Yes, it’s time for a Times Chaput interview

For those who are interested in all things Roman, one of the major stories of the day is Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to move Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput out of the free-swinging West and into the oh-so clerical Northeast.

If you want to jump straight to the chase and get a full briefing on this, the justifiably omnipresent John J. Allen, Jr., of the National Catholic Reporter landed (naturally) the first in-depth interview with Chaput and it is a four-course meal, in terms of news content. This Catholic News Agency interview is also worth reading. Ditto for this Catholic Online Q&A with Sandro Magister.

This is a pretty straightforward news story to report. Chaput is in. Cardinal Justin Rigali is out, at a normal retirement age, while surrounded by another legal earthquake in the clergy-abuse scandals. Most newspapers would emphasize what is new, which is Chaput’s arrival.

However, something else is going on at the top of the New York Times daily on this event.

PHILADELPHIA – As Cardinal Justin Rigali stepped aside Tuesday to make way for his successor on the public stage, he barely mentioned the sexual-abuse scandal that has engulfed his eight-year tenure as head of the 1.5 million-member Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Cardinal Rigali, a longtime Vatican insider, described his departure as a move that was more or less pro forma. He had offered his resignation when he turned 75, as required, in April 2010. Pope Benedict XVI accepted it Tuesday morning, when he named Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver as Cardinal Rigali’s replacement.

The Vatican did not explain the move or mention the abuse scandal in its announcement Tuesday morning. And if Cardinal Rigali was alluding to it in his prepared remarks later, at a news conference here at the Archdiocese offices, he was sufficiently vague to leave doubt that he was talking about it at all.

“If I have offended anyone in any way,” he said, “I am deeply sorry. I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and his church worthily and effectively.”

Chaput then takes the podium and, readers are told, engages in some “jocular banter with reporters.” Then the story returns to the Rigali angle. The new archbishop is clearly not part of this event or, at least, of this story.

This is an interesting journalistic decision to say the least and I would love to know what, oh, Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia thinks of it.

One has to wonder if, in some way, this story was affected by the infamous clash between Chaput and the Times back in 2004, when the archbishop publicly argued that he had been radically quoted out of context in a discussion about his views on whether Catholic politicians who publicly oppose the teachings of their church on abortion should continue to receive Holy Communion.

Chaput then took an unusual, but cyber-logical, step. Since his staff had taped the interview, he posted a full transcript (.pdf) — showing the full texts of the questions from the Times and then his responses.

Many journalists were not amused and thought this was a hostile act. I thought this was a logical and responsible step, especially since I have for years been urging religious leaders to tape their face-to-face encounters with reporters and columnists (including me) if they believe the encounter might be hostile, complicated or both. Click here for a GetReligion flashback on that.

Those who followed that earlier drama were not surprised to learn, a few years later, that Chaput has decided to boycott the Times, when it comes to interviews. For an update on that icy standoff, click here for a post by our own Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

It would seem that this Times boycott continues (unless I have missed something) and that would appear to have shaped this Laurie Goodstein analysis piece about his move to Philadelphia. Wait a minute, there does not seem to be an analysis tag on this sidebar. Most strange.

As long-time GetReligion readers are aware, I have known Chaput since 1984 (new Scripps Howard column), back when he was a pastor and campus minister in Denver. Our paths have crossed (online and otherwise) through the years, especially after I left the newsroom and spent some time teaching mass media and popular culture in the context of a seminary.

The archbishop is also an enthusiastic GetReligion reader who has frequently gone out of his way to discuss the state of the religion-news beat with the professionals who walk it. This Pew Forum session is well worth revisiting. As is this full text of a Chaput address (“Religion, Journalism, and the New American Orthodoxy”) to the Religion Newswriters Association.

Now Chaput has moved to the Northeast corridor, just down I-95 from another pro-Vatican shepherd who has demonstrated a willingness to banter and battle with the press — New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

This could get interesting, journalistically speaking.

If Chaput were crazy enough to seek my advice, I would suggest that he grant the Times an interview in the very near future. A long, recorded interview — with recorders in operation on both sides.

Then the archbishop should have his staff post the transcript. Again.

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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.

