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Archbishop Chaput on Citizenship and Evangelization

11/5/2007 - 16:22 PST

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"We're Better Americans by Being More Truly Catholic"

NEW YORK, NOV. 5, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the address Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver delivered Oct. 26 at St. John's University School of Law in Queens, New York. The talked is titled "Church and State Today: What Belongs to Caesar, and What Doesn't."

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I always enjoy being with friends like tonight because I can leave my Kevlar vest in Denver. I do a lot of speaking, and while most of the people I meet are wonderful folks, not everyone is always happy to hear what I have to say.

In fact, one of the distinguishing marks of debate both outside and within the Church over the last 40 years is how uncivil the disagreements have become. Being a faithful Catholic leader today -- whether you're a layperson or clergy -- isn't easy. It requires real skill, and in that regard, I've admired the great ability and good will of Bishop Murphy for many years. So it's a special pleasure to be with him tonight. New York's Cardinal Edward Egan is another leader who's given extraordinary and sometimes difficult service to the Church.

I'm not really surprised by the environment in our country or in our Church because Msgr. George Kelly saw it coming 30 years ago. I read his great book, "The Battle for the American Church," as a young Capuchin priest when it first came out in 1979. I remember being struck immediately by George's very Irish combination of candor, scrappiness, clarity, intelligence and also finally charity -- because everything he wrote and said and did was always motivated by his love for the Church.

I also remember George's sense of humor, which was vivid and healthy, and which probably kept him so generous and sane. He was a man's man and a priest's priest -- and his commitment to Catholic family life, Catholic education and Catholic scholarship has remained with me as an example throughout my priesthood. George and I became friends through our mutual friend Father Ronald Lawler, O.F.M. Cap., and after I became a bishop in South Dakota, he would often call me or write me with his advice -- and I was always happy to get it, because it was always very good. So I'm grateful for a chance to acknowledge my debt to him.

We have a full evening, so I'll be very brief. I want to quickly sketch for you the picture of an anonymous culture. But everything I'm about to tell you comes from the factual record.

This society is advanced in the sciences and the arts. It has a complex economy and a strong military. It includes many different religions, although religion tends to be a private affair or a matter of civic ceremony.

This particular society also has big problems. Among them is that fertility rates remain below replacement levels. There aren't enough children being born to replenish the current adult population and to do the work needed to keep society going. The government offers incentives to encourage people to have more babies. But nothing seems to work.

Promiscuity is common and accepted. So are bisexuality and homosexuality. So is prostitution. Birth control and abortion are legal, widely practiced, and justified by society's leading intellectuals.

Every now and then, a lawmaker introduces a measure to promote marriage, arguing that the health and future of society depend on stable families. These measures typically go nowhere.

Ok. What society am I talking about? Our own country, of course, would broadly fit this description. But I'm not talking about us.

I've just outlined the conditions of the Mediterranean world at the time of Christ. We tend to idealize the ancients, to look back at Greece and Rome as an age of extraordinary achievements. And of course, it was. But it had another side as well.

We don't usually think of Plato and Aristotle endorsing abortion or infanticide as state policy. But they did. Hippocrates, the great medical pioneer, also famously created an abortion kit that included sharp blades for cutting up the fetus and a hook for ripping it from the womb. We rarely connect that with his Hippocratic Oath. But some years ago, archeologists discovered the remains of what appeared to be a Roman-era abortion or infanticide "clinic." It was a sewer filled with the bones of more than 100 infants.

If you haven't done so already, I'd encourage you to pick up a little book written about 10 years ago, "The Rise of Christianity" by the Baylor University scholar Rodney Stark. You'll find all of this history in its pages and more.

But what does ancient Rome have to do with my topic tonight, the relationship of Church and state today?

Let me explain it this way: People often say we're living at a "post-Christian" moment. That's supposed to describe the fact that Western nations have abandoned or greatly downplayed their Christian heritage in recent decades. But our ...

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