Beliefs Faith Institutions News Politics

Archbishop Chaput slams Trump critics, says Notre Dame should honor the president

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles J. Chaput attends a news conference at the Vatican on Sept. 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Tony Gentile

(RNS) Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leader of the conservative wing of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S., is denouncing President Trump’s critics for displaying what he says is unprecedented opposition to the new president.

And he suggested that the University of Notre Dame honor Trump by inviting him to be the commencement speaker at graduation this spring.

“Since Inauguration Day critics of Donald Trump have marched, rioted, verbally abused and in some cases viciously assaulted their opponents on a scale previously unseen,” Chaput wrote in a column published Friday (Jan. 27) as he was in Washington for the annual anti-abortion March for Life.

He noted that some of Trump’s statements and actions during the campaign “were deeply troubling” but he repeated his contention that Hillary Clinton “had her own equally, though different, ugly and disqualifying baggage.”

Chaput has said that Trump’s opposition to abortion — the real-estate mogul supported abortion rights until he entered politics — was a key factor for Catholic voters.

“Mr. Trump is now President Trump, and curiously, some of the harshest, on-going fury directed at him has nothing to do with his personal character,” Chaput wrote. “Rather, it’s a very special brand of ‘progressive’ intolerance for the approach his administration may take toward a range of difficult social issues, including abortion.”

The Catholic bishops have welcomed Trump’s executive order barring funding for overseas programs that provide counseling on abortion and his administration’s high profile presence at the March for Life, as well as his pledge to name a Supreme Court justice next week who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

But Chaput’s defense of Trump was notable given that the new president’s other statements and his behavior have alarmed many Catholic leaders. And some of his other actions as president — such as following up on his pledge to build a wall with Mexico, restrict refugees and overturn Obamacare — have also drawn sharp criticism from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The archbishop’s public pressure on the iconic Catholic institution to honor Trump at commencement in May was also remarkable in that Chaput was one of the sharpest critics of the university when its president, the Rev. John Jenkins, gave newly-elected President Obama an honorary degree in 2009.

Catholic conservatives were livid that Notre Dame would honor Obama, who supported abortion rights, and who they viewed as a liberal who would oppose their positions and worldview.

Chaput’s comments Friday were another chapter in the archbishop’s critiques of Notre Dame.

At a talk at the university last September, the 72-year-old archbishop said Notre Dame’s decision to give then Vice President Joe Biden a prestigious award a few months earlier (former House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic Republican who opposes abortion, was a co-recipient) was “a baffling error of judgment.” He said the move caused damage “both to the faithful and to the uninformed.”

Then the next month he returned to the campus and in a wide-ranging talk pointed to Notre Dame’s decision to honor the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo — who delivered a speech on how he could support abortion rights as a Catholic politician — as a marker “to date the start of our current troubles.”

In December, Jenkins said he was not sure he would invite Trump to graduation; Notre Dame has had more presidents deliver commencement addresses than any other nonmilitary college, and such an appearance is normally coveted.

But Jenkins expressed concern that Trump coming “may be even more of a circus” than 2009.

Now Chaput is pushing Notre Dame to invite Trump, saying Jenkins needed to give him a chance to engage with Catholics and to be heard.

“Maybe the best way to amplify and elevate President Trump’s understanding of that word ‘prolife’ would be for a premier Catholic university — say, for example, the University of Notre Dame — to invite him to campus to offer its commencement address, to explain his personal evolution on the abortion issue, and to share, listen and learn with a cross-section of students and faculty in a respectful dialogue on the meaning of human dignity.”

“Notre Dame takes pride in its tradition of welcoming to campus U.S. presidents from both parties and with very different views,” he said, further tweaking Jenkins over past invitations.

“In that light, the invitation would certainly make sense and might be fruitful in unforeseen ways. God writes straight with crooked lines.”

Editor’s note: In response to this article, RNS has been contacted by a spokesman for Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who asserted that the Archbishop Chaput was not denouncing anyone in his column and alleged that we misrepresented his words. The spokesman also took issue with our story’s suggestion initially that Chaput was encouraging the University of Notre Dame to confer an honorary degree on President Donald Trump.

