Originally posted at Talk to Action.
If the July 19, 2011 appointment of Charles Joseph Chaput as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was designed to deliver Pennsylvania to the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, we can expect a nasty mix of overt clericalism and partisan hackery in the City of Brotherly Love.
While this would not be the first time the Vatican has seemed to directly intervene in American politics, it may well indicate an increasing level of involvement. During Chaput’s recent tenure as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, he established himself as perhaps the Republican Party’s attack dog within the Church’s American hierarchy as well as one of the leading culture warriors of the Catholic Right. In the 2004 Presidential Election, Chaput openly declared that Catholics had only one choice and that was to vote for President Bush. He also railed about how Senator Kerry, the Democratic nominee (and a Catholic) should be denied Communion because of his support of reproductive rights and embryonic stem cell research. Four years later Chaput attacked then-Democratic presidential candidate Obama as “the virulently pro-abortion Democratic senator” and chastised his Catholic supporters. When the Affordable Care Act was being debated in Congress before becoming law, he attacked the need for a public option for health care coverage, egregiously dissembling on the subject.
Once ensconced in Philadelphia — a larger city and media market in a potential electoral swing state — Chaput’s media visibility will undoubtedly rise along with his standing in the hierarchy.
While Chaput’s politics may gain greater visibility in light of his promotion, his dismal handling of the priest pedophile scandals may gain proportionally greater scrutiny as well. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), is also displeased.. The group accused the archbishop of covering up sexual abuse in Denver and was outraged by his opposition to the reformation of the statute of limitations for civil law suits involving sexual abuse. This wound remains open in Philadelphia as well in the wake of Cardinal Rigali’s dismal record.
In any case, the Keystone State has gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1992. But in the last two elections the margin of victory has reduced to less than 55% of the vote, arguably putting the state in play in 2012. Since much of the electoral base of the Democratic Party in the state is concentrated in counties surrounding the big industrial cities of Erie, Pittsburgh, Scranton, and particularly Philadelphia, which are heavily populated with Irish, German and Italian working and middle class Catholics. If the Republicans can depress the Democratic turnout in those cities, Pennsylvania could go red as a Cardinal’s hat in 2012.
Given Chaput’s record electoral interventions, it is not unreasonable to think that the Church’s intentions behind the Chaput appointment may be more political than pastoral. If so, it will come as no surprise if we hear Chaput deemphasize economic issues, increase his vitriolic attacks on Obama’s policies on choice and embryonic stem cell research, and threaten the faithful with eternal damnation for not voting in accord with the Archbishop.