  • Julia

    The Vatican did not explain the move or mention the abuse scandal in its announcement Tuesday morning.

    Doh!!! “THE VATICAN” never makes such an explanation – to my knowledge.

  • Julia

    This is a link to a very interesting 2008 interview, almost an hour long, with Chaput by Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institute.


    Chaput wrote a NYT bestseller “Render Unto Caesar”; that book is the main focus of the interview. Chaput answers every question of the very well-prepared interviewer – no evasions. Many of the topics had to do with the Presidential campaign, especially regarding remarks by Pelosi and Kerry, and the reaction of the media to Palin.

    The NYT is missing out on a great interview subject.

  • Mike

    This must be the most naive reporter in the world if she thinks anyone, whether it’s Cardinal Rigali, a business executive or the local dog catcher, is going to dwell on past mistakes in giving some farewell remarks. I’m also struck by the innuendo that the Vatican is covering something up when it “did not explain the move or mention the abuse scandal” in making the announcement, especially when the previous paragraph stated the reason he stepped down was that he reached retirement age. There is nothing unusual about this announcement when compared with the announcements of retiring (or even dismissed) business and government executives seen every day. This article is nothing more than sticking the fork in him to make sure he’s done.

  • Elijah

    If the Church wants to get past those “past mistakes” the won’t do so by ignoring them. Maybe Rigali will have to say more about the sandal after he retires? Perhaps this wasn’t the occasion?

  • tmatt


    This wasn’t the occasion.

    However, I think the timing after the indictment of the key archdiocesan official makes this an issue that MUST be part of the story.

    But the event was about Chaput. That’s one of the points of the post.

  • Nicole Neroulias

    I look forward to a Chaput interview in The New York Times, but it’s still a matter of him agreeing to one, correct?

    As for how NYT (a secular media outlet) framed the story vs. how Allen is covering it (for a Catholic media outlet), surely the average NYT reader is far more interested in how the Philadelphia transition relates to the ongoing clergy abuse scandal there, rather than the range of other theological topics. For the latter, there’s National Catholic Reporter, Catholic News Agency and a plethora of specifically religious media outlets. I would also expect the local news outlets will also focus more on this wide range of issues over the coming weeks and months. But NYT has a geographically and religiously diverse readership, and the big story out of Philadelphia has been the clergy abuse scandal. Hence — and especially since Chaput is apparently still not giving Goodstein any other material to work with yet — I don’t see anything unusual about how the story was covered.

  • M. Swaim

    I’d be interested in some analysis on why the NYT asked Chaput to step aside during the presser Q&A segment to talk to Rigali instead. A statement on their part?

  • Julia

    If Chaput were crazy enough to seek my advice, I would suggest that he grant the Times an interview in the very near future. A long, recorded interview — with recorders in operation on both sides.

    The interview I linked was on video and did not appear to have been edited at all. That would be a great way to go.
    Certainly in the previous problematic interview, the reporter knew that Chaput’s aide was doing a recording – did the reporter think he wouldn’t dare use it? That long interview format is much more informative than sound bites. It works for Charlie Rose, too.

    Perhaps the problem is those long interviews work better on video; whereas a newspaper article has to have lots of material axed.

    On the other hand, Benedict himself was famous for doing very long interviews in public that were turned into books.
    It must be difficult for a newspaper reporter to convey the sense of the interview when so much has to be cut?

    Perhaps a compromise would be that the reporter turns the interview into whatever length article his or her editor will allow and the interviewee has the right to post the whole video on YouTube.

  • Mark Baddeley

    Many journalists were not amused and thought this was a hostile act. I thought this was a logical and responsible step, especially since I have for years been urging religious leaders to tape their face-to-face encounters with reporters and columnists (including me) if they believe the encounter might be hostile, complicated or both.

    As a non-journalist, this really, really bugs me. Your advice tmatt, seems perfectly sensible. And posting a transcript of an interview if you believe yourself to be significantly misquoted would seem to be a perfectly reasonable act. It does not instill confidence in journalists that they would see this as a hostile act.

