absolve us from supporting women who find themselves pregnant or abandoned. All human life, no matter how wounded, flawed, young or old, is sacred because it comes from God. The dignity of a human life and its right to exist are guaranteed by God. Catholic teaching on abortion and sexuality is part of the same integral vision of the human person that fuels Catholic teaching on economic justice, racism, war, and peace.

These issues don’t all have the same content. They don’t all have the same weight. All of them are important, but some are more foundational than others. Without a right to life, all other rights are contingent. The heart of the matter is what Solzhenitsyn implied in his Harvard comments. Society is not just a collection of sovereign individuals with appetites moderated by the state. It’s a community of interdependent persons and communities of persons; persons who have human obligations to one another, along with their human rights. One of those obligations is to not intentionally kill the innocent. The two pillars of Catholic social teaching are respect for the sanctity of the individual and service to the common good. Abortion violates both.


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  1. BV says:


  2. pfreddys says:

    His Excellency’s speech is, well, excellent.

    An egg is not a chicken say the pro-abortionists. Well neither is a human being a fowl. Boiled down to its essence the argument about abortion is an argument about what fundamentally is human nature. If we are just another animal, more complicated than the others but essentially just another animal then of course abortion would be fine, as would also putting to sleep an animal in pain. Last I checked I don’t think Hippocrates was a Catholic; but even this noble pagan could distinguish the merely animal from the rational animal.

  3. Robert_H says:

    Our bishop is due to tender his resignation next May. I’m praying every day that we get someone as on the ball as +Chaput.

  4. Mdepie says:

    This speech by Archbishop Chaput will do little good, and here is why. The Bishops in their pro-life message insist on repeating the caveat that concern for the unborn does not give us the right to ” ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant. ” It is baffling to me why they must say this. After all is there anybody doing so! I do not hear the reverse, when the Bishops preach about the poor do they have a need to say, “concern for the poor is not an excuse to ignore the murder of the unborn” ? In any case the practical effect of this particular catch phrase is that liberal Catholics will use it to continue to vote for the liberal/democrat who they will allege is more in tune with the church’s concern for the poor. That is what has gone on for the last 40 years and it will continue untill someone stops juxtaposing these very different issues. No one in the United States is espousing economic policies with the intent that poverty, or homelessness be increased. There is legitimate debate over what specific polices are best. Similarly in the United States in which 75% of people who are classified as poor have DVD players, and 89% have microwaves It is not clear we have a serious poverty problem. We do have a serious problem with killing unborn children and their are politicians specifically defending the practice. Until we say ok… We must make stopping this a priority ( even a sole focus) we will have more of it. I teach resident physicians critical care medicine. I do not tell them ” look restoring the patients blood pressure and pulse does not give you the right to overlook their chronic bone pain… ( although it does not!) I focus them on first things first, I tell them resuscitate the patient and then later on you can treat the chronic pain. First we stop killing the unborn, we can then sort out exactly how to handle illegal immigration.

  5. Tom T says:

    I wish every bishop in America was as supportive of pro-life as Archbishop Chaput. I attended University of Penna. many, many years ago and it was then slanted towards liberalism, I suppose it still is. I am very honored and thrilled, being a Knight of Columbus and supporter
    of pro-life, to be in the Archdiocese of Phila. with Archbishop Chaput as it`s head. I look forward
    to his support in our endeavors and have already seen notices sent to our parish on the pro-life
    movement. He did`nt waste any time since his arrival. Pax.

  6. Joseph-Mary says:

    Dear Tom T:
    Do give Archbishop all your support! I sure did when he was in Denver. He was unfailingly kind to me in spite of his many duties and responsibilies too.

  7. Clinton says:

    As Dr. Maturin would say, “It deserves to be written in letters of gold”.

