The motto of The New York Times is, "All the
news thats fit to print." On October 6, 2004, David Kirkpatrick,
a reporter for The Times, conducted an extensive interview with
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., on issues surrounding this years
national elections. In the interests of accuracy, archdiocesan staff recorded
the interview. A heavily truncated and framed version of the archbishops
views appeared in an October 12 New York Times story. Read
story here. A transcript of the full interview appears below. Readers
are invited to compare the published New York Times story and the
actual interview transcript, and then decide for themselves whether the
October 12 Times story is slanted or fair; complete or misleading.
here for the official transcript in PDF format from the Archdiocese of Denver web site.
New York Times: Well, Im interested in doing an article on how Catholics
are applying their faith to politics this election season and how some
bishops are speaking up in some ways that they havent in the past.
And Denver seemed like a pretty interesting place, partly because youre
here. I work with Laurie Goodstein who is my coworker, and she seemed
to think that you are an interesting figure to watch.
Archbishop Chaput: Were you going to interview the Senator out at Inverness?
NYT: Senator Kerry?
NYT: I dont think so. I dont think for this one. What
he has to say about his Catholicism, I think he said.
AB: There is a piece on National Public Radio this morning.
AB: He didnt say much
NYT: What did you think of it?
AB: I really didnt pay close attention to it, so I shouldnt
say what I think of it. I was getting ready to go to a funeral.
NYT: Well, I guess I can start by asking, is this year different
[from] previous years in any way?
AB: Well, it is different for Catholics because you have a Catholic
running for President, and the press seems to be very interested in his
Catholic identity. I think in some ways because of the coverage the issue
it looks like bishops are speaking out in a new way, but
really, many of us have been speaking about this for a very long time.
That fact that there is a Catholic running and there is a situation where
[a] potential conflict exists, reporters seem to focus and gawk. I say
that with respect; I know you are a reporter. But its true.
NYT: Sure, sure, totally.
AB: Its amazing. Before I was Bishop of Denver, I was Bishop
of Rapid City, South Dakota, and I would say many of the same things there
as I say here, and nobody paid attention to me because I was the Bishop
of Rapid City.
AB: A lot depends on who is writing/running and where you are.
I think there are many of us who are speaking about this rather clearly
and carefully for a long, long time. And my fear is, of course, that as
soon as the election is over, no matter who wins, it will die down until
the next election cycle. Then, people will start talking about it again
and well be asked questions, and well have a little flash,
and itll die down again, rather than being sure that this continues.
NYT: When you talk about "it" as "it will die down,"
I assume you mean the Churchs
the life issue?
AB: No not just the life issue, but Im talking about the
Churchs involvement in the political life of our country. Other
than that individual Catholics can be involved in political life of our
country, how much should their Catholic faith influence their positions?
Thats really the fundamental issue here
a problem with the
voters and a problem with the candidates. And thats what we as a
Church need to keep bringing to the attention of our people, long after
the election is over -- the importance of our faith having a substantial
impact on our public life, whether it be the generosity of our giving
or the public policy we embrace in our speaking, or the positions we take
in running for office or voting.
NYT: What all are you doing, just from reading the papers and the
Catholic Register, I see youve been
here and there reminding
people of the salient issues of this election. Is that deliberate?
AB: It is, but, if you look at my history here in Denver over the
last seven years, youll see that I do this every year. I probably
do it more every two years when there is an election because people
know, my columns are supposed to be about issues people are interested
in and not just theoretical speculation in a vacuum because we believe
our faith life is engaged in the real world, with real people, with real
history, learning about all of the major issues if there is something
to say. I have much less to say about technical issues of the economy
than I would about basic principles, but I think we have a duty to speak
about all issues if we have something to say. Another thing that is important
for you to know is that people ask us questions, and legitimately so.
I think it is legitimate for the press to ask if Senator John Kerry should
receive communion. I mean, that is a significant question. I think the
more significant question is, what does the Church believe about
anybody receiving communion? You cant answer the first without
understanding the answer to the second. The people ask us questions. They
didnt ask me questions two years ago about politicians receiving
communion. They did ask me questions about how important should the abortion
issue be in perspective of voting.
NYT: And your answer there was?
AB: That its foundational, its been foundational for
the many years that have passed since Roe vs. Wade became the law of the
NYT: Archbishop Burke in St. Louis caught my attention again on
Friday [October 1]. He issued a statement basically stating that its
a sin if you vote for a pro-choice politician, I believe he was saying
even if that wasnt the reason you voted for him, that you voted
for a pro-abortion politician that is still something that you ought confess.