    Their reason for existence is to tell the truth. Posting the full transcript of an interview should be something they welcome, for it is service to the truth. The fact they see it as hostile goes to why many of us simply don’t trust ‘the media’ as a class. They claim to be servants of the truth, but their actions say otherwise. It should have been the rare exception that reacted this way within the profession, and they should have been seen as pariahs by their peers.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    The Boston Globe this morning ran the AP story about Chaput going to Philadelphia.
    In the story was a brief paragraph saying he opposed a law proposed in the Colorado Legislature that would extend the time in which people could bring lawsuits or charges in abuse cases involving the Catholic Church.
    Left out in the AP story–or out of what the Globe published–was the extremely important fact that only the Catholic Church would have been targeted by the proposed law–not, for example, public schools where virtually all experts on abuse say the problem is far worse and larger than in the Catholic Church.
    As I recall an amendment was put on the bill to cover the public schools as well as the Church. And THEN the bologna hit the fan as the teacher’s unions in Colorado went into hyperdrive to get the amended bill defeated.
    But there were mo headlines anywhere like “Teacher’s Unions protect abusers.”
    And now the AP story implies by omission it was Chaput that got the bill defeated not the powerful teacher’s unions.
    Unfortunately, one is not surprised at the bias or ignorance of AP on stories involving the Catholic Church.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Note–I checked Google and found the Reuters news service also told the Big Lie about the defeat of the Colorado abuse law that the teacher’s unions defeated. Consequently, between all the AP and Reuters news outlets, there is a lot of misinformation (how about lies by omission) being spread around.
    A number of small religious internet sites got the story straight though.

  • Bill P.

    I second M. Swaim’s point in #7. The dismissal of Archbishop Chaput by the NYT reporter seemed a bit out of line, considering the event was the introduction of the new sheriff in town. Still, once at the podium, one might have hoped that the old sheriff had offered something other than boilerplate responses.

    But per tmatt’s point, the event was the event, and the lede should have stuck with the story—even if one element of the story has to be Philly’s past responses to the abuse crises.

    On a related note, I liked the presentation of gifts from the youth of the Archdiocese—it was informal, fun and welcoming. Did that make many media reports?

    The entire presser can be seen here, (Sorry for not linking the link, but I’m having rogue html issues.)

  • Evanston2

    TMatt says “my advice, I would suggest that he grant the Times an interview in the very near future. A long, recorded interview — with recorders in operation on both sides.” Do journalists normally allow that — for the interviewee to record the interview?

  • Jerry

    Good question, Evanston2. I would assume so. At least I would never talk with a reporter without a tape recorder at my side not that I’ll ever do anything that’s newsworthy.

  • Peggy R

    So, did you use “justifiably omni-present” in a nod to Fr Z’s always calling John Allen “nearly-ubiquitous”?

    It was a good interview.

    The AP wire story yesterday seemed shocked that Chaput opposed abortion and gay “marriage.” It also claimed Chaput opposed “stem cell research.” The key word “embryonic” was excluded.

  • tmatt


    Do journalists ALLOW people to tape their own interviews?

    It’s the subject of the interview who is granting consent, in my perspective.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    The National Catholic Reporter is part of “the Catholic press” in a very tenuous and particular sense. They are anything but (as tmatt would put it) “pro-Vatican.”

  • tmatt

    Passing By:

    OK, but John Allen Jr. is a journalist respected by EVERYBODY on the beat and off. Chaput, for example, has praised is knowledge and fairness a number of times. He is a pro’s pro.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Sorry, meant to add that there’s more from Rocco.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    While I’m not a conservative (I’m very much on the left on most political issues, and moderate-to-liberal on the gender & sexuality issues), nor am I a Roman Catholic, Archbishop Chaput is a man I respect immensely. Beyond that, he’s a man that everyone, even those who disagree with him down the line (which I don’t) should respect immensely. Chaput is a very, very smart man, with an ability to have charity and sympathy for those he disagrees with. These are rare gifts in any leader, political or clerical, nowadays.

  • Elijah

    Terry, I agree with you. Maybe I was being obtuse, but this was scarcely the time for Cardinal Rigali’s apologia or whatever. He may well have something to say after his retirement, but I doubt it. Best wishes to both men.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Tmatt -

    My comment was aimed not at Allen, but the publication he works for.

