Chaput is a professed Capuchin Franciscan and has a reputation for conservatism. A member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, he is the second Native American to be consecrated a bishop in the United States and the first Native American archbishop. His Potawatomi name is “the wind that rustles the leaves of the tree” while his Sioux name is "good eagle".
Charles Chaput was born in Concordia, Kansas, one of three children of Joseph and Marian Helen (née DeMarais) Chaput. His father was a French Canadian who was directly descended from the French saint King Louis IX. His mother was a Native American of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe; his maternal grandmother was the last member of the family to live on a reservation. Chaput himself was enrolled in the tribe at a young age, taking the name Pietasa ("rustling wind").
Chaput received his early education at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Grade School in Concordia, Kansas. Deciding to become a priest at the age of 13, he attended St. Francis Seminary High School in Victoria, Kansas.
In 1965, at age 21, Chaput entered the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, a branch of the Franciscans, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1967, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from St. Fidelis College & Seminary in Herman, Pennsylvania.
On July 14, 1968, he made his solemn profession as a Capuchin friar.
In 1969, Chaput finished his studies in psychology at The Catholic University of America located in the nation's capital of Washington, D.C. In 1970, he earned a Master of Arts degree in Religious Education from Capuchin College also located in Washington, D.C.
Chaput was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Cyril Vogel on August 29, 1970. He received a Master of Theology degree from the University of San Francisco in 1971. From 1971 to 1974, he was an instructor in theology and spiritual director at his alma mater, St. Fidelis College. He then served as executive secretary and director of communications for the Capuchin province in Pittsburgh until 1977, from which position he was appointed pastor of Holy Cross Church in Thornton, Colorado.
Chaput was elected vicar provincial for the Capuchin Province of Mid-America in 1977, later becoming secretary and treasurer for the province in 1980 and chief executive and provincial minister in 1983. He was among a group of Native Americans who greeted Pope John Paul II when the latter visited Phoenix, Arizona, during his 1987 trip to the United States.
On April 11, 1988, Chaput was appointed Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, by Pope John Paul II. He was consecrated on the following July 26 by Archbishop Pio Laghi, with Archbishop John Roach and Archbishop James Stafford serving as co-consecrators. He thus became the second priest of Native American ancestry to be consecrated a bishop in the United States, after Donald Pelotte. He was the first Native American to be consecrated as an ordinary, rather than an auxiliary (or titular) bishop. He chose as his episcopal motto: "As Christ Loved the Church" (Ephesians 5:25).
On February 18, 1997, Chaput was appointed as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Denver, Colorado, after the then-Archbishop, James Francis Stafford, was transferred to the Vatican to be a member of the Roman Curia (first as the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and then in the Church's appellate tribunal system as the Apostolic Penitentiary). In 2007, Archbishop Chaput gave the commencement address at Denver's Augustine Institute, a lay-run graduate school which he has actively supported. Since 2008, he has served as Episcopal moderator of the Tekakwitha Conference.
On July 19, 2011, Chaput was appointed as archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Chaput said, "I found out by a call from the Nuncio Pietro Sambi on Tuesday, July 5, about 11:45 in the morning here in Denver. I was getting ready to go to a staff luncheon when he called and informed me that the Holy Father [i.e., the Pope] had asked that I serve the Church as the Archbishop of Philadelphia. After talking with him for a while, and discussing what it meant, I said yes." He was installed as the archdiocese's ninth Archbishop on September 8, 2011. Asked why he thought he had been appointed, he said, "Perhaps it has to do with my record on those kinds of things, but I really don't know." On August 17–19, he gave catechesis at the World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid, Spain, similar to the function he performed at the 2008 World Youth Day in Sydney. He succeeded Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali, who had reached the canonical retirement age of 75 in April 2010. On November 14, 2014, at the fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Chaput was elected as a delegate to the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family pending Vatican approval. Despite holding a historically important see, Chaput was not selected for elevation to the cardinalate in the 2016 consistory by Pope Francis.
Chaput speaks out regularly on many issues.
As a seminarian, Chaput was an active volunteer in the presidential campaign of Robert Kennedy. As a young priest, he supported the election of Jimmy Carter.