AB: I dont believe thats where you should start. The
place to start would be, does our voting for someone make us responsible
for what that person does as a legislator or as a judge?
answer is yes, because we are in some ways materially -- we use the word
"materially" -- cooperating in that persons activity because
weve given [him or her] the platform to be elected. Now, if the
person does something wrong, are we responsible for that? Well, if we
didnt know they were going to something wrong, our participation
is remote, but if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we
approved of it, our responsibility would be really be close, even if we
knew they were going to do something wrong and we voted for them for another
reason, we would still be responsible in some ways. The standing is that
if you know someone is going to do evil and you participate in that in
some way, you are responsible. So its not
"if you vote
this way, should you go to confession?" The question is, "if
you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" Now, if you know
you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is
yes. Theres a more sophisticated thing here
its not so
crude. The reason I want to stress that is because it is not like bishops
are issuing edicts about who should vote for whom. Its issuing statements
about how a Catholic forms her conscience, or his conscience
remote material cooperation or proximate material cooperation is cooperation,
and its important for Catholics to know that, to be sophisticated
in their judgments.
NYT: What all are you doing to try to keep the folks in this Archdiocese
we have talks. We have a group of people in the Archdiocese
giving talks on Faithful Citizenship and the appropriateness on
being involved in political issues. We have Catholic candidates running
for office who I personally talk to about their positions. I write columns
for the Denver Catholic Register. I do interviews like this. I have done
radio programs on these issues. Well, I think that most of us who are
speaking out right now, are not just speaking out on abortion. Its
about the appropriateness of
involvement, on part of individual Catholics
and on part of the Church community. And the importance of forming ones
conscience intelligently and in an involved fashion on the major moral
issues of the day. Now, you know, it is true that the Church sees abortion
as the foundational issue of our time. It is. There is no way around it.
There is nothing more foundational than the right to life. And, it is
really based on our understanding of the dignity of human beings. If human
life has dignity, if human beings have dignity, we have no right to violate
that dignity by our acts, whether it be killing that person or denying
that person of adequate housing, food, and clothing or anything else.
There is really a matter of human dignity from our point of view.
NYT: How are your conversations with the two Senate candidates
AB: Ive had personal, honest discussions with both of them.
when I speak to them, I tell them, and they tell me, that
our conversations are off the record for the public, so I dont talk
NYT: Its worth a try.
AB: Sure, I understand that. I would try very much. I really wish
I could be more forthcoming, but I cant because both they and I
decided that the ground rules for starting to talk is that we talk to
each other and not to others.
NYT: When you speak about the need for Catholics to take their
faith with them into public affairs and their voting, and when you talk
about which issues are foundational, do you get any
AB: Oh absolutely mixed responses, because people hear me in different
ways depending on where they stand politically. There are three or four
kinds of people, well, there are all kinds of people, but there are those
who are staunch Republicans, those who are staunch Democrats, those who
are staunch Catholics, there are those who arent educated, you know
there are all kinds of people. And depending upon whether when they come
to the question from, they hear it in different ways. Yes, there are a
lot of people who write to me saying that theyve been a Catholic
for 70 years, that they went to Catholic colleges, and high schools, and
grade schools, they go to church every Sunday, and the Church is wrong.
NYT: How about
AB: Which proves nothing. That fact that theyve done all
those things proves nothing, except that theyve done all of those
things -- and that they have some kind of certain attachment to the Church.
But that doesnt mean they know anything about theology or about
this particular issue. They might not have thought it through. Of course,
it could be they are very well educated, too.
NYT: How are
at the parish level, at the priest level
was in St Louis and I attended a few masses there in St. Charles, which
is very Catholic.
AB: I know it well.
NYT: And uh
AB: Im a Potawatomi Indian and a woman who came to work with
us is buried there, shes a saint, Saint Rose Philippine Duchesne.
You know shes buried in St. Charles Missouri. No one knows about
but shes on of
four canonized American saints and
shes buried in St. Charles, Missouri.
NYT: You know what? I think
I think I saw her...
AB: Her shrine maybe?
NYT: Yeah, right, not far from the river.
