No prayer for Denver archbishop (updated)

chaputA day or two ago, I ended a post about the announcement that Sen. Joe Biden would be Sen. Barack Obama’s running mate with the following question:

… (Does) does anyone know if Denver’s Catholic archbishop was invited to offer an invocation during the upcoming Democratic National Convention?

Several readers quickly let me know that Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput would, in fact, not be doing an invocation or benediction during the convention. With generations of ties between Catholics and the Democratic Party, this is strange indeed.

However, at this point I really need to make a comment about the technological day in which we live. When I posted that Chaput note, I was sitting in the Phoenix airport, headed home from a week-long working vacation. Thus, when I started digging through the dead-tree-pulp newspapers stacked in our living room, I discovered that this Chaput news was very old news indeed. Veteran religion writer Julia Duin had the facts early that previous week. So here’s the basic facts from the God-gap front lines:

Democrats have invited more than two dozen religious leaders to pray or speak at their upcoming conventioin with a notable exception: Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, a policy wonk and the leader of Colorado’s largest religious denomination.

Several Catholics, including former Colorado state Sen. Polly Baca, “Dead Man Walking” author Sister Helen Prejean, social justice lobbyist Sister Catherine Pinkerton and Pepperdine University professor Douglas W. Kmiec, are on the program. Organizers are also flying in Greek Orthodox Archbishop Demetrios from New York to give the opening prayer Wednesday.

But Archbishop Chaput’s only contact with the convention has been a meeting with Leah Daughtry, chief executive officer of the convention and a Pentecostal pastor, and an invitation to attend the event as an observer.

Chaput said that he wasn’t offended and that, when it comes to prayer, the Democrats get to make their own choices. There also is some question about whether he was or was not too busy to attend. Duin’s report added this interesting detail:

Instead of following Monday night’s opening ceremonies on TV, the archbishop will join Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, in a prayer vigil against abortion near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Stapleton, a Denver suburb.

This is another example of the fact that reading newspapers online is not the same thing as reading the real newspapers. There is no way to look at the Washington Times website and know that this Chaput story was located somewhere deep inside. I bumped into it as a worked my way through ordinary pages. That’s the reality. I also have not been able, using standard search engines, to find out if either of the Denver newspapers have covered the Chaput story.

Meanwhile, GetReligion readers have sent in some good links for those seeking more info on Biden and his Catholic faith. This Boston Globe online source is especially interesting and I had already set it aside to include in an update.

For more info on the Chaput situation, readers can also — of course — turn to the justifiably famous Whispers in the Loggia weblog, which ads this insight:

“The Democratic convention begins tomorrow in Denver and as the new (book) release from the city’s top prelate racks up the high-watt airtime, Archbishop Charles Chaput said earlier today that given his “seriously wrong” abortion stance, Biden should refrain from the Communion line:

Biden “has admirable qualities to his public service,” Chaput said in his statement. “But his record of support for so-called abortion ‘rights,’ while mixed at times, is seriously wrong. I certainly presume his good will and integrity — and I presume that his integrity will lead him to refrain from presenting himself for Communion, if he supports a false ‘right’ to abortion.”

Chaput added that he looks forward to speaking with Biden privately.

RenderUntoCaesarAlso, Associated Press reporter Eric Gorski has, of course, jumped in quickly with a newsy story on the pros and cons of the Biden selection, from the perspective of various types of Catholic voters. Here’s the top of the story. Note the kicker at the end of this passage.

When Joe Biden underwent brain surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm in 1988, he asked doctors whether he could tuck his rosary beads under his pillow. The six-term Democratic senator from Delaware also has offered to shove his rosary down the throat of the next Republican who tells him he isn’t religious.

Barack Obama’s running mate is the son of working-class Irish Catholics, a career politician educated at a Catholic prep school who briefly considered the priesthood. He has turned to his faith to weather personal tragedy — including the deaths of his wife and young daughter in a 1972 traffic accident — and shape his political worldview. Biden attends Mass weekly and didn’t miss it on Sunday, either, attending services and taking Communion at St. Joseph on the Brandywine near his home in Greenville, Del.

And here is the basic statement of the thesis, the Catholic reality of this “wafer watch” age:

“Having Biden on the ticket covers the Catholic base,” said David Gibson, a Catholic journalist and author. “But anytime you pick a Catholic, it’s also courting controversy.” …

Biden has said that while he is “prepared to accept” Catholic church teaching that life begins at conception, the Roe v. Wade court decision legalizing abortion “is as close to we’re going to be able to get as a society” to respecting different religious views on the issue. Biden has said he strongly supports Roe v. Wade but also voted in favor of a bill to ban late-term abortions, prompting abortion rights groups to downgrade him on their report cards.