  8. Tom T says:

    Mdepie, I agree with your points as I have pointed out previously on Fr. Z`s blog and others arguing positions taken from the USCCB and even my arguments, which I believe you read on another blog about the mixed messages that came out of the 2012 Voters Guide where the
    owner who had spin down to a science actually called me a liar when it was apparent he was losing the argument. However, in defense of Archbishop Chaput, allow me to say you must read his history in Denver and some of his writings. He will tell a politician, publically that he can not recieve Holy Communion in his Archdiocese if he is pro-abortion and will warn Catholics that it is
    wrong to support them, and he will do it in a New York minute. Archbishop Chaput says what he means and means what he says and pro-life and the protection of life from conception and all life`s stages from beginning to natural end has always come first and foremost with him.
    And Joseph Mary, yes, Archbishop Chaput will get all my support as did others before him whether I agreed or not. Pax

  9. “What makes abortion so grievous is the intimacy of the violence and the innocence of the victim.”

    Wow…just wow. That’s all I’ve got.

  10. Mdepie says:

    I don’t want to be overly critical regarding Archbishop Chaput. He may be better than some. The fact is that as a group the bishops simply do not behave as if they believe the teaching of the Church on this matter. The Church teaches that abortion is “an unspeakable crime” and John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae that abortion was murder, specifically….”The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder”.. Now do the Bishops actually act like those opposing abortion are opposing an “unspeakable crime” or that those favoring it are favoring “murder”? Imagine how Archbishop Chaput would sound if we substituted “murder” for abortion….Working against (murder) doesn’t license us to ignore the needs of the homeless or the poor, the elderly or the immigrant…. Would he really say this? It would simply make no sense, we don’s usually castigate those fighting against murder that well… just because your trying to stop murder does not give you license….Huh….

    Then we have this gem…”Catholic teaching on abortion and sexuality is part of the same integral vision of the human person that fuels Catholic teaching on economic justice, racism, war, and peace.” Well fine…. but what on earth does it mean in this context… The issues are completely different. Racism like abortion in an intrinsic evil, but one which our society is united in rejecting. War is not even always evil, sometimes its a moral duty, as countries have a moral duty to defend their citzens. I never have any idea what to make of “economic justice”. Is there any proposed economic policy that can not be defended in principle as compatible with Catholic teaching on “economic justice” ? Who is arguing in principle for economic “injustice”.

    No what we have here is this, Archbishop Chaput is probably a political liberal. ( he has admitted as much, as when Carter ran against Reagan he voted for Carter, this is noted in an interview he did on National Review Online. Just imagine how liberal one must be to have made this choice since Carter was very soundly beaten by Reagan ) He is now in the uncomfortable position of having to oppose those he feels most comfortable with politically because to his dismay they are in favor of unrestricted abortion. I suspect he shares this position with many of the Bishops. They thus can not seem to make a coherent statement against abortion without a bow to the political left… saying we are still really with you guys….. we just have to say this stuff about abortion. Archbishop Chaput has said he would warn a pro-abortion politician before he did not give him communion. Why? Imagine would he do this with a racist politician? Someone publicly guilty of infanticide? Sounds extreme you say… these are not the same thing perhaps….? Yes that is my point, the Church teaches they are comparable evils, abortion being an “unspeakable crime” and all.. but the Bishops simply do not act like they think so… They do not treat abortion the same way they would treat other “unspeakable crimes”.

    This is really very sad. This will continually undermine the practical effect of their opposition to abortion, because the pro-abortion politicians know the Bishops will never unite in taking the case to the people in the pews with the same vigor they would oppose an openly racist candidate.
    If they want to win, this is what must be done.

  11. moon1234 says:


    I have to say that your responses were the first thing I thought as soon as I saw the message about the plight of the poor and immigrant being linked with abortion. It destroyed the emphasis on abortion and equated it with other issues that, while important, are NOT as high of a priority to eliminate in our country.

  12. JonPatrick says:

    Upon reading these responses ,I am surprised by the reactions of several people. The phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good” comes to mind. If Abp. Chaput is not considered “pro-life enough” then we are really in trouble.

