A+ A A-

Archbishop Charles Chaput, on the Tragedy in Newtown, CT


You were in Denver when Columbine happened as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Denver. So I don't know if you are reliving that nightmare now. But what are you reactions to the tragedy in Newtown, CT?

Archbishop of Philadelphia
Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. CAP.

HH:  On a very sad day as no doubt many of you know of the 27 people murdered in Connecticut, including 20 children.  I had scheduled earlier in the week to speak with Archbishop Charles Chaput of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and old friend and a great moral force in America.  And I'm sorry to do so on this day, Archbishop.  Welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.  I'm sorry it's on such a sad and grief-filled day. 

CC:  Well, I understand that, and Hugh, if you want to cut things short, I understand that, too, if you need to do other things.

HH:  Oh, absolutely.  I think it's fortuitous that you can talk to us about this.

CC:  Well, I'm very happy to do it.

HH:  You were in Denver when Columbine happened as the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Denver.  So I don't know if you are reliving that nightmare now.  But what are you reactions to today?

CC:  Well, actually I am kind of reliving it.  I remember I was in Wichita, Kansas for the installation of the new Catholic bishop there on that day when Columbine happened, and I came out of the ordination Mass, and was just shocked by the news, and caught a plane as quickly as I could back to Denver, because it really was an event that shaped the whole life of the community for a long, long time to come, just a tragedy for everybody.

HH:  What is your advice, Archbishop Chaput, for people that are one or two removed from victims and their families, you know, priests, pastors, friends, family members?

CC:  To make themselves available without being intrusive on the sadness of the families.  You know, I went around and visited some of the families, Catholic families in the Columbine tragedy, and it was obviously the most important thing for them were friends and pastors being available.  Not to say a lot, because what can you say in the face of such a tragedy, but you know, show love and support by just being present.

HH:  I resist reporting on them within hours of them happening, because details are often subject to change.  They've changed many times today already, and they will change again.  But obviously, the execution of 20 children is going to have a powerful impact.  It's also going to remind us about evil.  Any comments on that?

You know, I went around and visited some of the families, Catholic families in the Columbine tragedy, and it was obviously the most important thing for them were friends and pastors being available. Not to say a lot, because what can you say in the face of such a tragedy, but you know, show love and support by just being present.

CC:  Well you know, often, experiences like this often lead people away from God, because they ask the question how is it possible that if God is good and just when people suffer, especially when children suffer.  That often happens with parents when their children have a disease like cancer and the like.  But equally happening, from this kind of experience, is a return to God.  People take life seriously again when they were maybe living shallowly, and they experience how fragile life is, and begin to wonder about what can moor me down, what can give me deeper foundations in the face of this kind of experience.  So I think it can lead either direction.  So it's important for those who've dealt with the question of evil in their own life, or theologically or in other ways, to be available to listen and then articulate the faith of the Church.

HH:  Archbishop Chaput, in terms of just practical stuff, as the leader of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and previously Denver, there are two very practical issues I want to ask you about.  Obviously, you are the head of a school system.  You have lots of kindergarten children and first graders and young children in your care as the head of that school system.  What do you do, what you think about attacks like this?  I don't really know what you can do.

CC:  Well, in Denver, it led us to review our security issues.  I think sometimes especially in private school situations, we don't worry about security as much as we would in other situations in the public school systems.  So I think it led us to review our security issues.  And I think as time goes on, sometimes people get a little less focused than they should be on those issues.  So I hope that all of us here in Philadelphia and elsewhere across the country will review the security of our schools, because this is just happening so often.  You know, I just heard your own program earlier this week talking about the incident in Oregon. 

HH:  Yes.

CC:  And so this is happening just way too often.  And we need to focus on the security of our schools again, I think.

HH:  And that brings me to the other practical aspect.  As bishops in large, urban communities, you have under your domain mental health services.  I'm sure you take care of a lot of people who are mentally ill.  They're often among the lost and the least.  And I'm not going to categorize any particular illness here.  I always hear from the mental health community, please don't judge everyone with a mental health issue after one of these savage attacks.  But what is your experience with the way American handles the mentally ill now?