“My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine,” Biden said in a 2007 interview with the Christian Science Monitor. “There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.”

There’s much more to digest in this meaty report.

However, note this fact. Putting a Catholic on the ticket is no longer all that controversial with non-Catholics. That’s progress. The problem is that putting an American Catholic on the ticket is controversial with Roman Catholics (or something like that).

UPDATE: Interesting post from Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher on the Catch-22 facing religious leaders who elect to pray at political gathering. Worth some meditation, this one.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Stephen A.

    “…I think the church is bigger than that.”

    Does it matter what he *thinks* about how the RCC operates? I thought it operated according to the Pope’s thinking, not how a politician in America, or an individual, “thinks” it should act when it comes to doctrine. Maybe I’m wrong though.

    That Dreher posting was really interesting. It’s quite a moral dillema that pastor went through regarding the invitation to the DNC. The responses are quite good, too. I also wonder whether why Christians don’t consider the Biblical admonition of not praying in public (Matt. 6:5-6) binding today.

  • Brian Walden

    “Biden attends Mass weekly and didn’t miss it on Sunday, either, attending services and taking Communion at St. Joseph on the Brandywine near his home in Greenville, Del.”

    Was this something that Biden told reporters freely, or did they observe him and report that he received communion? I’m a big supporter of Archbishop Burke’s interpretation of Canon 915, but I can’t endorse having reporters going to Mass to report on who receives communion and who doesn’t. I think it would be sinful situation for a Catholic to gossip to their friends that so and so didn’t (or did) receive communion this week – wouldn’t this be more true for someone publishing that information?

    I don’t know exactly how or where to draw the line – but I guess it should take into count whether receiving communion is a public or private act (in the moral sense that the Church uses the term public or manifest sin, not in the legal sense). I’d think that normally it’s private. Does committing a public sin automatically make receiving communion a public act? Or does a person have to, for example, announce that they’re going to receive communion despite committing a public sin? I don’t know the answers, but I know I’m uncomfortable with the idea that merely being a public figure makes reporting on whether or not you receive communion (or possibly even attending Mass) acceptable.

  • Undergroundpewster

    Thanks for the links GR. I wonder why the MSM couldn’t put all this together.

  • Brian Walden

    I have one more question on how policy wonk was used in reference to Archbishop Chaput – was that in reference to government policy or Church policy? Am I naive for even thinking that a reporter would do enough research to know whether or not a bishop is a Church policy wonk?

  • Julia

    the Catholic reality of this “wafer watch” age:

    In the 1950s, we fasted from the previous midnight. So there was not 100% reception at the 8 AM Mass, and by the 11 AM Mass there weren’t too many Communion-goers. There was no basis for a “wafer watch”. Later, it was changed to 3 or 4 hours, but still there were always some people who didn’t go. [I think that became the rule when Saturday evening Mass came into being.]

    Currently, Catholics are required to fast for only one hour before reception of Holy Communion. In practice, that means that practically 100% of the attendees at Mass have fasted for sufficient time to receive. Consequently, there is the pressure and the assumption that everybody will receive Communion. The result is a covert “wafer watch” of sorts regardless of people’s political convictions. It calls a lot of attention to anyone who abstains.

    There is some interest in changing the fast requirement to one hour before the start of Mass which would result in some people not having fasted sufficiently. This might put an end to busy-bodies assuming the worst and give cover to politicians such as Biden when under a “wafer watch” by news reporters.

    Let’s hope they change it and put an end to the basis for “wafer watch”.

    BTW: TCM showed “The Heart of the Matter” recently. Written by Graham Greene, one of the major plot elements was what was an adulterous Catholic husband (Trevor Howard)going to do when pressed by his wife to go to Sunday Mass and receive Communion with her when the priest knew the husband’s situation and unwillingness to break off the adulterous affair. Now, that makes for an interesting “wafer watch”.

  • BillC

    “This is another example of the fact that reading newspapers online is not the same thing as reading the real newspapers. There is no way to look at the Washington Times website and know that this Chaput story was located somewhere deep inside.”

    That statement assumes that one reads a webpage like one reads a newspaper–from front to back, or going to different sections–in either case, accepting the newspaper’s version of what is important.

    I think most web users use Google or other search engines to look for articles on issues of interest. If you search for Denver, Prayer, Convention, you find this information.

    It’s time editors realize that the reason some of us get our news from the internet is because we want to be free of their filters and biases.

  • tmatt


    How do you know that you are looking for a story?

