Blog Post

Archbishop Chaput Said to be Pope's "Personal" Choice to Head Philly Archdiocese

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist Pope Benedict XVI's appointment of Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput to head the embattled Archdiocese of Philadelphia is being seen as a clear sign of what kind of prelates the Pope trusts to lead the Church in America. According to the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen, inside sources say Archbishop Chaput was a "highly personal choice" by Pope Benedict to succeed Cardinal Justin Rigali as head of one of the most high-profile diocese in the country. Tapping the conservative but very politically active Chaput, the Pope made it clear what kind of prelate he favors for the U.S. church. Until a few days ago, Chaput, a member of the Prairie Band of the Potawatomi Tribe of American Indians and the head of the Denver Archdiocese since 1997, was considered a long-shot for the job. Most believed the choice would be Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, KY, a Pennsylvania native with a reputation for brokering compromise, a background that would have served him well in the Philadelphia Archdiocese which has been left in both financial and moral tatters by a messy priest scandal. However, choosing Chaput should not have been too surprising as the Pope has turned to him on several occasions to handle sensitive problems, such as when he appointed him to conduct a review of the scandal-ridden Legionaries of Christ. Chaput will definitely have his hands full in Philly. Retiring Rigali was under intense pressure since a February grant jury report revealed widespread cover-up of predatory priests over decades with as many as 37 priests remaining active in ministry despite credible accusations against them. In addition, a high-ranking Archdiocesan official was charged with child-endangerment for transferring "predator priests" to other positions. Unfortunately, the February report was not the first to highlight failures by the Archdiocese to protect youth. A 2005 panel found similar problems. And just two months ago, Ana Maria Catanzaro, head of the Archdiocesan review board, accused Rigali and his bishops of having "failed miserably at being open and transparent," and said most cases of abuse had been kept from the board. But hopes are high that Chaput will be the kind of leader who can spark a genuine renewal in the demoralized archdiocese. "You can't mistake what he's thinking. He's a visionary," says the Philadelphia-based Rocco Palmo, of the popular Whispers in the Loggia blog. "And what a change this will be. Philadelphia has had staid, traditional bishops and here comes someone who can combine genuine fidelity to the church with this vigor. This is a revolutionary choice!" Another popular Catholic blogger, Thomas Peters of American Papist, is calling Chaput "an incredibly good choice." "He's an inspiring voice for Catholics to be good citizens... I love him for his public stances on the issues. His book, Render Undo Caesar, is the clearest statement of how Catholics are called in to public life without checking their Catholic world view at the door." The church's liberal wing has a slightly different view of Chaput and is expressing concern over his energetic style. "Whether you think Chaput is the ideal pick depends on what you think is needed there," writes Michael Sean Winter, a blogger at the National Catholic Reporter. "If you think you need the marshal going in to Dodge City to put the bad guys in jail, Chaput would be your guy. If you want some one who would spread balm rather than throw the bomb, that's a different kind of personality." Winter went on to call Chaput a culture warrior and criticized him for ruling that the children of same-sex parents cannot attend Catholic schools, even though his classmate in the seminary and fellow Capuchin, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, came to the exact opposite conclusion. Fr. Thomas Reese, former editor of America Magazine, described Chaput as "a much more politically active archbishop than we saw with Cardinal Rigali." He described Chaput as an "in-your-face" leader who is "going to be a real pain in the neck for the Democratic Party." But papal watchers say the choice of Chaput is a sign that the pope wants "... significant changes in the culture of the archdioceses," Palmo writes. "This is the most high-stakes personnel move Pope Benedict is making as pope. Every bishop in the country is watching. They know it will reflect on them and on their archdioceses. The eyes of the Catholic world are on Philly right now." As for Philadelphia's 1.5 million Catholics, he believes that "the faith is about to undergo it's most significant reboot in almost 200 years." © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®