Pope appoints Archbishop Chaput to troubled Philadelphia

Pope appoints Archbishop Chaput to troubled Philadelphia

Michael Gilchrist

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, one of America's most fearless and dedicated Catholic bishops, has been transferred to the troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Pope Benedict XVI accepted Cardinal Justin Rigali's resignation and named Archbishop Chaput as his successor on 19 July. Cardinal Rigali had been Philadelphia's archbishop since 2003.

Archbishop Chaput, who will be installed on 8 September at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts Peter and Paul, is a Capuchin Franciscan. He was the first Native American to be named an archbishop when appointed to Denver in 1997.

Since then he has built on the excellent work of his predecessor Archbishop (later Cardinal) Francis Stafford to make Denver one of the strongest Catholic dioceses in the United States. Archbishop Chaput has exercised his role as a teacher and defender of the faith to the full and met the challenges of secularism head-on.


Among his recent projects and activities in Denver was helping found the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders and serving as the apostolic visitor in 2007 for the Vatican's review of Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba who was the subject of lengthy efforts to force his resignation after he published dissenting views and failed to publicly retract them.

Archbishop Chaput founded Denver's St John Vianney Seminary, which boasts one of the highest seminary enrolment rates in the country and has also been influential in the success of several Colorado-based organisations, including the nationwide missionary group Fellowship of Catholic University Students, the international women's group Educating on the Nature and Dignity of Women, and the Augustine Institute, a lay Catholic graduate school.

Archbishop Chaput's appointment to Philadelphia came as that archdiocese was reeling from a scathing grand jury report released in February 2011 which accused the Archdiocese of failing to stop priests from sexually abusing children even after a previous report had called attention to problems. It said more than three dozen priests with allegations of sexual abuse were still in positions where they could contact children.

At the grand jury's recommendation, two priests, a layman and a former archdiocesan priest were charged with criminal counts related to abuse of juveniles. Another priest was charged with endangering child welfare for his role in assigning the accused priests.

In response, the Philadelphia Archdiocese among other things has hired a former sex crimes prosecutor to review personnel files of the 37 priests named in the grand jury's report. Cardinal Rigali also placed 21 priests on administrative leave while allegations against them - which he had earlier judged to be not credible - were reviewed.

Clearly there had been a monumental dereliction of duty on Cardinal Rigali's part.

In his remarks before introducing Archbishop Chaput, the cardinal did not refer directly to the sex abuse situation, but said "if I have offended anyone, I am sorry", and apologised "for any weaknesses on my part." Later, in response to press questions about whether he had any regrets, he said "we've learned so much we didn't know before," and that "we see now with greater precision" what might have been done differently. He added that the archdiocese is "very, very committed to assistance for victims."

For his part, Archbishop Chaput promised, "No bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past or work harder to strengthen or encourage our priests and to win the hearts of the people."

He said he needed to read the grand jury reports and spend a lot of time talking to people, including abuse victims and their families, before he could talk about how to fix the problems of the abuse cases.

Before he left Denver, the Archbishop told an interviewer: "The biggest challenge, not just in Philadelphia but everywhere, is to preach the Gospel in a way that captures the imagination of God's people. We need to have confidence in the Gospel. We have to live it faithfully, and to live it without compromise and with great joy."

Archbishop Chaput, whose book Render Unto Caesar (2008) addressed the role of faith in public life, said that Catholics, whatever their background or political affiliation, could only act in the country's best interests by putting their duties to God first.

"Before anything else, we're called to be Catholics. That should be the defining part of who we are. Whether we're Indians or Germans or Irish; whether we're Democrats or Republicans, we are Catholic first. Everything else is secondary."

Catholic identity

In recent years, Archbishop Chaput has increased his efforts to help Catholics rediscover a sense of their own identity amid the confusions of modern culture. He sees Catholic politicians' compromises, on issues such as abortion and same-sex "marriage", as an outgrowth of a deeper secularisation affecting the whole Church.

"If our political leaders lack conviction about their faith, it's because the members of the Church lack conviction about their faith. Political leaders are no different from the rest of us. So if we point fingers at them, we're also pointing fingers at ourselves, and at the broader Church community.

"If Catholics in their homes and parishes understand that, they'll realise that a serious conversion needs to take place in all our lives, and not just in the lives of politicians."

Few are better qualified to repair things in Philadelphia than Archbishop Chaput. It reflects the high esteem in which he is held by Pope Benedict.

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