The first Chaput interview

NCR’s John Allen sat down for an exclusive interview with the soon-to-be Archbishop of Philadelphia, and found a few things that might surprise people.


Love him or hate him, Archbishop Charles Chaput, Pope Benedict XVI’s choice as the new chief shepherd of the embattled Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is impossible to ignore.

Few American bishops relish public debate more than the 66-year-old Chaput, whose background is in the Capuchins, and who’s widely regarded as an intellectual leader of the “evangelical” movement in Catholicism. He’s fiercely loyal to church teaching and tradition, and passionate about taking the Catholic message to the street.

By naming him to Philadelphia, the pontiff — who is, of course, no stranger to controversy himself — effectively has handed the fiery Chaput a bigger cultural megaphone.

Benedict has also signaled confidence in Chaput’s personal integrity and administrative chops. In Philadelphia, Chaput faces the turmoil created by last February’s Grand Jury report, which found that 37 priests facing credible accusations of abuse remained in ministry.

In conjunction with the appointment, Chaput sat down for an extended, and exclusive, interview with NCR. He put no limits on the topics to be covered, which included his move to Philadelphia, his overall leadership style and vision, and his views of the sexual abuse crisis. The lone condition was that the interview not be published until the appointment became official.

In part, the picture that emerges is already familiar. Chaput wants to lead the church back “to a clear embrace of the Gospel, without compromise.” He tackles the Latin Mass, the visitation of American nuns, health care, communion bans for pro-choice politicians, and gay marriage — in each case, staking out what most would regard as strongly conservative positions.

Yet there are also surprises.

For one thing, Chaput is positive about the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, saying that the right Catholic response to a distinction between the moderate, social justice emphasis of Bernardin, and the more evangelical ethos under John Paul II, is “both/and.”

“If we don’t love the poor, and do all we can to improve their lot, we’re going to go to Hell,” Chaput says, in typically blunt fashion.

Chaput actually bristles at the label “conservative,” insisting that he’s faithful to church teaching, but strives to be “creative and contemporary” in applying it.

On the sex abuse front, Chaput insists that priests and bishops who break the law need to face the music. He openly calls for serious reflection about new accountability measures for bishops, implying that bishops who do their jobs have no reason to fear scrutiny.

Read the full interview transcript at the link.

Meantime, another interesting interview with him can be found at Sandro Magister’s column.

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