The archbishop in his original column did say, of anti-Trump critics and protesters, that “some of the anger is understandable.” And during the campaign, he did criticize both Trump and Hillary Clinton. However, it is difficult to interpret Chaput’s column as a whole as anything but severely critical of the current protest movement.

We are not aware of a case in which a president who gave a commencement speech at Notre Dame did not get an honorary degree. But it is true that Archbishop Chaput did not specifically call for that in what he wrote. RNS regrets the error and has removed that reference.

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


Click here to post a comment

  • Chaput has picked up the alt-right talking point of conflating 1/20’s violent anarchist protests with 1/21’s peaceful, mainstream, neglible if any arrests marches and rallies. Sad!
    Chaput doesn’t get that the opposition to Trump is unprecedented because Trump’s incompetence and anti-democratic (small d) actions are unprecedented. In less than one week he’s tried to shutter the free press, muzzle scientists, order the National Park Service to invent crowd size facts the way George W. Bush demanded his staff find Saddam Hussein responsible for 9/11, order his press secretary to lie about the crowds, and had his chief counselor defend those lies as “alternate facts.” The Hyde Amendment stuff is par for the course and not unexpected or shocking.
    It’s also not surprising that Chaput’s a hypocrite about who gets to come to Notre Dame. If he had just said, hey if you can invite Obama you can invite Trump, it would have been a respectable position.

    Chaput, Burke and the rest of the traditionalists see themselves as the Luthers of the 21st century, bulwarks against a heretical church. The truth is they will end up like Siri, Ottaviani and Lefebvre: at best semi-remembered as resisters, at worst forgotten, at very worst excommunicated.
    one more thing: Tell your faithful to stop calling me a baby killer. Then you can lecture others about “respectful dialogue.”

  • Bishop Chaput should just give Trump and award from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; nothing’s stopping him and it’s more appropriate than telling other people who they should and shouldn’t honor.

  • This is disappointing. Trump is defending torture, expelling immigrants, censorship of the press, increase of nuclear arms, and other atrocities. He lies regularly. He is a proven adulterer and sexual predator. I am against abortion, but I wonder if allowing the woman to make a legal choice will not bring her into the advice of people who will dissuade her. Elliminating the choice of legal abortion will not elliminate abortion. It will throw women to obtain abortions under the cover of darkness, away from possible advice to stop. I am tired of Republicans manipulating the morality of Catholics in order to get away with murder. In exchange we are getting a lack of social services, no guaranteed food and education for children and no health care for all. Not a very Catholic society.

  • Archbishop Chaput is known as a bit of a nasty fellow, famous primarily for playing hardball with victims of sexually abusive priests. Republican legislator Mike Vereb once likened him to a “mob boss,” while another legislator described Chaput as “the most vehement supporter of the secrecy of the Catholic church over pedophiles. He fights any authority over his own, even when it is a matter of criminal law.” Isn’t that something!

    I mention this only in the name of disinterested objectivity, of course, so that readers of this fine news outlet might get a fuller picture of such an upstanding religious leader and the great moral heights from which his proclamations are uttered.

  • Thank Archbishop for once again being spot on in your position….never mind what liberal faux Catholics say

  • There is no “conservative” wing in the RCC. The pope and every single bishop are opposed to women’s and LGBTQ human rights. Only some are more PR conscious than others in order to play to sycophant media like Gibson who did not report:
    The pope’s deputy, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, congratulated Trump on Nov. 9 noting that the election “was characterized by a large turnout at the polls.”(see “Voter turnout at 20-year low in 2016”) Parolin said the first issue on which the Vatican would “collaborate” with Trump was peace. The second was “the internal [domestic] issues” of the US Church such as “religious freedom.”He added that in the early aftermath of the American presidential election, “the future leader has already spoken like a leader.”

  • So you are tired of Repubs getting away with murder? That’s rich! Hitler only murdered 6 million Jews. The Democrats have murdered 61 million American children! None of what you say has any merit whatsoever.

  • Where did you get the 61 million number? Can you post proof? If true, this would be terrible, but you cannot prove that the children were killed by Democrats. They were killed by their mothers and by the terrible circumstances that led them to it, circumstances that we Americans never deal with. Women are the ones to carry, give birth and take care if children. I would venture that there are more abortions per capita in Republican-dominated states with less education. Furthermore, to honor a man that promotes a sexual conduct that would easily lead to abortions is incongruent. My point is that “talk against abortion” is used by Republicans to carry an agenda of tremendous social injustice, and this is not Catholic.

