Denver archbishop Charles Chaput to replace Rigali in Philadelphia

Archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, will be the next leader of the 1.5-million member Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Admirers and critics alike describe the outspoken Chaput, 66, as a politically attuned and emphatically conservative champion of Catholic values who will seek to reenergize Catholic identity here.

Chaput would succeed Cardinal Justin Rigali, who took the helm of the Philadelphia archdiocese in October 2003.

Although Rigali has been struggling since February with the Philadelphia grand jury report that excoriated the archdiocese for harboring sexually abusive priests, his retirement was long expected this year. He turned 75 in April 2010, the official retirement age for Catholic bishops.

Some Catholics said Monday it was appropriate that he move on.

“In light of all the charges and revelations from the investigations of abuse,” it is time “to have someone in there who can lead the church in a new direction,” said Nicholas Bisaccia of Philadelphia after attending 11 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.

A Franciscan priest of the Capuchin order, Chaput (pronounced shap-you) was the first American Indian to become a Roman Catholic archbishop when he was named to Denver in 1997. His mother’s family belongs to the Potawatomi tribe, and he was made a member as a boy.

“I think that with Chaput you will see a much more politically active archbishop than we saw with Cardinal Rigali,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America and author of numerous books on the Catholic hierarchy.

Reese described Chaput as an “in-your-face” leader who is “going to be a real pain in the neck for the Democratic Party.”

Columnist and papal biographer George Weigel called Chaput a “great pastor” and predicted he would be a “real jolt of evangelical energy for the archdiocese.”

The Philadelphia archdiocese has scheduled a 10 a.m. news conference for Tuesday, but would not confirm its purpose. Rigali is to celebrate Mass at the cathedral at 12:05.

While the sex abuse scandal here might have little to do with the timing of Rigali’s departure, it may have factored into Chaput’s appointment.

He is credited with responding quickly when Denver priests were accused of sexually abusing minors, according to Matthew Schmalz, an associate professor of religious studies at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts who studies the sexual abuse crisis in this country. Chaput “took a hard, traditionalist stand,” he said. [more]


Philadelphia Inquirer