Michelle Bauman interviews Archbishop Chaput in the wake of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. At the Sunday Mass, Pope Francis announced the 2018 World Meeting would take place in Dublin. Since planning for Dublin will get underway before long, it’s worth spending a few minutes with Chaput on takeaway
What do you hope that the U.S. Church – and the country as a whole – will take away from the Pope’s words?
Francis had important things to say about immigrants, human dignity, religious freedom and other specific issues. But his greatest skill is his ability to help people encounter the core elements of the Gospel in a simple, accessible way. He’s a healer and a guide, not a polemicist. People are eager for that kind of voice.
Some media reports have debated Pope Francis’ words in terms of liberal or conservative. Is this a good approach to viewing the Pope?
It’s a big mistake. He doesn’t fit easily into political categories. People bicker over his comments on climate change, but they miss the deeper implications of his remarks. Nature, including human nature, is a gift. We’re stewards of the world we’ve inherited. Creation – from the oceans and forests to our own sexuality – is not just dead matter we “own” and can manipulate with technology. When Francis talks about man’s abuse of the environment, he means not just the chemical waste we dump into the air but also the poison we pump into our bodies to suppress our natural fertility. His words are more subtle and more far-reaching than simple left/right divisions. That’s easy to miss if we’re too quick to draw partisan conclusions.
What, in your opinion, is the state of the family in the United States? What are some of the greatest challenges that it faces? What are the greatest causes for hope?
The biggest challenge is the hyper-individualism encouraged by our mass media and the dynamics of a consumer economy. Francis touched on this when he was in Philadelphia. Our country was built on individual rights and dignity. That premise works very well as long as individuals understand that they’re part of a larger community and honor their obligations to other family members, neighbors and God. But the more radically we focus on ourselves, the more our links to other people break down. American culture tends to promote a distorted set of individual appetites and illusions. The family and religious faith inevitably suffer.