Archbishop Chaput: 'It's Going to Be a Long Fight'

Archbishop of Philadelphia, in Rome to receive a 'sign of embrace' from the Pope, regrets not being with his flock on day Supreme Court rules on health-care law.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia receives the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI June 29 in St. Peter's Basilica.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia receives the pallium from Pope Benedict XVI June 29 in St. Peter's Basilica. (photo: Reuters/ Stefano Rellandini)

Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision June 28 on the government’s health-care reform legislation, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia spoke with the Register’s Edward Pentin about his reaction to the news and what this now means in the Church’s battle to overturn the law’s requirement that all health-care insurance programs must include coverage for contraception.

Archbishop Chaput received the pallium this morning at a Mass in St. Peter's basilica on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.

What does the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care reform legislation now mean in the struggle to defend religious freedom?

I think it’s a disappointment on the part of many of us in the Church because we had hoped the decision would make our lawsuits unnecessary. But a decision of the court is a decision of the court, and we have to accept it in a generous kind of way. We have to do all we can to make sure the position of the Church on religious freedom is clearly articulated and that the challenge to religious freedom, as embodied in the mandates from the Health and Human Services agency,… are overturned.

The U.S. bishops have spoken in favor of a universal right to health care.

The bishops really do believe it. Health is a basic human right; we have a right to be healthy. There’s no declaration on the part of the Church that that has to be accomplished through government intervention.

There are many ways of approaching health care, and I think it’s very important for Catholics to understand the fact that the Church, seeing health care as a basic human right, does not mean [to say] there’s a particular method of obtaining that [right that’s] better than another.

How will this decision affect your work, and what should the faithful be doing in response?

It’s a lesson to us. [The battle for] religious freedom is going to continue; it’s going to be a long fight. We have to never let down our guard. We have to be calling our people to be engaged on this issue. We thought it was going to be easily obtained … but that’s obviously not the case, so it just requires more day-to-day work on the issue in our own locations.

On the positive side, the policy has been a unifying factor?

In some sense, there has been a surprising unity, at least among the bishops, if not among all Catholics. God always gives us opportunities. The message of Christ is to obtain grace and do good things. 

The Fortnight for Freedom continues until July 4. Have you been happy with the response?

One of the things I’m embarrassed about is that I’m not currently at the heart of that in the United States; I’m over here in Rome. Religious freedom and the place of the Church in politics has been an issue I’ve been interested in for many years and written about in a considerable number of ways.

So I really wish I could have been home for more of this. I’ll be returning at the conclusion and be preaching at the National Shrine [in Washington] at the very end, on the Fourth of July, Independence Day. So I’ll get back for it.

In our archdiocese, because I’ve been away and my auxiliary bishops have been with me, we’ve really placed the leadership of this in the hands of pastors and parishes, which is where the real leadership of the Church should be taking place anyway. So I’ve been pleased with the way the pastors have embraced the task.

What are your reflections on the pallium ceremony?

It’s always a special time because it’s a way of being embraced by the Pope. That’s always a very important thing for bishops.

Peter was told by Jesus to confirm his brethren, and the Holy Father does that with archbishops in the unique way of conferring the pallium, which is the fraternal symbol of our unity and love for one another. We’re literally embraced by the Pope when he places the pallium on our shoulders, so that little embrace symbolizes a spiritual embrace which is at the heart of the College of Bishops.

What is the situation like now in Philadelphia? Are matters starting to settle down?

Actually, last week was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had, because we had to downsize our resources and workforces by 20% because of our financial problems. We’ve had deficit spending for many years, and we’ve run out of money.

Legal issues are another, also very expensive, matter, but it has nothing to do with this ordinary, annual budget. Then, last week, we also had a decision by a local criminal court that a former vicar of the clergy for the archdiocese was found guilty of endangering children and given a jail term. So this time is very sad for us. It was probably the worst week I’ve had since being made archbishop, but it will get better.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent. He blogs at