    The fact is that Catholic teaching does encompass all of human life from conception to natural death. We are often criticized for being concerned only with the unborn and not caring about the mother or the fate of the child once it has left the womb, in spite of the Church being one of the largest social service agencies in the world. These issues are not as cut and dried as people seem to suggest. The comparison with racism for example, when the government supports affirmative action to atone for past mistakes, this involves adopting policies that favor one race over another.

    Oh and concerning +Chaput’s supporting Carter over Reagan, a different time than today and a Democratic party that had not totally gone over to the dark side at that point. A lot of people had difficulty deciding who to support, myself included.

  13. Johnsum says:

    Catholic identity at all levels of the Church has become weakened and distorted. Some sociology report I read recently seemed to say that opinions can be altered in a group if 10 percent of its members will advocate a position with firm conviction. The Church will have to come up with this 10 percent soon.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    Archibishop Chaput is not a liberal. His talks, sermons, university lectures, etc. for the past many years prove this. As to people’s past voting records, one cannot compare today with 1976. I did vote for Ford, but the nation was sick of the Nixon presidency and Ford was associated with the “pardon” of Nixon. Look at history in context, and many people voted for Carter again over Reagan in 1980, as Reagan was coming out of the California, then a very odd political scene, and, for those with political memories, Reagan has signed into law the first no-cause divorce law in California and the abortion law, which he could have vetoed. He was also against Proposition 6, the banning of lgbt rights in the same state. That he became more conservative over the years was not so obvious as later. He was weak on homosexual rights at first, so many things changed from the late 70s to 1984. God bless Archbishop Chaput and give him many years of influence in the Church.

  15. Edward says:

    Thanks for citing and excerpting this important, yet imperfect, speech. Just as Abp Chaput differentiates between (modern) “values” and (classical or Christian) virtues, an essential distinction, he could and should have rendered more chiaroscuro the distinction between sanctity or dignity of life and the right to life.

    For “rights” — human and civil — are Enlightenment constructs. While we thoroughly modern men take fully for granted our rights, irrespective of reciprocal obligations, and the very Enlightenment construct on which such notions are based, doing so prejudices us toward what opposes a right way of thinking.

    More concretely, to argue, lobby or protest for a “right to life” as opposed to a “right to choose” is to engage the enemies of reason on their own terms: rights pitted against rights creates an insoluble problem or fosters a volatile, because capricious, “solution” equally on unfavorable terms. The noble Bonhoeffer drank liberally from this poisoned well: “destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed on this nascent life.”

    Abortion is an offense against nature and nature’s God, if you please, and the very inclination so to choose abortion is, too; immoral acts based on morally obtuse reasoning. Rights do not need to, and really must not even, figure into the calculus of the matter.

    Abp Chaput rightly cites Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address, which is consistent with his referencing the Patristics (pre-“rights” theology and political thought of a far sounder basis) in support of morality defined closer to nature, -the- right basis, as discoverable and applied by right reasoning. But he interchanges sanctity and dignity of life on that basis with right to life, which muddles his argument as he straddles the fence between current modes of thinking on moral matters and older, better modes.

    We need, at the end of the day, to refresh our thinking, our expression and our action on a far older, more responsible, because more human, way of thinking. Therein lies the counter-cultural impact of Solzhenitsyn at Harvard and, of course, Abp Chaput’s intent imperfectly advanced.

  16. AnAmericanMother says:

    I agree, you have to look at it in context at the time. Really the whole Nixon thing and the Ford aftermath was the first time the media got deeply, heavily involved in partisanship, while still pretending to be even-handed. And it took people awhile to figure out that the rules of the game had changed and you couldn’t trust Huntley, Brinkley, or Cronkite to give you the truth.
    Mostly I voted for Carter in 1976 because he was a fellow Georgian (even though I knew that he had been an awful, nit-picking governor; I was young and stupid, still in school at a very liberal Ivy.) The stupidity sank in by the time he ran for re-election, I did vote for Reagan in 1980. Of course at that point I was out working for a living!