  • His Eminence should be careful what he wishes for! Trump giving the commencement address and receiving an honorary degree would turn the graduation into a three-ring circus. I’ll bet more than half of the graduates would simply get up and walk out. I graduated UND many years ago, and I can say with certainty that ND students do not suffer fools gladly. Here’s a thought: Award Trump an honorary degree, make up a fancy diploma set in a nice vinyl folder and mail it to him in DC. Trump could fax his speech to Fr Jenkins to be copied and handed out to the grads after the graduation ceremony. That should satisfy everyone (OK, maybe not His Eminence in Philly).

  • Of course, before anyone accuses the archbishop of partisanship, we should remember that before the elections he expressed strong disapproval of both candidates and admitted he did not know how he would ultimately vote.

    He was respectful of Obama despite opposing him. I think he believes the country owes Trump the same respect even when disagreeing with him.

    As for Notre Dame, they lost the right to oppose Trump when they openly defied the bishops and invited Obama despite his record in opposition to the moral teachings of the Church. If they had refused to invite Obama, they would have a case for refusing Trump. Since they didn’t, they can only play the hypocrite by selective invitations.

  • The archbishop expressed strong disapproval for both candidates before the elections. This isn’t partisan support here

  • Re: “Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, a leader of the conservative wing of the Catholic hierarchy in the U.S., is denouncing President Trump’s critics for displaying what he says is unprecedented opposition to the new president.” 

    Your Excellency, it appears you’re unaware of this, but the US is a free country, and its citizens are free not to like their president. No, really … they’re not required to bow and scrape to him. This isn’t the 11th century and it’s not a feudal state ruled by a divinely-ordained monarch. Rather, this is the 21st century and we have a representative republic in which people have this little thing called “freedom of speech.” 

    As a prince of your Church, your Excellency, I don’t doubt that it pains you to have to accept this reality. I’m sure life would be so much better for you, if we Americans were all mere serfs, required to make obeisance to whatever ruler you see fit to crown for us, and to slaver over him and sing his praises night and day. Oh yeah, that would very likely be great fun for you. 

    But guess what? We don’t live in your private little fantasy world, and we aren’t bound to do what you demand. You have no power over us and cannot order us to drool and slaver over the Groper-in-Chiefs every action, rant, tantrum, etc. As Americans we are entitled to think what we want about him and, if we wish, to express any dissatisfaction we feel (within the limits of the law). 

    Oh, and one more thing: Before you spew lies about how no president has ever been maligned before, you might want to recall the steady stream of hateful B.S. your own fellow Religious Rightists spewed steadily for eight full years while Obama was in office. Maybe you don’t remember all the ridiculous crap about how he’s a “secret Muslim,” and had conspired to put the Muslim Brotherhood in control of the country … but I do. Maybe you don’t recall how so many of your fellow Religious Rightists blustered and fumed that he was a Kenyan usurper whose Hawai’ian birth certificate was fraudulent. Maybe you also don’t recall how so many of your fellow Religious Rightists prayed for Obama as called for in Psalm 109:

    Appoint an evil one over him,
    an accuser to stand at his right hand,
    That he may be judged and found guilty,
    that his plea may be in vain.
    May his days be few;
    may another take his office.
    May his children be fatherless,
    his wife, a widow.
    May his children wander and beg,
    driven from their hovels.
    May the usurer snare all he owns,
    strangers plunder all he earns.
    May no one treat him with mercy
    or pity his fatherless children.
    May his posterity be destroyed,
    their name rooted out in the next generation.
    (Ps 109:6-13)

    Yeah, those were all times when Obama was respected and loved and fawned over by your fellow co-religionists. Your Excellency, you and they are raging hypocrites … in spite of the fact that your own precious Jesus explicitly and unambiguously ordered you never to be hypocritical, ever, not at any time or for any reason. 

    May I suggest an alternative, your Excellency? Instead of pitching fits that the rest of the country doesn’t think as you do and won’t kowtow to your Groper-in-Chief, you could try growing up, acting your age, and accepting the reality that the rest of us aren’t obliged to think, speak, and act as you demand? OK? You’re far too old to be acting like your 70-going-on-7 Groper-in-Chief. 