AB: No, youre right.
and, but I had the odd experience, I just visited
two parishes holding Saturday afternoon services...uh
and got diametrically
opposed answers from the two priests I talked to. One was very
insert in the bulletin basically saying "This is
what Archbishop Burke says on the subject and you ought to keep it in
about which issues are non-negotiable." And the other fellow
said, "You know seamless garment
life means lots of things
is foundational, but it is about the war in Iraq, its about poverty,
and its about a lot of other issues." Basically, he was a Democrat.
And he sort of laughed and said he thought
he was probably the only
one in his parish. But do you
you know...do you get disagreements
like that within the Church here?
AB: Oh Im sure
Im sure there have been
you say within the Church, do you mean among our people, do you mean between
the bishops and the priests? Im not sure I understand your question.
Let me say this. A lot of Catholic Democrats, whether they are clergy
or laity, have used the "seamless garment" as an excuse to sideline
the abortion issue, making it one among many others. And, we cant
do that. The bishops, themselves, issued a statement several years ago,
called [Living t]he Gospel of Life, which was a reflection on the
centrality of the abortion and life issues for our public life. And its
important to read that in order to understand a document like "Faithful
Citizenship" because its a more theoretical background kind
of document. You know
all of those issues that you mentioned are
life issues that are very, very important, but they are not all foundational.
In the way
similar issue in terms of Catholic theology. At the heart
of Catholic theology is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. We believe it
to be absolutely true. We also believe that Marys Assumption into
heaven is absolutely true. But one doctrine is foundational and the other
doctrine depends on the foundation to be true and to be meaningful. And
the same thing is true about moral issues. You know some moral issues,
all moral issues are moral issues, and its good to be on the right
side of them all the time, but some are dependent on the basic principles
of human life. The dignity of human life. You never violate it. Whether
its the creation of embryos for embryonic stem cell research or
abortion, are violations of the dignity of human beings, from our perspective.
And you can never justify it. You can sometimes justify going to war.
You may think that the Iraq war is horrible, but there may be sometimes
when you can justify [going to war]. It doesnt have the same moral
weight. And, its not calculating 40 million abortions against 40,000
deaths in Iraq. Thats not how you do the calculus. The calculus
is on the intrinsic act itself. You know, and abortion is never, ever,
ever right. And so to elect someone who has no respect for unborn human
or has a
what kind of respect?
a kind of respect that
it doesnt make any sense. Why would you trust someone
with your life, if that person is willing to let unborn babies die?
NYT: When you say wobbly, you mean the kind of person that would
say, "I know that life starts at conception, but I still am
AB: Thats even worse. Those who claim the life didnt
start at conception are bad enough, because they are just turning their
eyes from scientific fact. But those who say that it is human life, but
its alright to kill babies anyway
its really strange.
And, it is just far from what we Catholics believe
People can say, well, "I didnt mean what
I said," but when you talk about basic issues like this, if you dont
understand what you said, theres something wrong. These are really
And, I think it is important for Catholics, whether
they are Republicans or Democrats, to get over this compromising, "yes,
but" and just give a very clear, collective "no!" A grand
refusal to vote for anybody who is pro-choice, so that we have some political
influence on this issue. You know, if Catholics voted on this issue as
the central issue of our time, we would change things quite drastically,
quite quickly, and if we dont do it, its our responsibility,
and we participate somehow in the awful history of abortion in our country.
So, I think we better just stop playing around with these words.
NYT: You said, "if Catholics started voting on this issue
as the central issue of our time, we would change things quite rapidly
AB: I think if politicians on both parties had to calculate their
position on whether or not theyre getting a significant amount of
the vote of their constituency, it would make a difference. You know the
fact that Catholics have been overwhelmingly Democrat and have had no
impact on the Democrat platform on this matter for the last 20 years is
horrible. What does that say about our commitment to Catholic values?
can I say this too?
Not only is this is a different year because
one of the candidates is Catholic, its also, perhaps, a different
year because I think even those who have been hoping for change have seen
that the old ways of approaching this havent worked. Abortion is
more accepted than ever before. A lot of young Catholics are born into
a world where they know nothing but abortion. And they think that if its
legal, it must be moral. You know I think weve been hoping that
some kind of reasoned discourse would turn our country around and it hasnt
because the other side doesnt reason. They are ruthless
their position. It seems that Catholics should be just as ruthless in
their pro-life positions as the pro-choice people are ruthless in theirs.