  17. Mdepie says:

    A couple of comments:
    My point is not that Archbishop Chaput is not “pro life enough”, he is plenty “pro-life” . My point is that because his other political sympathies lie with the left he has trouble being effective politically. We are after all talking about what our laws should be, so at some level abortion is about being effective politically. That he is a political liberal ( not a theological liberal) is pretty clear, he admits as much in his interview on NRO online when he promoted his book. He voted for Carter knowing Carter was less pro-life than Reagan ( he admits this as well! ) A mistake I think he would say he would not repeat. He simply underestimated the enormity of what Roe v Wade entailed. I am paraphrasing him, but this is what he said.

    I think it concedes too much to the left when we are troubled by their accusation that we are not “concerned” enough about children after they are born. As if they are! As if anyone beyond the left takes this charge seriously ! Obviously they are not concerned about anyone post birth either! At least most of them. A group that is willing to create a society in which 90% of children who are diagnosed with Down syndrome are killed before birth, because they are thought not fit to live…. is not a group that has any moral credibility speaking about compassion! What they are concerned with is power. They use “concern” as a tool to bludgeon the naive ( like our Bishops ) into thinking it is about “economic justice”. If they really had any concern for the “poor” the actual effects of the programs they advocate would matter. The effects of the programs are irrelevant to the left. Want proof? Well try this nugget out. The poverty rate was declining rapidly in the years prior to the implementation of “the Great society after 1965 this rate of decline in the poverty rate disappeared, the poverty rate has hovered at 12-14% ever since. So if you believe in evidence it appears like the liberal anti-poverty programs either did not good, or maybe even did harm by erasing a decline in poverty that was previously occurring. does anyone on the left ever say …lets take a look at this and see if it helps or hurts? Would places like Detroit, Chicago and Philadelphia (governed by the left for decades) be in such shambles if the left did this? Why 46 years after the moder leviathian social welfare state do we still have inner city ghettos? . It would be helpful ( but it appears too much to ask…) to note that maybe instead of blather about “economic justice” someone at the USCCB who claims to have all this concern about the “poor” actually look at the effect of a given program on the poor. If they bothered to do this, I might actually take them seriously. If they talk about personally giving alms then I am all ears.. We should all be doing this personally. (For the most part conservatives do this at a much greater level than liberals) So I do not feel personally that in order to oppose the murder of unborn children I am somehow bound to advocate for goverment policies that promote “economic justice”, if this means a liberal policy agenda.. if it does not mean that.. then what exactly is the Archbishop trying to say. As for policies regarding immigrants, war and racisim I have no idea what he is talking about. I am virtually certain he was not saying we should be opposing affirmative action as Jon Patrick seems to imply. If he means that we should be supporting it, I think it is defamatory slander to suggest that one is a racist if you are against it. In any case the comment was so opaque as to not clearly be talking about anything specific at all. As for War I am even more baffled, is he talking about war in the abstract or our specific conflicts now… It it is the specific ones now, can he articulate how the teaching of the Church on the just war is relevant? It obviously is irrelevant, since it the war was judged “unjust” it would be a mortal sin to knowingly participate in it as a soldier. No one is suggesting such a thing… so it appears to me that regardless of the political wisdom of the wars, they can presumed to be “just”. The Church does not have a specific national security insight to answer whether they are wise.

    So we are left with this… The Archbishop juxtaposed things that are no way connected purely as a bow to the left. Whether this bow is to reassure them or ourselves that we really are concerned with people after they are born… or whether it is because the Bishops have political sympathies that lie with the left, or they fear bad publicity from the main stream media.. I do not know for sure. What is certain.. is that until we tell politicians that if you vote for this… we will work to defeat you in the next election and act as if nothing else matters. We will lose. Do the gay rights folks treat politicians who do not bow to the gay marriage lobby with any slack? Does anyone on the left ask them.. well how much do you care about strengthening marriage in general? No.. didnt think so…. Thus endeth the lesson

