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Archbishop Chaput: 'exhausted' US political system needs spiritual renewal

September 16, 2016

In a major address on American political affairs, Philadelphia's Archbishop Charles Chaput lamented that this year's presidential election features "two such deeply flawed" candidates, but went on to say that American society as a whole is facing a crisis.

"We've reached a moment when our political thinking and vocabulary as a nation seem exhausted," the archbishop said. Delivering the Tocqueville Lecture at the University of Notre Dame, he said that Christians must take action to revive a moral vision for American society.

Without naming the two major presidential candidate, Archbishop Chaput delivered a powerful negative judgment:

One candidate, in the view of a lot of people, is a belligerent demagogue with an impulse-control problem. And the other, also in the view of a lot of people, is a criminal liar, uniquely rich in stale ideas and bad priorities.

However, the archbishop went on to say that the problems facing the American political system run deeper than the year's presidential choices. Speaking from his perspective as a priest who has heard confessions for nearly 50 years, he reported:

... a huge spike in people – both men and women – confessing promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence and sexual confusion as an ordinary part of life, and the massive role of pornography in wrecking marriages, families and even the vocations of clergy and religious.

The archbishop concluded that today's Americans are living in "a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems.” A self-governing nation cannot be sustained by that sort of people, he said; the nation's future "belongs to people who believe in something beyond themselves, and who live and sacrifice accordingly."

Archbishop Chaput welcomed the emphasis that Pope Francis has placed on God's mercy. But he cautioned that the term "mercy" can be misunderstood. God's mercy is dispensed in the confessional, he said, but penitents come to confession only "when they already understand, at least dimly, that they need to change their lives and seek God's mercy." 

The archbishop said: "Mercy means nothing-- it's just an exercise in sentimentality-- without clarity about moral truth."


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  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Sep. 21, 2016 3:41 PM ET USA

    "Criminal liar" are the words Archbsp Caput uses to describe Ms. Clinton. He has fallen in to the public discourse of today. Inaccurate and mean.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Sep. 21, 2016 11:27 AM ET USA

    To wsw33410, I am not undecided. Trump would like to deport my catechism students and/or their parents and siblings. Not voting for him unless I see more conversion in him than ever happens to a candidate in the final run up to a Presidential election. Miracles can happen, so certainly we should pray. If there's no miracle conversion, have you heard yet of the American Solidarity Party?

  • Posted by: Louise01 - Sep. 20, 2016 10:58 PM ET USA

    I AM VOTING FOR TRUMP and the Supreme Court! Flaws and all I like him and am praying for President Trump. It's either Hillary or Trump. My BUMPER STICKER READS "Never Hillary." I am disgusted with the sanctimonious "never Trump" crazies. I am fed up with these socialist Democrats.

  • Posted by: wsw33410 - Sep. 20, 2016 6:20 PM ET USA

    @ ElizabethD (and others not decided) - Read this teaching: "Above all, the common outcry, which is justly made on behalf of human rights— for example, the right to health, to home, to work, to family, to culture—is false and illusory if the right to life, the most basic and fundamental right and the condition for all other personal rights, is not defended with maximum determination.’’ (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, Nos. 25, 26, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2015)

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Sep. 20, 2016 9:18 AM ET USA

    I agree with Abp Chaput and am concerned that anyone would seriously have confidence in Trump as the "moral high ground" candidate. Neither of them merit voting for. I am looking at writing in a vote for a third party candidate with an acceptable platform and moral compass.

  • Posted by: unum - Sep. 17, 2016 9:31 PM ET USA

    leanne50 has it right. One of two leading candidates will be elected, not third party candidates. USCCB says, "... we remember that we relate to the civil order as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, whose reign is not yet fully realized on earth but demands our unqualified allegiance. It is as citizens faithful to the Lord Jesus that we contribute most effectively to the civil order. (Faithful Citizenship)" We serve the Lord by doing the right thing, not the easy thing.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Sep. 17, 2016 5:53 PM ET USA

    Archbishop Chaput has hit the proverbial nail on the head not once but over and over again with this address. I think his comments re candidates were tempered for various reasons. My take on the election: I'm voting for the Supreme Court and Federal judgeships. The prez gets 4, maybe 8 but those are highly influential years and the Supreme Court has already release enough highly flawed "decision". The Donald released a list of names he would use for SC gaining Rick Santorum's approval.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Sep. 17, 2016 11:15 AM ET USA

    In some ways, living in one of the "bluest" states makes life easy during this election. Just gotta find a third-party candidate for whom to cast that conscience vote.

  • Posted by: feedback - Sep. 17, 2016 9:45 AM ET USA

    The actual problem is dishonesty and misinformation in media reporting. One of the candidates is being constantly demonized by all of the main stream media; while the other is given special preferential treatment with cover up for her criminal activities, but they are definitely not equally "deeply flawed." Plus, one of the candidates is a direct response to 8 years under the current administration, and to many voters their candidate appears to be the only remedy against a deeply flawed system.

  • Posted by: k_cusick1963 - Sep. 17, 2016 8:04 AM ET USA

    I agree with Fred, but would add...that one has a lot of rough edges, but genuineness, warmth and sincerity are present. I think God can work with that with a lot of prayer on our part.

  • Posted by: jrorr19609092 - Sep. 17, 2016 8:03 AM ET USA

    I find the equating of the 2 candidates in equally negative terms unfair. Hillary Clinton's negatives are well known and provable. Donald Trumps negatives are taken only from comments reported by a biased media, while his professional working record with employees and others is very positive. He is well known for employing and promoting women in his business long before others started do it, and is highly respected by them throughout his life time. He is filling the void in GOP leadership.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 16, 2016 11:45 PM ET USA

    Our political thinking is not exhausted; it is corrupted by politicians who serve their belly. Archbishop Chaput speaks of sexual sins? He seems to be skirting the edge of "black and white." Have we not been told for 3 years that too much emphasis has been placed on sexual sins? Too much emphasis on rules, moral doctrines, and rigid thinking? There is no question that God's mercy can solve all our problems. But the real question is "will it?" Mercy does not come without asking to be made worthy.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 16, 2016 11:36 PM ET USA

    I don't understand the difficulty in deciding who to vote for. On the one hand is the totalitarian statist who promises more of the same government control as the current community organizer. On the other is a man who was maligned from the moment he opened his mouth at the first debate. Since then, he has responded remarkedly to good advice, often with 24 hours of receiving it. This advice has shaped his campaign into one of reason and clear purpose. Listen to his own words, not the filter.

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Sep. 16, 2016 10:08 PM ET USA

    He continues to say, erroneously, that both candidates are equally horrible even though one openly represents the culture of death, says we have to change our religious beliefs and who, through her new Supreme Court, will destroy the Constitutional protections it offers Catholics; and one who has an impulse-control problem. Lord help us. He used to be my hero.

  • Posted by: DanS - Sep. 16, 2016 6:50 PM ET USA

    Thanks be to God for Archbishop Chaput!

  • Posted by: FredC - Sep. 16, 2016 6:42 PM ET USA

    What is clear about the two candidates is that the one with the morally low ground is obvious. Look at the positions on abortion and on marriage. The other is on the relatively moral high ground.

  • Posted by: leeanne50 - Sep. 16, 2016 6:41 PM ET USA

    Here, here. Not only are the current candidates horrible, but there really wasn't anybody any better to chose from. I'll be voting, but choosing who is the least worst of the 2 is going to be a challenge.