PHILADELPHIA — A conservative American Indian archbishop was named Tuesday to lead the troubled Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia, and he vowed to work to heal the wounds of sex-abuse victims, clergy and lay members alike.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, 66, of Denver takes over an archdiocese of nearly 1.5 million Catholics that’s been rocked by school closings, a dwindling supply of priests and nuns, and two grand jury reports that accuse the church of hiding sex-abuse complaints for decades.
Outgoing Archbishop Justin Rigali, a longtime Vatican official who was expected to get a post in Rome, will instead retire to Tennessee after eight turbulent years leading the archdiocese. The grand jury excoriated Archbishop Rigali and his predecessor, Anthony Bevilacqua for protecting church interests over those of victims.
A Philadelphia monsignor is fighting unprecedented child-endangerment charges for allegedly transferring problem priests to new parishes without warning, while three priest co-defendants in the case are charged with rape.
“I do not know why the Holy Father sent me here,” said Archbishop Chaput, who has spent his career in the western United States. “[But] no person will work harder to try to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past.”
Critics of his tenure in Colorado, though, complain that he fought hard to block efforts to extend the time that child sex-abuse victims have to file suit. Archbishop Chaput said Tuesday that he did so only so that the church would be treated no differently under the law than anyone else.
“He has a lot of healing to do, and I hope that would be his focus. And for a long time, that should be his primary, if not sole focus,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a Duquesne University law professor who once served as counsel to the Pittsburgh Archdiocese.
And in a stunning break this past spring, Ana Maria Cantazaro, the chairwoman of Archbishop Rigali’s internal investigative panel on priest abuse, published an essay saying Archbishop Rigali and his bishops “failed miserably at being open and transparent” about complaints.
At a joint news conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Chaput called Archbishop Rigali “one of the great churchmen of my lifetime.”
Archbishop Rigali, 76, apologized for any shortcomings. “If I have offended anyone in any way, I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and the church.”
In Philadelphia, Archbishop Rigali has overseen the closing of dozens of Catholic schools because of declining enrollment, but he also spearheaded a $200 million capital campaign, the construction of two suburban high schools and a church for a burgeoning immigrant Hispanic community.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted Archbishop Rigali’s resignation more than a year after it was tendered, as required, at age 75. The brief Vatican announcement attributed the move to Archbishop Rigali’s age.
Archbishop Rigali, a former archbishop of St. Louis, remains a cardinal and can vote in the conclave to elect a new pope until the cardinal’s 80th birthday.
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