  • Harold

    The big media question for Chaput will be how he handles life outside a bubble of reporters he trusts who all live in Denver. He had the Mountain West and its media all to himself. Now, he’s a short train ride from the two largest conecentrations of journalists in the country and two off his most media savvy peers in DC and NYC. It will be harder to freeze out reporters he doesnt like from Philly.

  • tmatt


    Doesn’t like?

    You really think — after reading the NYTs 2004 story and then the interview transcript — that this is merely about who he LIKES?

    There is content to that dispute. Factual content and disagreements on the two sides. READ IT. DEAL WITH FACTS.

    You are saying that the National Catholic Reporter’s best man is part of a Denver bubble?

    The Pew Forum crowd is part of a Denver bubble?

    You might want to check out by Scripps column this week. The angle is that the Columbine High massacre was the moment when Chaput had to face the Eastern elite press and his basic stances on issues, his essential defense of Catholic doctrines as they relate to public life (abortion, gun control, immigration, marriage and family, materialism, embryonic stem-cell research, the death penalty, etc.) has been consistent with what he said in 1999.

  • Harold

    We get it TMatt, you are a member of the fan club. But don’t shout at me like I’m a student, I’ve read about the contratemps and haven come to a different conclusion. People are allowed to come to different conclusions based on the evidence.

    And yes, I think it will be interesting to see how he fares when he is outside the small Denver fishbowl and not pushing his book, like at the Pew event.

  • tmatt


    I know the man well enough that I would no longer cover him as a beat reporter, due to our seminary-centered discussions.

    You have read the actual transcript of the NYTs interview?

    Reading the actual materials is what reporters and journalists do. The Times has taken a stand and decided that the defense of Catholic doctrine among Catholics IS POLITICS. It’s in the new sidebar, second paragraph.

    That simply is not doctrinally accurate. It does not reflect what the Catholic church teaches and, like it or not, that is what bishops are charged by their Church to defend.

    What should the Times do? Cover both sides of that. Quote the critics. And accurately quote the bishop, in context, stating the doctrine.

    And leave the editorial statements to the editorial page. However, even there it is wrong to quote a person saying something that he did not say.

    So your conclusion is that Chaput was accurately quoted?

  • Richard A

    The Catholic Church thinks she is all about Jesus Christ. Everything she does, she thinks she is doing to present Christ more effectively to her flock and to the world.

    The non-religion media organs, particularly in the West, think the Catholic Church is all about the sexual abuse scandal. Everything the Catholic Church does, in their eyes, has to do with that. There are two competing views of the Church going on here. One narrative informs how episcopal appointments are made, and one narrative informs how they are reported.

  • sam

    Your article is good, but makes one major mistake. Archbishop Chaput is NOT yet the “new” Archbishop of Philadelphia. He is presently the Archbishop of Denver and will be so until he is installed in Philadelphia on Sep 9, 2011. If Catholic press/blogs are not capable of printing the truth then they are not better the the secular. Chaput has NO responsbility for Philadelphia Archdiocese until he is install and is not the Archbishop there until that very moment when the miter changes hands.

  • Gerald Midkiff

    It is futile to hope that the New York Times, or most of
    the secular, “progressive” news media in any city, will be
    fair and open and balanced in reporting about anything
    Catholic. This strong, almost violent, mean-spirited, left-leaning political bias goes back many decades. It is
    deeply entrenched. It will not change.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Everything she does, she thinks she is doing to present Christ more effectively

    EVERYTHING? Have the Church authorities not addressed sex abuse as a serious failure? How is that something we think we are doing to present Christ more effectively? What do you think the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) is there for?

    I wouldn’t even make such an absolute statement about the media. Certainly many media outlets, like many people in this society can’t see past the sex scandals, but then you have that lovely article about the soccer player gone to seminary.

    We are in a drought down here in Texas, so straw men are prone to burning!

