Without directly mentioning it by name, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia weighed in on the “#MeToo” movement, condemning “unhinged attitudes toward sex” and issuing a call for the development of “new men.”
“Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and all the other blots on recent male behavior are merely a symptom of an entire culture of unhinged attitudes toward sex.” Chaput said. “Women are right to be angry when men treat them like objects and act like bullies and pigs.”
Yet rather than offering an outright endorsement of the media fanfare and social activism of recent months, the archbishop offered his own proposal for change during the “Into the Breach” Catholic men’s leadership conference in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday.
“A real reform of male behavior will never come about through feminist lectures and mass media man-shaming by celebrities and award ceremonies,” said Chaput. “In a lot of men, that kind of hectoring will merely breed nominal repentance and inner resentment. A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better. And his heart only changes for the better when he discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires.”
Chaput began his remarks by urging Christians not to forget their history, which he said is essential for shaping present identity.
“When we Christians lose a strong grasp of our own history – our own unique story and identity – others will gladly offer us a revised version of all three – a version that suits their own goals and bigotries, and not necessarily the truth,” he said. “And then some very ugly things can happen. A community dies when its memory fails.”
Chaput pointed to the formation of the Poor Brothers of the Order of the Temple of Solomon – the Knights Templar, a religious order that was founded in Jerusalem in A.D. 1118-19 following the First Crusade.
A small group of men who were part of Europe’s knightly order had gathered in Jerusalem in hopes of living out a life of prayer, poverty, and obedience, and were eventually tasked by the Patriarch of Jerusalem with patrolling the roads and holy sites and their impressive organization and skills became the envy of many European leaders.
“Knighthood in medieval Europe began as a profession of heavily armed male thugs – men obsessed with vanity, violence, and rape. It took the Church and royalty centuries to tame and channel it,” Chaput recalled. “But it provided the animating ideal at the core of the Templars: To build a new order of new Christian men, skilled at arms, living as brothers, committed to prayer, austerity, and chastity, and devoting themselves radically to serving the Church and her people, especially the weak.”
Although the archbishop acknowledged, “The ideal of this ‘new knighthood’ was often ignored or betrayed.”
Noting that C.S. Lewis used to describe Christianity as a “fighting religion,” Chaput said that the spiritual warfare involved in the Christian life cannot be forgotten, and he encouraged the men in attendance to embrace justice and courage as necessary virtues for developing as Christian men.
“Men need a challenge. Men need to test and prove their worth. Men feel most alive when they’re giving themselves to some purpose higher than their own comfort. This is why young men join the Marines or Rangers or SEALs,” he said. “They do it not despite it being hard, but exactly because it’s hard; because it hurts; because they want to be the best and earn a place among brothers who are also the very best.”
That same drive, he said, is also what attracted men to join the Jesuits and the Capuchins, of which he is a member.
They joined, he said, “not to escape the world but to transform it; to convert the world by demanding everything a man had – every drop of his energy, love, talent and intelligence – in service to a mission bigger and more important than any individual ego or appetite.”
He then called for a recovery of an understanding of the differences between the sexes as a key to building respect for one another.
“Christian equality is based not in political ideology but in the reality of the differences and mutual dependencies of real men and women,” said Chaput. “As creatures we’re designed to need each other, not replicate each other. And this, by the way, is a key reason why modern culture is so conflicted about the body.”
He then enumerated a series of prohibitions and proscriptions for the development of “new men,” and encouraged lives centered around the commandments.
“Don’t cheat on your wife. Don’t put yourself in a situation where the idea would even occur to you. Don’t mislead and abuse women, and damage your own dignity as a man, by sleeping around before marriage. And if you’re already doing that, or did that, or you’re toying with the idea of doing it sometime in the future, stop it, now, and get to confession,” he said.
“Finally, don’t demean your wife, your daughters, your mother and your sisters by poisoning your imagination with porn,” he added. “Pornography exploits and humiliates women. And it dehumanizes men at the same time. God made us to be better than that. Our families need us to be better than that.”
Linking together the example of the Templars who gave new meaning to both religious life and masculinity, Chaput encouraged those in attendance to embrace their masculinity and recognize its positive attributes for the good of the country and the Church.
“Maleness, brothers, is a matter of biology. It just happens,” he said. “Manhood must be learned and earned and taught. That’s our task. So my prayer for all of us today is that God will plant the seed of a new knighthood in our hearts – and make us the kind of ‘new men’ our families, our Church, our nation, and our world need.”