And I use "ruthless"
I dont mean that
in an unkindly way. I mean just be determined and stubborn
NYT: Speaking of reasons why this year is different [from] other
years, the fact that Kerry is a Catholic, yes, he causes the press to
ask questions that will induce controversial answers, but I think also
its bothersome to a lot of Catholics in a way that a Protestant
who was pro-abortion wouldnt be. Am I right?
AB: Im not sure what your question is, but Ill answer
see, I think Catholics have to grapple with the fact that their
moral positions impact their relationship with the Church. And they havent
often thought of that, you know? "I know abortion is wrong, but if
I vote for abortion, that doesnt have any impact on me." Well
the Church says, "Like heck it doesnt. It means youre
not a Catholic and you shouldnt receive communion, if you are in
favor of abortion." They dont think they connect. And, now
that some people have been making a very clear connection between the
position and ones relationship to the Church, people have gotten
angry, theyve gotten nervous, theyve gotten mad, theyve
threatened to take their money away, theyve threatened to join other
churches. You ought to see this stuff. Its just
NYT: What do you mean?
people write letters, they say things you cant
imagine them saying, they didnt think they would say it themselves
means we havent done a good job in the Catholic Church of helping
people understand the consequences of their moral decisions. You cant
take every position in the world and be a Catholic.
NYT: The question that I had before, let me state it again quickly.
are the bishops speaking out in a new way in part because
Kerry is Catholic? In ways they wouldnt
does it bother people
more, bishops and lay Catholics, because Kerry is taking the positions
he is, because hes a Catholic?
AB: It has huge consequences for the Church. If Senator Kerry is
elected President and promotes the destruction of unborn children, through
embryonic stem cell research, what is the Church going to do? If the Church
challenges a President Kerry on this issue, it will appear to be interfering.
If the Church remains silent, it will appear cowardly.
NYT: Have you taken a position on the [Federal] Marriage Amendment?
AB: Well, it seems to us because of the way the court handled the
abortion issue that the courts may handle the marriage issue in exactly
the same way, and making a decision in favor of personal freedom over
the real meaning of things. You know
personal freedom then trumps
the life of the unborn child. Personal freedom then trumps the meaning
of marriage, if the same kinds of court decisions are made. So it seems
to us, that the best way for that not to happen is not to let the courts
get a hold of it. From our perspective, marriage has two dimensions. One
is our sacramental, religious meaning but thats not what we are
defending here. We are defending the right of a state to write laws that
define marriage in a way that supports that family unit to provide security
for the life of children. It has nothing to do with our religious perspective
-- I say "nothing" to do with it; it certainly has something
to do with it -- but our primary position isnt religious. Its
about the civil meaning of marriage. Thats what marriage means civilly.
Thats why we have laws that support marriage rather than support
other kinds of relationships. Because we think its important for
that stable relationship for the sake of children. This doesnt take
rocket science or religious fervor; it just makes sense.
NYT: The Republican Party, at the national level in the last four
years, has taken an accelerating interest in Catholic voters.
AB: Well sure, I think they see us as a natural ally on some of
the cultural issues.
AB: As the Evangelicals are; as Orthodox Jews would be; as Muslims
would be who are serious about their religious faith.
NYT: What do you think of that? Theyre probably right. You
are natural allies.
AB: We might be. It depends on where the Republican Party goes.
If it goes in the wrong way, we wont be natural allies. Political
parties change their positions, Churches dont and shouldnt.
If the Republican Party would stay with us on these issues, I think there
would be sympathy there. If the Democratic Party would be with us on these
issues, there would be sympathy there. If they both were, it would be
a non-issue in the election perhaps. So, its not like were
with Republicans, its that theyre with us.
NYT: Im wondering if youve heard from them? Do they
at the White House, at the campaign
AB: I personally have not, Ive not heard from them
have some relationship with the White House because Im a Commissioner
for International Religious Freedom and I was appointed by the White House
to that position. But that has nothing to do with this election, and it
was done before this election became a prominent issue, and we dont
sit around discussing party politics at the commission level. But I have
had no contact from the Republican Party locally or nationally
on the religious issue. Ive talked to Democrats and Ive talked
to Republicans and Ive talked with Senator Daschle
I guess Im wondering what if any perspective
you have on the efforts that the Republican Party has made to try to persuade
more Catholics to abandon what
AB: I think thats what parties do. This is so silly. You
the Republicans have been attacked recently I think for trying
to get a hold of parish lists of Evangelical churches.