  • TACit

    It is quite important for one to see the video (about 35 min.) of the Philly press conference to appreciate what appeared in the press afterward. I ‘third’ #7 and #12. It seemed clear to me that the NYT reporter was seizing, shall we say, the opportunity to grill ++Rigali in the spotlight, at what was in fact the introduction of ++Chaput in his new See. ++Chaput for his part seemed open, friendly, engaging and willing, and was possibly surprised when the NYT reporter dismissed him in favor of the retiree. (In the interest of personal disclosure, I quite detest the NYT after a lifetime studying its unceasing attempts to discredit and de-value the Catholic Church and any other which upholds morality which the NYT would like to see, and strives to get, overturned – #29 is correct.) Whenever Abp. Chaput eventually gives the NYT an interview he definitely should record the entire thing.

  • Bern

    Passing By:

    The National Catholic Reporter is part of “the Catholic press” in a very tenuous and particular sense.

    As is the National Catholic Register–although maybe not so “tenuous”.


    Many journalists were not amused and thought this was a hostile act

    Supporting links?

  • tmatt


    Reaction of the Times itself and the content of the RNA discussions. Did you read Sarah’s coverage of that? Also, the topic continues to come up in religion-news settings. The key was the NYTs request that the material be taken down. That helped create a kind of two-front debate on the archbishop’s action. Why take down a TRANSCRIPT?

  • Nicole Neroulias

    Hmmm, I wasn’t aware that the NYT had asked for the transcript be taken down — can you provide a link for that information? But if so, perhaps there was a copyright concern if the interview was supposed to be exclusive to NYT, and now everyone (bloggers, etc.) would be able to use the material and quotes for themselves?

    Chaput has made his point by now, and he could certainly require all interviews (with any outlet) be taped by both parties. But in his important new position, continuing to refuse to the NYT (not just with the reporter who did him wrong) will be counterproductive, if not petty.

  • Julia

    Your article is good, but makes one major mistake. Archbishop Chaput is NOT yet the “new” Archbishop of Philadelphia. He is presently the Archbishop of Denver and will be so until he is installed in Philadelphia on Sep 9, 2011.

    It’s my understanding that a man becomes the bishop when he receives the apostolic letters from Rome. He is supposed to be installed/consecrated (take possession of the new diocese) within 2 months – if already consecrated a bishop, or within 4 months – if he also needs to be consecrated a bishop, whereupon he begins to administer his new diocese.

    It’s not like becoming a governor or president. The office of bishop is a change of status which happens right away when getting the official documents. He can begin administering upon presentation of the official papers and acceptance by the local priests and people. It’s the same for the Pope – he immediately becomes Pope when elected and he accepts. An installation/taking possession is not the same thing as an inauguration of our President.

    I’ve been present two times when this ceremony takes place.
    In both cases the new bishop was already consecrated a bishop in a prior see. So they had already been promoted to the episcopate in that previous job.

    SEE Canon Law regarding the office of bishop.

    Can. 379 Unless prevented by a lawful reason, one who is promoted to the episcopate must receive episcopal consecration within three months of receiving the apostolic letters, and in fact before he takes possession of his office.

    Can. 382 §1 A person who is promoted to the episcopate cannot become involved in the exercise of the office entrusted to him before he has taken canonical possession of the diocese.

    §3 A Bishop takes canonical possession of his diocese when, personally or by proxy, he shows the apostolic letters to the college of consultors, in the presence of the chancellor of the curia, who makes a record of the fact. This must take place within the diocese. In dioceses which are newly established he takes possession when he communicates the same letters to the clergy and the people in the cathedral church, with the senior of the priests present making a record of the fact.

    §4 It is strongly recommended that the taking of canonical possession be performed with a liturgical act in the cathedral church, in the presence of the clergy and the people.

  • Bern

    TMATT: thank you. Yes, I did see the previous coverage. Apparently “many journalists” equals the staff of the NYT–that is a lot of journalists. And it was unprofessional of them to ask that the transcript be removed, or ask that people ignore it or whatever they asked which I haven’t been able to locate–although I did locate the transcript on the Denver diocesan website.

    Aside from the fact that it is “framed” as an attack on the veracity of the New York Times, the most interesting thing I found about it was that it opens with the AB asking the Times reporter about an NPR interview of one of the candidates.

    I also found what I think is the story in question, which is NOT primarily an interview with AB Chaput at all, but does quote him accurately when it quotes him at all. Others are also quoted including Fr. Pavone.

    Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s 6-1/2 years later but I’m looking at this and thinking, what the heck’s the big deal?