Begging Caesar: Archbishop Chaput responds

Update: Welcome Free Republic and American Papist readers! Please add your comments here or on the threads at Free Republic and American Papist. I want to encourage dialogue on this very important question of the proper role of religion and charity in politics and government.

The Archbishop responded to my email. In fact, the Archbishop and I had a pretty lengthy dialogue that wasn't conclusive but gave a lot of insight into his thinking. He didn't change my mind, but he did give me some reading material and impressed me that he was eager to have a dialogue with folks like myself.

I highly doubt any of my elected leaders would ever have such a dialogue with me. I'm sure some folks will think I went soft but I approached the Archbishop as a Catholic with serious questions and concerns, but not as a Catholic about to nail my 95 Theses on the church door.

I'm just as proud to be a Catholic as I was last week and I hope our dialogue at least caused the Archbishop to chew on what I said as much as he gave me pause.

Here is his initial chilly response to my initial email:
Dear Ikeonic,

I’ve received your email. The Church has an obligation to work for justice in our society. That’s why we speak a lot about abortion, poverty, marriage, and other important issues like healthcare. I think you’re very wrong in what you say in your email. Every human being has a right to do what is reasonably possible to maintain good health. That’s all this is about. I suspect your politics is getting in the way of clear, Christian thinking on this matter.

May the Lord give you peace.

My reply:

Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:48 PM
To: Archbishop Chaput
Subject: RE: Advocating for Caesar to render a welfare state unto us

Thank you for your prompt reply, Archbishop.

I still don't understand from your reasoning how advocating for social justice impels Catholics to lobby our government (Caesar) to coerce our neighbors into supporting what the Church believes we as a church community and individuals should do.

This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with understanding what example Christ provided for us. If we are to imitate Christ, how does lobbying government achieve that goal? Love and service must be freely given (as shown by Christ's example), not coerced by lobbying government to impose our values and beliefs on others.

His response:
From: Archbishop Chaput
Subject: RE: Advocating for Caesar to render a welfare state unto us
Date: Thursday, August 13, 2009, 12:55 PM

 I can’t understand your question. Jesus tells us we should love our neighbor as ourselves. One of the ways that we deal with our neighbor is through politics. It’s a noble thing to do. If we don’t become involved on issues like abortion, the meaning of marriage, and healthcare, we fail our neighbor and fail God. I wrote a book on this matter. You ought to read it:


Additionally, the enemies of Christ and the Church lobby government all the time. If we don’t act, government gets completely in their hands and that will be a sad day for you and for all of us.

May the Lord give you peace.

My wife made the observation that he accused me of letting politics get in the way of "clear, Christian thinking on this matter" but later told me that as a Catholic dealing with my neighbor through politics was noble. Hmm...

My reply:
Subject: RE: Advocating for Caesar to render a welfare state unto us
To: "Archbishop Chaput"
Date: Thursday, August 13, 2009, 1:57 PM

To put my argument another way, I'll use the words of a valued colleague and good friend:

"The Catholic Church has taken the responsibilities that Jesus taught and flipped them upside down and turned my responsibility to feed the poor into a right of the poor to be fed by me [via the power of taxation and legislative force]. Same with shelter and health care."

But in fairness, I should reserve further comment until I read your book. I first heard you on Michael Medved's show last year as you did an interview in promotion of the book. I was intrigued and have been meaning to read the book. I'm a recent convert to Catholicsm, primarily motivated by Benedict's teaching on faith, reason, love and free will. I believe the founders of this country certainly believed in free will and would be greatly disturbed by the growing welfare state that erode personal freedom and responsibility.

Thanks for your prompt replies and I appreciate knowing that leaders like yourself give great thought to matters such as these and are willing to entertain discussion.

I let the Archbishop have the last word:
You also ought to read the Holy Father’s new encyclical. I think you will find it interesting and challenging.

God bless you.

The Archbishop and I also had this sidebar conversation:
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:54 PM
To: Archbishop Chaput
Subject: RE: Advocating for Caesar to render a welfare state unto us

One constructive piece of advice... this would be an excellent topic for the next version of "Faithful Citizenship" from the USCCB. I enjoy that Catholics invite reasonable discussion and that there is room for disagreement on some issues. This could be an excellent opportunity for you to elaborate your views in a future column. I may not entirely agree, but I do have an open mind and my heart is not hardened against any reasonable or logical argument.

His reply:
From: Archbishop Chaput
Subject: RE: Advocating for Caesar to render a welfare state unto us
Date: Thursday, August 13, 2009, 1:01 PM

Dear Ikeonic,

We can’t wait till the next issue of “Faithful Citizenship” to address the health care issues. The Church hasn’t given directives on specifics other than the ones that I have listed at the bottom of my column:


The Church doesn’t have expertise to do that. It’s up to citizens like yourself to put flesh on the bones of these important social justice principles.

May the Lord give you peace.


Final thoughts:

I've had little time to digest the Pope's new encyclical on this very topic, but a quick Google search reveals that liberals rejoiced that it vindicates progressive solutions to issues like health care.

But take the encyclical for what it is... it is not dogmatic, but an opportunity for all Catholics and Christians to discuss what the Holy Father is trying to tell us. The encyclical has already generated a lot of discussion among Catholics, which was Pope Benedict's intent. Reason and logic compel us to do nothing less. Benedict is a man who believes reason and faith are complimentary and necessarily integrated with one another. Benedict's clear articulation on faith and reason is exactly what drew me to the faith.

In Benedict's own words:
Because it is filled with truth, charity can be understood in the abundance of its values, it can be shared and communicated. Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion

So let's keep the dialogue or diá-logos alive and never stop questioning and discussing these vital issues...

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2 Response to Begging Caesar: Archbishop Chaput responds

August 14, 2009 at 7:43:00 PM PDT
This comment has been removed by the author.
August 14, 2009 at 7:46:00 PM PDT

Sorry, accidently deleted comment. I said that it was a great exchange with the Archbishop. He's a cool dude. And I said that it was hilarious that he even wrote a book on what and how to render unto Caesar. . . . I guess you were talking to the right guy. Great writing. Thanks.

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