PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Justin Rigali, the shepherd of Catholics in the Philadelphia Archdiocese for the past eight years, and has named his successor.
The successor is official: he is Denver’s archbishop, Charles Chaput. He is the first Native American archbishop and has been the archbishop in Denver since 1997.
A gracious Cardinal Rigali, who has served some eight years here as the spiritual leader of the region’s 1.5 million Catholics, warmly welcomed his successor at a press conference this morning.
The archdiocese, under Rigali’s leadership, has faced two grand jury investigations of priest sexual abuse of minors, the removal of priests from ministry, and charges against a high-ranking church official who was in charge of priest assignments.
Rigali was asked whether the timing of the acceptance of his resignation, submitted to the Vatican a year ago on his 75th birthday, according to protocol, was related to the abuse scandal.
“There’s no particular relationship to my resignation,” Rigali said. “It comes at this particular time which I think is very providential, and we’re happy to have Archbishop Chaput here.”
For his part, Chaput (pronounced “shap-yoo”) says he intends to take a pastoral approach in dealing with the victims. As to the findings by two separate grand juries?
“I haven’t read the reports, so I don’t even want to even comment on them because it would be unfair. To comment without knowing is unfair. And it’s foolish to say things I know nothing about.”
Chaput says he’ll read them thoroughly and ask a lot of questions before he gets back to Philadelphia for his formal installation, on September 8th, during a mass in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Rocco Palmo, a Catholic journalist who writes a widely-read blog on church affairs, says Chaput is the dominant voice for conservative Catholicism, but he also has a great pastoral approach.
“Personable and approachable and media savvy in a way that Philadelphia has never seen as archbishop,” Palmo explained. “This is a complete sea change for us and possibly the greatest change we’ve had in the archbishop’s office in over 100 years.”
Palmo also described Chaput as the clear front-runner to take over in the wake of the priest sex-abuse scandal.
“I think he rose to the top because he’s done a lot of kind of background work for the Vatican in terms of going to very difficult situations and investigating things and cleaning them up, which, in the wake of the grand jury, may be useful here.”
You can hear Mark Abram’s interview with Rocco Palmo in this CBS Philly ‘Specials Place’ podcast…
Palmo says it is clear the pope has given Chaput a mandate for a thorough housecleaning of the management of the archdiocese and to rebuild the credibility of the church in Philadelphia.
Chaput, 66, was born in Concordia, Kansas, the son of a funeral director. He has been archbishop in Denver since 1997. He was ordained a bishop in 1988 at the age of 43 and assigned to run the diocese based in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Rigali will remain as Apostolic Administrator, with full responsibilities of Archbishop, until Chaput is installed on September 8th.
Reported by Mark Abrams, KYW Newsradio 1060