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Philly Archbishop Decries Vatican Article Attacking U.S. Christians as ‘Willfully Ignorant’

In a hard-hitting essay, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput has joined the dozens of Christian leaders who have denounced the ignorant and insulting article published last week by the Vatican-vetted journal, La Civiltà Cattolica.

The essay by papal confidants Father Antonio Spadaro SJ and Rev. Marcelo Figueroa paints an offensive caricature of conservative Christians in the United States as politically ambitious racists who promote an “ecumenism of hate” and long to impose a theocratic state.

In his powerful response, Archbishop Chaput says that the authors are guilty of “dumbing down and inadequately presenting the nature of Catholic/evangelical cooperation on religious freedom and other key issues.”

“Dismissing today’s attacks on religious liberty as a ‘narrative of fear,’” as the La Civiltà Cattolica article does, Chaput says, “sounds willfully ignorant.”

The redoubtable Philadelphia Archbishop joins a growing chorus of Catholic voices that have universally criticized the article. One observer, Father Raymond Desouza, derided the piece as “ignorant of contemporary Catholic life, tendentious in its analysis, patronizing in tone,” arguing that ultimately it “does not even rise to the level of mediocrity.”

Another critic, Dr. Samuel Gregg, observed that Father Spadaro and Rev. Figueroa demonstrate a “distinctly amateur grasp of American religious history and the finer points of American politics.”

In his analysis, Archbishop Chaput focuses on the crux of the misbegotten article: the ecumenical cooperation between U.S. Catholics and Evangelicals that unite Christians in defending traditional marriage, promoting religious liberty and standing up for human life from conception until natural death.

America’s culture wars weren’t started by people faithful to Christian belief, Chaput recalls, which makes it especially strange “when believers are attacked by their co-religionists merely for fighting for what their Churches have always held to be true.”

Progressives “tend to be wary of the religious liberty debate,” Chaput notes. Some distrust it as a “smokescreen for conservative politics,” while others see it as a “distraction from other urgent issues.”

Yet working for religious freedom “has never precluded service to the poor,” the Archbishop reminds his readers, but in fact “the liberty of religious communities has always been a seedbed of social action and ministry to those in need.”

“Foreign observers who want to criticize the United States and its religious landscape,” Chaput adds, ought to remember that modern-day ecumenism between Catholics and Evangelicals “is a function of shared concerns and principles, not ambition for political power.”

The Archbishop also makes the politically incorrect but undeniably accurate observation that the goal of much gay activism today goes beyond mere equality for the same-sex attracted and extends to a desire to “punish those who oppose the LGBT cultural agenda,” something publicly acknowledged by gay activist Tim Gill last month.

While always treating all persons with charity and justice, Chaput says, we must remember that “charity and justice can’t be severed from truth,” even when it is painful for people to hear, a point he articulated recently with great clarity and elegance.

On the other hand, dumbing down the Christian message “reduces us to useful tools” of those who would smother the faith that so many other Christians have suffered and died for, he said.

This is why groups that fight for religious liberty in our courts, legislatures, and in the public square, distinguished groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom and Becket,” Chaput said, “are heroes, not ‘haters.’”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

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