Chaput, Allies Push Back Against “Culture Warrior” Criticism

As pope visit nears, Chaput defends the church — and friends defend him.

Archbishop Charles Chaput. Photo | Jeff Fusco

Archbishop Charles Chaput. Photo | Jeff Fusco

With the pope’s visit ever-nearer — less than a month away now! — Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism about everything from his role in the firing of a gay teacher at a local Catholic high school to his overall handling of relations with laity in the archdiocese. Now, it seems, he and his allies are pushing back.

Chaput offered his own defense Friday at a gathering of the Religion Newswriters Association, where he defended the church’s emphasis on culture war issues — opposing gay rights and abortion — while also emphasizing that other matters get far more attention from his archdiocese. presents his comments:

But consider this: In Philadelphia we spend less than $200,000 a year on the archdiocesan office that handles sanctity of life, family and laity issues. It has one full time employee. Most of our specifically “prolife” work is done by volunteers, and at the parish level.

In comparison, we spend more than 4.2 million privately donated archdiocesan dollars each year— every year—on social services for the poor, the homeless, the disabled, troubled youths, battered women, immigration counseling, food pantries and nutritional programs. And we manage another $100 million in public funding for the same or similar efforts. We have 1,600 full time employees spread across these Catholic social ministries doing the works of mercy—and fewer than 200 of them are involved in parenting, family and pregnancy support services.

What’s the lesson? If there’s anything “lopsided” about the real witness of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia, it’s weighted heavily in favor of the poor. It always has been. And that’s the reality in nearly every diocese in the United States. But it’s not a fact that fits comfortably into a storyline of “compassionate Pope Francis vs. conservative American bishops.”

At the conservative National Review, meanwhile, writer. J.D. Flynn pushes back against a recent Philadelphia magazine profile of Chaput, terming it a “hit piece.”

As the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia approaches, some members of the media seem hell-bent on depicting Chaput as disloyal to the pontiff and disdainful of his flock. A populist pope, painted by the media as a sexual progressive, will be held up as a model, and a foil to “culture warriors” like Chaput.

The “archconservative” Chaput, by the way, has railed against the death penalty for years, and partnered with liberal legislators to talk about immigration reform. The “liberal” Pope Francis, by the way, made opposition to abortion a central argument in his encyclical on the environment. Catholic social teaching hardly fits in the narrow strictures of partisan political platforms.

But the real story is less satisfying to the media. The real story is that Chaput and Francis have much in common. That they’re allies, and that they’re both working, in partnership with laity, for Christian renewal. The real story is that Francis is committed to the Church’s moral teaching, and that Chaput is committed to the Church’s social outreach. But that story isn’t good clickbait.

Pope Francis visits September 26th and 27th.