In his book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, Chaput exhorts Catholics to take a "more active, vocal, and morally consistent role" in the political process, arguing that private convictions cannot be separated from public actions without diminishing both. Rather than asking citizens to put aside their religious and moral beliefs for the sake of public policy, Chaput believes American democracy depends upon a fully engaged citizenry, including religious believers, to function properly.
Chaput has stated that absolute loyalty to the Church's teachings on core, bioethical, and natural law doctrinal issues (that the Church has definitively spoken on, and where its stance is not subject to appreciable change in the future – in this case, abortion) must be a higher priority for Catholics than their identity as Americans, their party affiliation, and their party's stance on other issues. This is so because, for a Catholic, loyalty to God, his supreme importance, and his expectations is more important than any other identity. He says that the martyrs and confessors gave witness to that fact.
Regarding the issue of whether Catholic politicians who support legal abortion, contrary to Church teaching, should be denied communion, Chaput has written that, while denying anyone the Eucharist is a "very grave matter" that should be used only in "extraordinary cases of public scandal", those who are "living in serious sin or who deny the teachings of the Church" should voluntarily refrain from receiving communion.
The New York Times in 2004 reported that Chaput took the position that it was sinful for Catholics to vote for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry. His remarks noted Kerry's pro-choice views, amongst others. According to the Times, he said that those who intended to vote for him were "cooperating in evil" and needed "to go to confession."
Chaput criticized the New York Times' construal of his remarks and the Archdiocese of Denver criticized the article as being "heavily truncated and framed" and publicly posted a transcript of the interview in its entirety. He stopped responding to New York Times inquiries for six years in part because of his belief the paper had misrepresented him.
He was seen by some as "part of a group of bishops intent on throwing the weight of the Church into the elections." In public comments, his linkage of the Eucharist to the policy stances of political candidates and those who support them were seen by some as a politicization of moral theology.
As reported by EWTN, Chaput has criticized what he views as a "spirit of adulation bordering on servility" that exists towards President Barack Obama, remarking, "in democracies, we elect public servants, not messiahs." The archbishop states that Obama tries to mask his record on abortion and other issues with "rosy marketing about unity, hope, and change." Chaput also dismissed the notion that Obama was given a broad mandate, reasoning that he was elected to "fix an economic crisis" and not to "retool American culture on the issues of marriage and the family, sexuality, bioethics, religion in public life, and abortion."
Chaput has repeatedly taken positions against same-sex marriage and questioned the status of children of same-sex couples. Asked about same-sex marriage by the National Catholic Reporter after his appointment was announced, he indicated that same-sex couples cannot show children that their parents love each other in the same way that opposite-sex couples can: "As children, if we don't know that our parents love one another, our lives are very unstable. That's why I think every child deserves a family where the father loves the mother, and the mother loves the father.... It's also important to say that we're not against gay people. What we're doing here is promoting marriage and the meaning of marriage, not condemning others."
He vocally supported the decision of a Boulder Catholic school to deny the re-enrollment of two children of a lesbian couple, while at the same time stating that the Church still allows the enrollment of children of parents of other faiths or no faith at all as well as children of single and divorced parents.
Chaput supported the dismissal of Margie Winters in 2015, director of religious education in Waldron Mercy Academy. Waters had married her female partner in a civil marriage ceremony in 2007, but had been upfront with school administrators at the time of her hiring and was advised to keep a low profile. A parent subsequently reported her directly to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In response, the principal asked her to resign. Winters declined to do so, and the school decided not to renew her contract. Many parents expressed anger and concern over the school's decision. Principal Nell Stetser said that "many of us accept life choices that contradict current Church teachings, but to continue as a Catholic school, Waldron Mercy must comply with those teachings." But she called urgently for "an open and honest discussion about this and other divisive issues at the intersection of our society and our Church." The Huffington Post noted that Chaput had not responded to such a call, but instead said the school administrators had shown "character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon."
He criticized the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the USCCB's positive review of the film The Golden Compass. Chaput said it was "baffling" that any Christian film reviewer could overlook the "aggressively anti-religious, anti-Christian undercurrent" of the film. The review was removed from the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops because it had not been approved by the bishops.
Chaput advocates reform of immigration laws to regularize the status of most undocumented immigrants as a moral imperative.