Chiefs’ Harrison Butker Chides Catholic Leaders in Benedictine College Commencement Address

Catholic bishops should be more like St. Damien of Molokai, the three-time Super Bowl winner and outspoken Catholic said. ‘I believe that this audience and this venue is the best place to speak openly and honestly about who we are and where we all want to go, which is heaven.’

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker offered some pointed criticism of Catholic bishops and priests along with advice to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on Saturday.

Catholic bishops should be more like St. Damien of Molokai and less concerned about what civil and cultural leaders think about them, the three-time Super Bowl winner and outspoken Catholic said.

St. Damien (1840-1889), a missionary priest from Belgium, spent nearly 16 years ministering to lepers in Hawaii before dying of their disease.

“His heroism is looked at today as something set apart and unique when ideally it should not be unique at all,” Butker told the graduates at the Catholic liberal arts college in Atchison, Kansas, on May 11, the day after St. Damien’s feast day. “For as a father loves his child, so a shepherd should love his spiritual children, too. That goes even more so for our bishops, these men who are present-day apostles.”

He said bishops are rightly “not politicians but shepherds,” but that they have given up their influence by not leading properly.

“Our bishops once had adoring crowds of people kissing their rings and taking in their every word, but now relegate themselves to a position of inconsequential existence. Now, when a bishop of a diocese or the bishops’ conference as a whole puts out an important document on this matter or that, nobody even takes a moment to read it, let alone follow it,” Butker said.

“No. Today, our shepherds are far more concerned with keeping the doors open to the chancery than they are with saying the difficult stuff out loud. It seems that the only time you hear from your bishops is when it’s time for the annual appeal, whereas we need our bishops to be vocal about the teachings of the Church, setting aside their own personal comfort and embracing their cross,” he said.

He also criticized President Joe Biden and other Catholic leaders.

“Bad policies and poor leadership have negatively impacted major life issues. Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia, as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values in media all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder,” Butker said.

Kansas City Chiefs’ placekicker Harrison Butker speaks to college graduates in his commencement address at Benedictine College on May 11. | Benedictine College

He noted that Biden made the Sign of the Cross during a rally in Florida on April 23 in favor of legal abortion while an abortion supporter was criticizing Florida’s law banning abortions after six weeks.

“Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith, but at the same time is delusional enough to make the Sign of the Cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I’m sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice,” Butker said.

“He is not alone,” he added. “From the man behind the COVID lockdowns to the people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America, they all have a glaring thing in common. They are Catholic. This is an important reminder that being Catholic alone doesn’t cut it.”

Butker, 28, kicked the game-tying field goal for the Kansas City Chiefs late in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LVIII this past February, a year after kicking the game-winning field goal late in the Super Bowl in February 2023.

A practicing Catholic who attends the Latin Mass, Butker is married and has two children.

In May 2023, he drew attention with his commencement address at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, during which he advised graduates to avoid being “alone and devoid of purpose” and to combat loneliness, anxiety and depression with what he called “one controversial antidote that I believe will have a lasting impact for generations to come: Get married and start a family.”

Benedictine is a Catholic school in northeastern Kansas associated with the Benedictine religious order that has been endorsed by the Cardinal Newman Society as “a faithful Catholic college.” The school has about 2,100 undergraduates. It is included annually in the Register’s “Catholic Identity College Guide.”

Butker’s approximately 20-minute speech at Benedictine had little of the light banter and motivational encouragement typically found at graduation ceremonies, a point he noted.

“I know that my message today had a little less fluff than is expected for these speeches, but I believe that this audience and this venue is the best place to speak openly and honestly about who we are and where we all want to go, which is heaven,” Butker said.

To be faithful, he said, Catholics must address publicly hot-button cultural issues.

“These are the sorts of things we are told in polite society to not bring up. You know, the difficult and unpleasant things. But if we are going to be men and women for this time in history, we need to stop pretending that the church of nice is a winning proposition,” he said. “We must always speak and act in charity, but never mistake charity for cowardice.”

Butker said closing the churches during the coronavirus shutdowns of 2020 is an example of bishops shirking their responsibility.

“As we saw during the pandemic, too many bishops were not leaders at all. They were motivated by fear, fear of being sued, fear of being removed, fear of being disliked. They showed by their actions, intentional or unintentional, that the sacraments don’t actually matter,” Butker said. “Because of this, countless people died alone, without access to the sacraments, and it’s a tragedy we must never forget.”

Butker did not name any particular Catholic clerics. But along with bishops he also criticized priests.

“There is not enough time today for me to list all the stories of priests and bishops misleading their flocks, but none of us can blame ignorance anymore and just blindly proclaim that ‘That’s what Father said,’” Butker said, “because, sadly, many priests we are looking to for leadership are the same ones who prioritize their hobbies or even photos with their dogs and matching outfits for the parish directory.”

“Focusing on my vocation while praying and fasting for these men will do more for the Church than me complaining about her leaders,” Butker said.

To all the graduates, he recommended that they evangelize wherever they go:

“Never be afraid to profess the one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, for this is the Church that Jesus Christ established, through which we receive sanctifying grace.”

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