Catholic World News

Archbishop Chaput named to head Philadelphia see

July 19, 2011

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has been chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to become the next Archbishop of Philadelphia, succeeding the retiring Cardinal Justin Rigali.

The July 19 announcement of Archbishop Chaput’s appointment confirmed reports that had circulated widely in the news media during the previous day.

At the age of 76, Cardinal Rigali was more than a year beyond the normative age for retirement. But after the publication of scathing grand jury report, which charged that the archdiocese had continued to neglect complaints of sexual abuse by Philadelphia priests, journalistic observers began speculating that his replacement would be named soon. At the press conference formally announcing his resignation, Cardinal Rigali said that he did not see a connection between the grand-jury report and the Vatican’s decision to accept his resignation. Most news headlines emphasized that connection, however.

In recent years Pope Benedict has shown his confidence in Archbishop Chaput by twice assigning him to carry out delicate investigations into troubled parts of the Church. He was one on five prelates assigned to conduct an apostolic visitation of the Legion of Christ; and he alone conducted a visitation of the Toowoomba, Australia diocese, where Bishop William Morris was eventually relieved of his pastoral duties. Thus the decision to send Archbishop Chaput to Philadelphia is in line with Pope Benedict’s pattern of sending bishops he knows and trusts to handle difficult pastoral assignments.

Archbishop Chaput revealed that he has not yet read the grand-jury report that has caused such consternation in the Philadelphia archdiocese. He said that he wanted to study the report carefully before answering specific questions on the controversy, but assured reporters at the July 19 press conference that responding to the sex-abuse scandal would be a top priority. The incoming archbishop also showed that he is willing to take strong stands on the question, saying that he agrees that bishops should be held fully accountable for their handling of sex-abuse charges.

The incoming archbishop will bring to Philadelphia a reputation for a keen intellect, strong administrative skills, and remarkable energy. More importantly, he has been among the most visible members of the American hierarchy in public discussions, particularly in discussions on the relationship between Church and state. Often described as a “conservative” cleric—a label that he rejects—Archbishop Chaput has shown an eager willingness to engage in debate with champions of secularism and to defend the Catholic faith against media attacks.

Liberal Catholic commentators were clearly shaken by the Chaput appointment. Father Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who is regularly sought by journalists looking for reactions, reduced the appointment to a political matter, saying that Archbishop Chaput is “going to be a real pain in the neck for the Democratic Party.” Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters lamented the Pope’s choice:

The people of Philadelphia need someone who could provide balm and they are getting someone who throws bombs. They need someone who can focus like a laser beam on the “ad intra” difficulties facing a local Church beset by decades of clericalism not someone who seems only to be stirred by “ad extra” concerns. Chaput is a culture warrior, and that is not a compliment.

In a lengthy interview with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, the archbishop denied that he is a political partisan—although he readily acknowledged that he takes a keen interest in public discussions:

I actually don't see myself as a conservative at all. I try to be faithful to the church's teaching, as the church has handed it on to us. I don't feel that as a Christian or as a bishop I have a right to play with that tradition, which is the apostolic tradition of the church. I hope that I'm creative and contemporary, however, in applying that teaching and in the structural living out of it in the local church.

At the same time, Archbishop Chaput showed no inclination to back away from controversial topics. He has spoken out repeatedly to denounce attacks on the dignity of human life. And when Allen asked him about same-sex marriage, he replied bluntly: “This is the issue of our time.”

Archbishop Chaput cited his membership in the Capuchin order and his Native American ethnic background as important influences on his life. A member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe, he is the first Native American ever to reach the rank of archbishop in the Catholic Church. His appointment to the historic Philadelphia see makes it likely that he will also be the first Native American cardinal.

Born in Kansas in 1944, Charles Chaput became a solemnly professed Capuchin in 1968 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1970. In 1988 he was named Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, and in 1997 he became Archbishop of Denver. He is the author of Render Unto Caesar, a provocative book on the application of Catholic social principles to contemporary American political issues; and Living the Catholic Faith, a primer on active Catholicism.

The man he replaces, Cardinal Justin Rigali, was highly regarded as a polished ecclesiastical veteran. Born in Los Angeles, he was ordained there in 1961. For years he served at the Vatican, where he was president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy (the training ground for Vatican diplomats) and later secretary of the Congregation for Bishops. In 1994 he was appointed Archbishop of St. Louis, moving on to Philadelphia in 2003.


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Show 6 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: SentimentalGent - Jul. 22, 2011 9:22 AM ET USA

    Father Reese's comments shows how irrelevant he is and how Archbishop Chaput is not. When a bishop or cleric stands firm on the Church's teachings on abortion, marriage, homosexuality, etc., the detractors many times put those stands in political terms. All that shows is that the detractors are playing the party politics line to start, along with showing their dissatisfaction with OFFICIAL Catholic Church teaching. Shame on you, Father Reese!

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Jul. 19, 2011 9:11 PM ET USA

    Wow!!! This is absolutely delightful, a huge blessing for Philadelphia and for the entire American Catholic Church!

  • Posted by: Hal - Jul. 19, 2011 5:14 PM ET USA

    Thanks be to God! Finally something to cheer!

  • Posted by: - Jul. 19, 2011 4:13 PM ET USA

    Gil125, nothing is going to help you in San Francisco. :-) We need him back East. :-) What great news!

  • Posted by: - Jul. 19, 2011 3:55 PM ET USA

    Abp. Chaput's new assignment is being marked by two of the highest recommendations imaginable: Pope Benedict's clear approbation, and Fr. Reese' slur.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Jul. 19, 2011 3:28 PM ET USA

    That's a disappointment. I was hoping we'd get him in San Francisco. But a red hat see is better, of course. And anything that upsets Fr. Reese and the NCR is a plus. As to Cardinal Rigali's not seeing the connection between the grand jury report and his being shown the door, well, perhaps we might take up a collection for an opthgalmologist's appointment for him.