    That was my point. There are dozens of stories that take place every day that we would never know existed, unless we bumped into them.

    You can’t think of everything. At least, I can’t….

  • Rev. Charles Lehmann

    I would have been surprised if Archbishop Chaput would have given the invocation. I had dinner with him last year and found him to be refreshing in that he wasn’t at all apologetic about being a Roman Catholic.

    He took strong stands on abortion, contraception, and canon law. It was very nice to talk to a church leader who thought that what his church teaches was important.

    He’s totally relentless and immovable in his pro-life stance. I don’t think they probably wanted to risk what he might say in his invocation.

  • LiturgicalRobot

    I thought it operated according to the Pope’s thinking, not how a politician in America, or an individual, “thinks” it should act when it comes to doctrine. Maybe I’m wrong though.

    You are somewhat correct but not quite. While the Pope’s thinking is in the vicinity, the reality is that the Holy Mother Church operated according to the Spirit’s thinking and no one else’s. He is the life and mission of her. Thus the Church is actually bigger than just people with adherence to doctrines. It’s about love and the story that follows.

    However, if someone said “She is bigger than that” but in practice do the opposite of her mission, that person was probably thinking of an obese witch instead of the fair Holy Mother Church.

  • Brian Walden

    … If I may refer back to Tmatt’s categories of the Catholic vote.

    * Ex-Catholic vote.
    * Cultural Catholic/several Masses a year Catholic vote.
    * Sunday only, I’m OK at the Catholic cafeteria vote.
    * Catholics who sweat the details and go to confession vote.

    I think the first 3 groups are willing to play politics with abortion. I don’t follow politics enough to know whether the 90-5 program will be the ticket to pull in Catholics in these groups who have stopped voting Democrat because of the party’s stance over the years but are willing to come back for the right price, but I know there is a right price for them.

    For the last group there is no price. To this group abortion is a moral question first and a political question second. Morals are by their very nature uncompromising. And for the type of person who considers an unborn baby to be an innocent person, abortion is a particularly uncompromising issue. …

    Everyone has moral issues that make a candidate a no-go nomatter what their platform (unjust war, racism, sexism, etc). For Catholics in group 4 abortion is that one of those non-negotiatiable issues. … I think that even among regular church-going Catholics the “I’m OK at the Cafeteria” group is larger than the “sweat the details and go to confession” group.

    P.S. Nomatter what the reason for choosing Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate was, initial reaction seems like he only hurts Obama amongst group 4 Catholics. They dislike his playing the Catholic card while at the same time dissenting from Church teaching. Of course, this may appeal to the other three Catholic groups – if that’s what the Obama campaign is going for.

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  • elmo

    The six-term Democratic senator from Delaware also has offered to shove his rosary down the throat of the next Republican who tells him he isn’t religious.

    Nobody who actually prays the rosary would say this.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I still haven’t run across anywhere a story about what price Biden’s conscience has had to pay to get the VP nod.
    Obama has defended partial-birth abortion–Sen. Biden voted to ban the procedure. What deal did they make on this issue–if any?? Or maybe the conflict on this major life or death issue never came up. The late Dem. Sen. Moynihan called partial-birth abortion virtual infanticide. But Obama has promised to wipe the ban from the law books. Is this now Biden’s stand??? Needless to say the Obama besotted media seems to have no interest in stirring up what could be a hornet’s nest of problems for “the ticket.”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Just heard Speaker Pelosi’s dissertation on Catholic doctrine and abortion. When did Benedict XVI die??? And when did the Cardinals elect her pope?? Her history and information is so off the mark that she had to be lying or spouting off as an expert on something she has never adequately researched. Consequently Archbishop Chaput has just issued a statement ripping apart her falsifying Catholic and Christian history and teaching.
    But will the media even notice????

  • Julia

    For any reporter who really wants to get into how Catholic politicians came up with their “personally opposed” but pro-choice position, look into the influence of the late Jesuit Fr Drinan. He was dean of the Georgetown Law School, then a pro-choice US representative in the 1970s until the Vatican made him quit, and then a law school professor and writer on ethics. He practically invented the spiel you hear from all the Catholic Dems on Capitol Hill. Most of them had Fr Drinan for a professor or read him or heard him speak on the subject.

    As an example of his thinking, check out this 1996 op-ed piece in the NYT wherein he supports Clinton’s veto of the Partial Birth Abortion bill. It was later passed in Bush’s first term.

  • Julia

    I should have explained that the response that followed Fr Drinan’s NYT op-ed piece at the link in my post above was written by David K DeWolf, a professor at Gonzaga Law School, a Jesuit institution in Spokane, Washington.

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