  • I take no position on the validity of Catholic beliefs if that’s what you mean. I think he’s a hypocrite for his political positions and history will not judge him well.

  • Finally, really is good to see that ‘conscience’ and ‘honoring’ goes both ways. So sick of Notre Dame and other so called Catholic institutions going with who is trendy and popular instead of seriously looking at the non negotiable Catholic teachings. It’s why so many people are turned off. They let somebody (Obama) speak who wants ‘conscience’ and a woman’s ‘right’ for partial birth abortion and born alive (then let die). Yet, they vacillate regarding a president who signs the Mexican City policy in the first week! They don’t care about human beings or any rights when they allow somebody to speak who promulgates the ongoing holocaust. A President Trump speech would cause them to get criticized by their elitist donors and faux reputation. Notre Dame has lost all credibility as a genuine Catholic institution.

  • Founders of Notre Dame and St. Mary’s of South bend Indiana must be spinning in their graves or in heaven at those two Apostate ex Catholic colleges.

  • The archdiocese of Philadelphia was not the one that honored pro abortion President Obama, telling us that they thought it was perfect to honor him as an example of hearing all points of view.

    Notre Dame is extremely hypocritical, because now they can’t stand to hear different points of view. So Chaput is right, you are wrong.

  • How’s life in that bubble?. Gee, I did not realize that Trump had eliminated all free speech. You seem to be engaging in it quite well. Perhaps all this oppression exists merely in your mind.

    I can say this for you. Your imagination is quite vivid.

  • What complete nonsense. What planet do you live on? The pope is not against women’s rights. Nor LGBT rights. You appear to really be saying he does not agree with your radical interpretation of those ideas. But keep on living in that fantastic land. Dream on, dreamer

  • If ND students did not walk out on the pro abortion Obama, then they would merely show themselves to be the hypocrites they are.

  • You clearly have not read what I wrote or did not discern it. I see there is little dialogue in this site. There must be a reason.

  • Let me remind you that Chaput came out and said that Notre Dame should not recognize Obama because he perceived Obama’s position to be counter to Catholic teaching. Yet here Chaput is now actually recommending that Trump receive an award from Notre Dame despite Trump’s own positions which run counter to Catholic teaching. So by your reasoning, the extreme hypocrite in this case would actually be the good arch-bishop. (Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a hypocrite, but I do think it is hugely bizarre that ,with all of the serious things happening in the country right now, the Archbishop is opining on whether Notre Dame should give Trump an award some day. Just a teensy bit off target).

  • I have an old broken toaster in my closet. At this point it would be doing a better job than Golden Showers. So yes, Hillary would’ve been better. And Trump is no less corrupt.

  • I was just scrolling through to see if anyone else had read all of what he said. Bravo! Few dare to go to the source, they’d rather have someone else chew it up and feed it back to them. When you read it you know that this is just another hit piece.

  • I believe that Chaput’s call on Notre Dame to invite Trump was a bit of a challenge to each. Given Notre Dame’s record, it would be interesting, to say the least, if they would invite Trump who at least as one gotten one small part of the pro-life thing right. Really I read it that he’s calling into question Trump’s sincerity, the same way he’s called Notre Dame’s sincerity into question in the past.

  • I get my information about this pope from “the planet” i.e. not just the US media. This past November: “Pope Francis: The ban on women’s ordination will continue forever” In December: “Pope Reiterates Catholic Church’s Ban on Gay Priests” or “Pope Francis ‘told about alleged child rapist’ two years before his arrest.”
    Pope Francis has said that abortion, even to save a woman’s life, is an “abominable crime,” “horrific” and “what the Mafia does – throw someone away to save another.” He has stated that abortion is the result of “the egoism of a culture that does not love life,”the “alleged right to one’s own body” and a “widespread mentality of profit.”
    Pope Francis has called same-sex marriage an “anthropological regression” and said it “disfigures God’s plan for creation.” At least 14 anti-gay religious crusaders were at the pope’s “traditional marriage” conference in Nov. 2014. He has termed the movement in many countries to accept same-sex marriage an “ideological colonization that we have to be careful about that is trying to destroy the family.”
    Pope Francis “has used similar vocabulary to object to what he calls an ‘ideological colonization’ of developing countries by Western nations … on matters such as contraception and abortion” as well as same-sex marriage.
    As regards the GOP’s “bathroom bills,” Pope Francis has compared transgender persons to nuclear weapons saying both do not “recognize the order of creation” and that they are “the sin against God the Creator!” The pope has denounced “gender theory,” what he calls people “choosing” their sex. His “gender ideology” pronounced numerous times around the world is now used by conservatives around the world.

