Archbishop Charles Chaput painted a stark picture for the future of Catholic social ministry work in America while accepting an award from Catholic Social Services in Rapid City on Tuesday.
Chaput, a former bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City who was installed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in September, was named the second recipient of CSS's Founder's Award, which is named for the award's first recipient and the agency's founder, Msgr. William O'Connell.
Speaking to about 600 people at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, Chaput delivered the same theologically conservative message that he has given numerous times before to Catholic social service agencies, hospitals and universities on the dangers of losing their Catholic identity through accommodation of government-imposed requirements on issues such as civil unions, health insurance coverage requirements and contraception.
Warning that the Obama administration is "unfriendly" to religion, he predicted that "we'll see more attempts by the state to interfere with the church's ministry."
"And if our social work isn't deeply, confidently and explicitly Catholic in its identity, then we should stop using the word ‘Catholic' to define it," he said. "It's that simple."
In advance of his own remarks, Chaput was lauded by friends and fellow priests as a "layman's bishop" for his warm personality and humble service in western South Dakota from 1988 to 1996, when he became the archbishop of Denver.
"Archbishop Charles is the exact person he was when he left here," said Ray Hillenbrand, a close personal friend who predicts that the Philadelphia cleric will one day hold the post of cardinal in the Catholic Church.
"What a path he's been on. .... But we can be proud that path began here."
Hillenbrand speculated that Chaput's appointment to Philadelphia by the Vatican was good news for the American Catholic Church, since Chaput, a priest of the Capuchin order, was never trained in Rome and lacks the "indoctrination" of the Vatican hierarchy.
"That's why I think he'll be so valuable," he said. "They're saying to other clergy leaders, this is the kind of leader you need in the United States. ... This is the kind of person that I'll be sending you in the future."
He asked his fellow Catholics of the Diocese of Rapid City to pray for Chaput in his new role in Philadelphia, a diocese that continues to be rocked by the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
"The job he has in Philadelphia is overwhelming," he said. "In the next few months, until he gets a grip on what the situation is ... he needs help. He prayed for many of us and helped us, so this is a wonderful opportunity to give back and pray for him. So I ask all of you, for the next few months, pray for Archbishop Charles."