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Exclusive: Philadelphia’s New Archbishop Speaks Candidly About His Goals

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(credit: CBS) Pat Ciarrocchi
In addition to anchoring and reporting news for CBS 3, Pat Ciarro...
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Pat Ciarrocchi Reports…

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – This week the Philadelphia Archdiocese will stand at a crossroads of leadership. Charles Chaput is to be installed as the new Archbishop of Philadelphia replacing Cardinal Justin Rigali.

Chaput arrives with a monumental agenda – to heal and rebuild the church of 1.4 million Catholics reeling from the priest sex abuse scandal.

Archbishop Charles Chaput wears the symbols of his catholic leadership confidently. After mass at this parish church in Denver – you can see what ignites his spirit.

“You feel like you can go to him, without being afraid to ask him questions… and he’s always a down to earth person,” says Mary Louise Suavo.

“He said it once himself…what you see is what you get. He’s just very, very authentic… very, very clear. There is no ambiguity,” says James Cavanaugh.

Archbishop Chaput opened the door to a vigorous intellect and long considered thoughts on what it means to be a catholic leader.

“If the Church calls… and you believe the church is the voice of Christ… why would you hesitate at all.”

Without hesitation, Charles Chaput comes to Philadelphia with a church mired in the sex abuse scandal and charges of a cover up.

“Priests cannot hold themselves to a standard different from the laity…as members of the United States… those of us who are clergy hold ourselves accountable to the standards of our country…There is no place in our life for clericalism.”

Critics have blamed clericalism for moving priest abusers – once cleared by the archdiocese – to unsuspecting parishes.

In his first six months, Archbishop Chaput will watch four Philadelphia clerics and a Catholic lay teacher face a criminal trial for endangering and sexually abusing school children.

“If we are guilty we have a responsibility to assume the consequences of that. And just like any other citizen in our country. So we are not excused or immune from that.”

Archbishop Chaput came to Denver 14 years ago and now at the age of 66, a time when most men are considering retirement, the archbishop is taking on what some are calling a monumental task of rebuilding the Philadelphia Catholic Church.

“I think if Christ returned to earth in some way … being the new Archbishop of Philadelphia would be a tough gig,” says John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter.

Allen, who lives in Denver, is a leading national observer and writer about the Catholic Church and has covered archbishop Chaput extensively.

“He believes the church is right on all the major issues facing humanity and he relishes the opportunity to get out and make the sale. That’s who Charlie Chaput is.”

Chaput is a member of the Capuchin order of Franciscans, who vows to live simple lives in service to the church. His ancestry is Native American and French Canadian.

“Charles Chaput….Chaput is right. Good luck with that. I’ve been practicing. People in Denver pronounced it right for about a week…then; it devolved into cha-poo. That’s why I go by Archbishop Charles, because that’s easy to pronounce.”

As the new archbishop finds his footing in the steps of St. John Neumann – the Philadelphia bishop who founded the Catholic school system here; finding ways to pay teachers and update an aging infrastructure of schools and parishes won’t be far off his radar.

“We should be paying a living wage to people who commit themselves to teaching in Catholic Schools. But where do we find the money to update the buildings?” says Chaput.

“I hope that the people of Philadelphia will be partners with me in revisioning this and doing what we can to make it affordable, which is the most difficult thing.”

Firmly believing in Catholic orthodoxy, Charles Chaput has been described as a conservative.

“I’m open for new and creative directions for the church as long as we are faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the traditions of the Church. I believe in lay leadership and lay initiatives and general that’s not perceived as conservative position.”

Yet, the intersection of faith and politics is what stirs Chaput’s voice. His New York Times best seller – Render Unto Caesar – calls for Catholics to become involved in politics, while publically living Catholic truths.

He believes Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should exclude themselves from receiving communion.

“If someone doesn’t believe in what the church teaches or promotes a program contrary to church teaching… it’s hypocritical to receive communion. It’s a lie,” Chaput points out.

On the issue of marriage, Chaput defines it as a natural loving relationship between a man and a woman for the sake of children. He says that why same sex marriage doesn’t make sense.

“It undermines the meaning of marriage for all of us. That why the church opposes this. It’s not a reaction to homosexual activity. This is a response to the need to support marriage as a stable relationship for the sake of children.”

“While I think he will be a reconciler and a healer on the sex abuse front, I also expect him to be a sign of division that is a lightning rod on a lot of other stuff,” says journalist John Allen.

And then, this message for his brother priests who have felt attacked and demoralized by the wounds of the sex abuse scandal.

“We’ll find our way through this. It will take time. I hope the priests will accept me as your brother and give me a chance,” vows Chaput.

The new day dawns on Thursday, September 8th.

Reported By Pat Ciarrocchi, CBS 3

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