CC:  Well you know, I don't know that we handled it any better than we did when I was a young priest forty years ago.  And in fact, maybe we handled it less well in the sense that we take it less seriously, because everybody goes to a psychiatrist/psychologist.  I'm just joking, but it's more common.  And I don't know that we worry enough about the possible dangers that are involved with psychological illnesses.  I think it's really important for those of us who are involved in that kind of service to people to have our antennas sensitive to that kind of thing so that we can do our best to prevent things from happening.  And of course, we also need to make this kind of psychological assistance available to families, and you know, in our schools, other children are going to be frightened now to go to school, and to make sure that we pay attention to those kind of issues, and not spiritualize the problem of evil so much that we don't deal with the day to day deals of children and their parents.

HH:  Yeah, fear is going to be a big issue that people won't be able to articulate.  John Paul II used to say "fear not" quite a lot in all of his writings.  But it's awfully hard for parents of small children not to.  And it's very, it's impossible for small children to catch a whiff of this not to be impacted.

CC:  That's right.  You know, his call, fear not, really was a call to have confidence with God in the face of this kind of evil.  And I think we can say that with as much surety and clarity as he did even today.  You know, ultimately, we have God who loves us, who's our father, who cares for us.  And although we have to be attentive and very, very careful, we can have confidence in God's providential care for His children.

HH:  And one last question on this, Archbishop.  In your long life as a priest and bishop, you've been a grief counselor to many people.  I know you've walked along a lot of people who are suffering.  To those in the not near immediate aftermath of this, but years down the road, do you talk to people about their losses?  Do you bring them up?

CC:  I think it's important to bring them up, and even bring them up quite quickly after an event like this.  Not the first moment, you know, because people have to get through the immediate grieving and the funerals and the like.  But I think very quickly after that is important for pastors to approach people who they're responsible for to see if they can be of assistance in dealing with the fear and tragedy of these moments.

HH:  Now I want to, and again, I assure the audience . . .

CC:  And friends should do that, too, Hugh.  I don't think it's just the prerogative of priests and clergymen and professionals.  I think friends just need to be available to listen to people's fears.

HH:  Years ago, I interviewed Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person.  And his number one rule for the PBS special was show up and shut up.

CC:  That's exactly right.  That's good advice.

The rest of the interview can be read here.

The interview ends with the following exchange.

HH:  And Archbishop, I want to finish by going back to Newtown.  The President said our hearts are broken today.  And what's the word you speak into that situation, because it's clearly the case that people are driving home tonight in Philadelphia and Los Angeles and Hawaii and Florida, grief-filled and worried and full of fear.

CC:  Well, I hope people allow their hearts to be broken, and because our hearts aren't broken often enough.  You know, we don't take life seriously, whether it being the individual human life or our own life in a general sense of our day to day life with our spouses, our children and the like.  And the more we take life seriously, not sadly, but seriously, the more we'll live a transformed life that does good.  And I hope this tragedy, the good that can come of it, and it's hard to imagine any good coming from it, but the only good that could come from it is somehow the breaking open of the heart of the people of our country for a long period of time.  You know, it happened with 9/11.  I experienced it happening of course in Columbine in Colorado.  But you know, for a month or two, and then we'd go back to the way it was, and we don't get very far along down the road before the Devil tempts us again.

HH:  We were supposed to, today, to talk about immigration, Archbishop.  That will have to be another time, but perhaps . . .

CC:  It's important, so I hope we do.  I'm anxious to talk to you about it. 

HH:  Absolutely, and with this attitude, perhaps, of open heart.  Maybe that's the best way to set that conversation up.  I look forward to that conversation in the future.  Thank you, Archbishop.

End of interview.



The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. "Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, on the Tragedy in Newtown, CT." Hugh Hewitt Show (December 15, 2012).

Reprinted with permission of the producer of the Hugh Hewitt Show.

The Author

The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. is the ninth and current Archbishop of Philadelphia, serving since his installation on September 8, 2011. He previously served as Archbishop of Denver (1997-2011) and Bishop of Rapid City (1988-1997). As member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, Archbishop Chaput is the second Native American to be ordained bishop in the United States, and the first Native American archbishop. He is the author of the e-book, A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America, as well as Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, and Living the Catholic Faith: Rediscovering the Basics.

Copyright © 2012 Hugh Hewitt Show
back to top