  • I love Archbishop Chaput and he is right that the hysteria surrounding Trump is likely much greater than the damage he is actually doing. Nevertheless, Trump IS actually doing quite a bit of damage already, the Mexico City order notwithstanding. One cannot be a true Catholic and support the selective turning away of refugees who need our help – yes, we need to be safe, but no, we should not be discriminating of the types of people we’re helping. It should be based on need, not religion, national origin, or whatever. These people need our assistance, and we can’t just turn our backs. Now, it’s true that Obama hardly allowed any refugees in either and he was responsible for bombing them in the first place, and his weak leadership helped allow the war in Syria to flourish. But, that does not absolve Trump from responsibility for taking in desperate people. It should have been done before. Security is a noble endeavor, but there has to be a balance… some of these people can’t wait.

  • Republicans are murdering people? Obama bombed 20-something countries during his reign of terror, and regularly used drone strikes that had massive collateral damage. Not to mention the millions of babies that were killed under his watch. I am no Republican – a Catholic cannot be beholden to either political party – but it is disingenuous at the least to suggest that one party is somehow better than the other when it comes to murder. Also, just because women will “do it anyway” when it comes to abortion is no reason to keep child murder legal.

  • There needs to be some kind of re-ordering of Catholic colleges. They need a “come to Jesus” moment (haha). Too many of them have strayed way beyond the church’s teachings, and in some cases they are actively pushing back AGAINST them. Just look at Providence and Anthony Esolen, or what Marquette is doing to that other professor. It’s disgusting to call yourself a Catholic college and then flout the Church at every turn.

  • It may be legal, but women do not have a “right” to kill their babies. Nor do they have a “right” to become a priest. Further, it has been proven that the 75% figure on pay equity (or whatever it is) is misleading at best. Women have equal rights, it’s just that some feminists claim more things are “rights” than actually are. As for the LGBTQ community, sexuality is not an identity and it should not be given protected status as such. If your behavior causes scandal in the sense that it openly acts in opposition to your institutional beliefs (school, business, etc.) you should have recourse.

  • As I recall, Notre Dame couldn’t honor Obama fast enough when he became president, despite his contrary views on abortion and religious freedom. I agree with the Archbishop. Honoring President Trump would be a chance to redeem themselves and stand up for life and religious liberty. Of course, they won’t do it, because they’re nothing more than a secularized, liberal institution that has turned away from the true teachings of the church, just like Georgetown and so many others. Notre Shame!!!

  • The president wouldn’t be satisfied because his pathological craving for attention would not be satisfied.

  • It’s interesting to hear from a few Roman Catholics defending their church’s doctrines. Survey after survey shows that most ignore that stuff. They seem to think that artificial birth control is a really good thing, that women should have as much bodily autonomy as males, that a Muslim Ban (as president referred to it on Twitter this morning) is a bad thing, etc. I imagine that if the RCC “cleansed itself” of all those terrible “apostates”, membership would drop by 2/3. That would certainly be entertaining to observe.

  • Thank him? For helping to legitimize someone whose tenure in the office of President will leave a stain of shame for years to come and an indictment on the basest elements of our society? This is a man who should be shamed, rather than honored. He is a conman of the first order, a liar, and a braggart. His policies on immigration and refugees are a scandal and a shame. Catholic leaders should be running from him, not embracing him, as Chaput has foolishly done. He demeans the Catholic name and scandalizes the faithful. Trump is as far from a model for Christian political life as anyone could be.

  • A priest that defied his local bishop by bestowing the honor on Obama will never invite Trump. He disobeyed his bishop and there have been no concequences how much worse can it get? The priestly vow of obedience doesn’t matter and we certainly for a lot of them the vow of chastity didn’t matter either. God have mercy on your church

  • Just curious. Do you agree with our president that women who have abortions should face legal punishment?