NYT: Yeah, theyre trying
AB: Oh, theyre trying to get ours too? I didnt know
they were trying to get ours. Well, what would you expect them to try
and do? And the Democrats would try to do the same if they thought they
would have a chance to use them, and thats what parties do. Whats
this "outrage"? It seems just too silly to me. Now would I ask
my priests to give lists to either party? No! But if a member of a parish
gives the parish list to a party, do I control that? No! I dont
think our pastor should be doing that, but you know, what do party activists
do? They try to gain advantage. Why do you think there is so much outrage
about that kind of thing? Its just what they do; they get an Elks
Club list, they get a church list
they get a telephone book. You know
it works. They
NYT: People have special sensitivities about churches. They feel
like, oh my gosh, Im going to get up from church and receive mail
from the parties and thats terrible, but you and I both know that
good machines can get a hold of those lists.
AB: And thats what they should do, right? They should try
NYT: Thats right. If I was a priest, I would try my best
not to give a list away.
AB: I would too. But see they didnt go and get it from the
ministers; they wanted to get it from members of the community. So we
have to be honest about that. If any of my priests gave those lists to
a party, I would be upset. But if a member of parish does it, I cant
tell them what to do. Those are very public lists by the way. You can
stop by a parish and pick up a parish directory.
NYT: Back to
a minute ago you said, "were not with
the Republican Party, the Republican Party is with us"
AB: On this issue
NYT: On this issue, right.
AB: Its not with us on some other issues.
AB: So you have to weigh foundational issues against non-foundational
issues perhaps. The calculus on who you are going to vote for is important
and you have to take it very seriously. I have to pray about who I am
going to vote for, I cant presume anything until I get into the
voting booth and Im going to vote early by the way so Im not
going into a voting booth, but it wont be a casual thing and Ill
probably go to chapel with my ballot.
NYT: Id like to get you to handicap the chances that the
Republican Party has
the way the two parties are currently lined
what are the chances that the Republican Party has for making
the sort of inroads they hope to make among observant Catholics?
AB: Well, I think if the Republican candidate is pro-life, he will
attract a whole lot of Catholic voters. If a Democrat candidate is pro-life,
hell attract a whole lot of Catholic voters. But if Rudy Giuliani
is a Republican nominee the next go around, youre going to see the
Republicans screaming at the Church for making such a big issue of a pro-life
matter, because -- if I understand Mr. Giulianis position -- he
is in favor of abortion. So, people will notice that it just isnt
just a party thing for us. Its not partisan, its issue. Of
course, we hope for the conversion of all Catholic political politicians
to live out what their Church teaches if they claim to be Catholics.
NYT: The last question is
there has been more and more cooperation
between Protestants who are conservative on social issues and Catholics
who are conservative on social issues. What do you think of that? Do you
think thats interesting?
AB: I havent seen it except on the issue. I havent
seen cooperation extend to other areas of Church life. There is a commonality
of issues that makes us allies on a particular issue, but has that led
an ecumenical kind of
NYT: No, no there is no Baptist saying Ave Marias
AB: Or thinking that they are going to become Catholic someday
NYT: But its novel even to see this degree of cooperation
on the issues.
AB: I dont think so. We have been cooperating on a lot of
issues. It depends if there is the heart on the issues. For example, in
Colorado, we have huge cooperation with the Mormons on the issues of family
life and marriage -- that we wouldnt have with some of the mainline
Protestant churches. Now we are much farther away from the Mormons than
we would be from the Protestants [on doctrinal issues], and they would
be far away from us from their perspective. They re-baptize anybody that
becomes Mormon, and we re-baptize Mormons if they became Catholic, we
dont recognize even their baptism. We do recognize baptism with
mainline Protestant Churches. So, we have issues, I dont think its
anything else but issues.
NYT: I talked to conservative Protestant organizers and they say,
"years ago, if I were to hold a meeting on an issue like opposing
same sex marriage, you would never get any Catholics to come because theyd
think we would try and convert them, which we were."
AB: I think people are becoming so worried about the cultural issues
that it has broken down the distrust between one another. I think thats
clear. Because I am really worried about them too. I think these things
are very worrisome. They are not something that might happen in the future,
they are happening now. And again, abortion hasnt gone away. And,
I think a lot of Catholics thought that well after this initial phase,
we will back away from it. But every time we try to begin partial birth
abortion legislation which would limit abortionsthe court
disembowels it, every time, every time. So, its not going
away, its getting worse.
Reproduced with permission of the Archdiocese