On Thursday Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will appear at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a white-tie fundraiser for Catholic charities at which they will flank Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Lucky for them that the affair isn’t being held in Philadelphia.
The archbishop of that city, Charles Chaput, has expressed such contempt for both candidates that he might find it hard to break bread with them.
Last week Chaput approvingly quoted a friend who described this year’s presidential election as a choice between “a vulgar, boorish lout and disrespecter of women with a serious impulse control problem” and “a scheming, robotic liar with a lifelong appetite for power and an entourage riddled with anti-Catholic bigots.”
That exercise in false equivalence came in a column in the conservative magazine First Things in which Chaput took aim at private comments by Clinton campaign aides that he and others have called anti-Catholic. (You can read Chaput’s column here, and a less overwrought reaction to the comments from Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne here.)
But even before WikiLeaks released emails containing those comments by Clinton aides, Chaput had written in a column that both candidates “are – what’s the right word? so problematic – that neither is clearly better than the other.”
Really, Your Grace?
To understand Chaput’s scorn for Clinton you need to know that he is an intellectual leader of the right wing of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, a faction for which Clinton’s support for legal abortion is anathema.
As Chaput himself wrote in the aforementioned column: “The right to life undergirds all other rights and all genuine social progress. It cannot be set aside or contextualized in the name of other ‘rights’ or priorities without prostituting the whole idea of human dignity.”
Chaput also is famous for his rejection of John F. Kennedy’s vision of “an America where the separation of church and state is absolute -- where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote."
Kennedy enunciated that vision during his 1960 presidential campaign in a speech to a group of Protestant ministers in Houston. In 2010, Chaput, also addressing a Protestant audience in that Texas city, said that Kennedy's speech was "sincere, compelling, articulate -- and wrong."
Chaput, then the archbishop of Denver, chided contemporary Catholics for living their faith "as if it were a private idiosyncrasy -- the kind that they'll never allow to become a public nuisance."
Traditionally archbishops of Philadelphia are appointed to the College of Cardinals charged with electing a new pope. But when Pope Francis announced a batch of new cardinals earlier this month, Chaput wasn’t one of the three American prelates named to the college.
Vaticanologists explained that Francis is moving away from the practice of automatically bestowing cardinal’s red hats on the heads of major archdioceses, which could also explain why Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez was passed over. But it also seems likely that Chaput’s fondness for hurling anathemas hurt his chances.