  18. Tom T says:

    I agree with much of what you say however, I think you are overlooking the fine line that Catholic leaders have to walk when discussing beliefs in a public audience atmosphere. You must keep in mind, particularly in this day, with the anti-Catholic anti-religious administration that currently exists on all levels of the left, to promote a single issue such as pro-life would almost certainly be to endorse the Republican party since 98% of them are pro-life and could give the current administration enough to activate certain Departments such as is before the Supreme Court brought by the Department of Labor challenging Universities exemption from labor laws under the Constitution`s 1rst amendment clause with a renewed effort to attack diocese that claim tax exemptions. I fully agree with your observations about the liberal crop of Bishops created as a
    result of misinterpretations of Post Conciliar Documents of Vat II however, I also understand the political corner in which they backed themselves into. The referance was made, if you recall, in the 2012 Voter`s Guide which I pointed out in another blog which I am sure you read, on the problem of single issue voting. In my view, I believe they ( the Bishops) have to be very careful here and I do agree with you, it is a problem of their own creation in that their pro-life teaching should have been at the top of their agenda from the very beginning. Pax

  19. Mdepie says:

    Sorry Tom, The Bishops performed the exact same way during the 8 years Bush was president and speaking out vigorously against pro-abortion politicians would have been unlikely to be met with any kind of attack from the IRS, or any government agencies. In any case, now the attack is coming regardless. The Church at this point has very few chips, the only way to build back is to go all in. Call it like it is, and when the inevitable blow back comes we will see who the real Catholics are. BTW we know for certain that in the end the good guys win and the bad guys end up in… what was that again…? . Oh yes “the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels” or some such right? I dont think we need to be timid in dealing with the left.

  20. Supertradmum says:

    There is no room for timidity or “political correctness” at this stage, nor at any stage. It seems to me that while we have had over 150 years of brave and outspoken Popes, we have witnessed less than courageous bishops until very lately, exempting such as Cardinal Fulton J. Sheen and a few others. Why should Truth bow to the Father of Lies? The Church will be, as a young priest said here two weeks ago, better for being full of people who are deciding to follow Christ, rather than culturally being Catholic. And, of course, to follow Christ, means to pick up the Cross.

  21. Tom T says:

    Before I rest my case in defense of Archbishop Chaput, allow me to pick and quote from his speech as others have done here. Now with regard to him being liberal he states “The irony is that modern liberal democracy needs religion more than religion needs a modern liberal democracy. American public life needs a framework friendly to religious belief because it can`t support its moral claims about freedom and rights with secular arguments alone. In fact, the degree that it encourages a culture of unbelief , liberal democracy undermines its own grounding. It causes its own decline by destroying the public square`s moral coherance.” And again in his fourth and final point he describes the prolife movement in quoting Bonhoffer that “deliberately depriving life is nothing but murder.” He states that the issues, as you mentioned on the poor, homeless and the elderly or the immigrant , “don`t have the same weight. All of them are important , but some are more foundational than others. Without a right to life, all other rights are contingent.” And again; The two pillars of Catholic social teaching are respect for the sanctity of the individual and service to the common good. Aborion violates both.” Now the speech as a whole in it`s entirety was, in my view, was built on the foundation of the prolife movement without which nothing else can be supported. That is not a liberal view. When you pick out one paragraph from the speech which he clearly states is unsupported without the right to life, that is not a fair assessment of the speech as a whole. Pax.

  22. Mdepie says:

    Last comment on this. The Archbishop is a liberal not cause I say he is, but because he says he is. True he does not hold many of the philosophical beliefs we associate with the left. ( This is true of much of the soft left), but he prefers state oriented federal government solutions to most problems. It is just his bias. It is obviously the bias of all the Bishops, because beyond abortion and gay marriage the USCCB could get its talking points from the DNC. To confirm any of this simply go on the USCCB web site. In terms of Chaput’s liberalism, he himself denies he is a conservative. So I take him at his word.

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