South Bend, Ind., Sep 15, 2016 / 04:19 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The 2016 presidential elections are particularly bad in the eyes of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia. He says they show the failures of American society and the need for Christians to be a different people. In the 50 years he has voted, the archbishop said, “the major parties have never, at the same time, offered two such deeply flawed presidential candidates. The 1972 Nixon/McGovern race comes close.  But 2016 wins the crown.”

“Only God knows the human heart, so I presume that both major candidates for the White House this year intend well and have a reasonable level of personal decency behind their public images. But I also believe that each candidate is very bad news for our country, though in different ways,” he said at the University of Notre Dame on Thursday.

“One candidate, in the view of a lot of people, is a belligerent demagogue with an impulse control problem. And the other, also in the view of a lot of people, is a criminal liar, uniquely rich in stale ideas and bad priorities.”

In the archbishop’s view, the 2016 presidential campaigns represent a new form of politics different from ordinary corruption and other bad behavior that “doesn’t shake the foundations of the republic.” Delivering the University of Notre Dame’s Tocqueville Lecture Sept. 15, Archbishop Chaput gave a lengthy reflection on the 2016 election, the state of American morals, and Catholic identity in a changing world.

Despite the flaws of the major party presidential candidates, he warned that Christians don’t have the “luxury of cynicism.” There are still too many honest politicians who serve the country and there are good candidates for other public offices. If Christians leave the public square, other people with worse intentions will fill it. “The surest way to make the country suffer is to not contest them in public debate and in the voting booth,” the archbishop said.

Christian life is essentially about hope and joy, not despair. “The choices we make and the actions we take do make a difference,” Archbishop Chaput said. “The political vocation matters because, done well, it can ennoble the society it serves.” Although Christians’ home is the City of God, in St. Augustine’s words, they have the duty “to leave the world better than we found it,” and politics is an imperfect way to do that.

“We’ve reached a moment when our political thinking and vocabulary as a nation seem exhausted,” he said. “The real effect that we as individuals have on the government and political class that claim to represent us — the big mechanical Golem we call Washington — is so slight that it breeds indifference and anger.”

Christians’ response must be more than merely wringing hands or making a search for better candidates, policies, and public relations. Renewing a society “demands that we be different people.” Archbishop Chaput noted the “huge spike” during his priesthood of hearing penitents confess sins of promiscuity, infidelity, sexual violence, sexual confusion, and pornography use.

“Listening to people’s sexual sins in the Sacrament of Penance is hardly new news. But the scope, the novelty, the violence and the compulsiveness of the sins are,” he said. “The truth about our sexuality is that infidelity, promiscuity, sexual confusion and mass pornography create human wreckage,” he continued.

This wreckage has been compounded by tens of millions of people over five decades, and “media nonsense” about the effects of sexual immorality and divorce. “What you get is what we have now: a dysfunctional culture of frustrated and wounded people increasingly incapable of permanent commitments, self-sacrifice and sustained intimacy, and unwilling to face the reality of their own problems,” the archbishop lamented.

“This has political consequences. People unwilling to rule their appetites will inevitably be ruled by them — and eventually, they’ll be ruled by someone else,” he said. “People too weak to sustain faithful relationships are also too weak to be free. Sooner or later they surrender themselves to a state that compensates for their narcissism and immaturity with its own forms of social control.” People who are unwilling to have children and raise them with love, virtue, and moral character are “writing themselves out of the human story,” he added.

Government has a role to play in easing problems like unemployment, low pay, crime, poor housing, chronic illness and bad schools, but not if government works “from a crippled idea of who man is, what marriage is, and what a family is.” He warned against a government that “deliberately shapes its policies to interfere with and control the mediating institutions in civil society that already serve the public well.”

According to the archbishop, the decline of marriage, family, and traditional religion also have consequences for the country. Fewer than 30 percent of U.S. millennials think that it’s vital to live in a democracy, while undemocratic feelings have especially risen among the wealthy. This didn’t happen by accident.

“We behaved ourselves into this mess by living a collection of lies,” Archbishop Chaput charged. Given that the truth makes us free, “no issue has made us more dishonest and less free as believers and as a nation than abortion.” “Abortion poisons everything. There can never be anything ‘progressive’ in killing an unborn child, or standing aside tolerantly while others do it.” “In every abortion, an innocent life always dies,” the archbishop said. Trying to imply other important issues have the same moral weight is “a debasement of Christian thought.”

Archbishop Chaput also criticized Notre Dame’s granting of its Laetare Medal to Vice President Joe Biden. “For the nation’s leading Catholic university to honor a Catholic public official who supports abortion rights and then goes on to conduct a same-sex civil marriage ceremony just weeks later, is — to put it kindly — a contradiction of Notre Dame’s identity,” he said. “It’s a baffling error of judgment. What matters isn’t the vice president’s personal decency or the university’s admirable intentions. The problem, and it’s a serious problem, is one of public witness and the damage it causes both to the faithful and to the uninformed.” At the same time, he hoped Notre Dame never stops examining the fundamental purpose of its mission and never tries to be merely a Catholic version of prestigious American universities.

The Church, too, is affected when families are strong or weak. Although the Church is free based on her fidelity to God, her practical liberty, credibility, and effectiveness depend on believers. “What the Church needs now is a university that radiates the glory of God in age that no longer knows what it means to be human,” he told his audience at the University of Notre Dame. “Life is a gift, not an accident,” he continued. “And the point of a life is to become the kind of fully human person who knows and loves God above everything else, and reflects that love to others.”

He drew on the words of French Catholic convert Leon Bloy: “In the end — the only thing that matters is to be a saint.” “That’s the ultimate task of a place like Notre Dame,” Archbishop Chaput continued. “It’s not to help you get into a great law school, or to go to a great medical school, or to find a great job on Wall Street, as good as those things clearly are. It’s to help you get into heaven — which is not some imaginary fairyland, but an eternity of life in the presence of a loving God. If you don’t believe that, you’re in the wrong place.”