2:23pm

Tue July 19, 2011
Religion

Philly Archbishop Retires Amid Sex Abuse Report

The Vatican has appointed an outspoken archbishop to lead the troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Charles Chapu of Denver will move to Philadelphia in September. He succeeds Cardinal Justin Rigali, who has been criticized for the way he's handled child sex abuse allegations.

Cardinal Denies Scandal Affected Retirement Decision

For the past five months, Cardinal Rigali has been dogged by claims that he may have protected questionable priests. In February, a grand jury report alleged that as many as 37 priests who had been accused of abuse were still in active ministry. The report also charged several other priests or former priests in a sex abuse scandal.

Initially, Rigali said none of his priests had been credibly accused of abusing children, but a few weeks later, he suspended a record number record number of clergy, 21. On Tuesday, he announced that the Vatican accepted his resignation and sounded almost relieved.

"It is a formidable task to be a bishop. You ought to try it," he says.

Rigali, who's 76, said his retirement had no connection to the scandal but still offered an apology.

"If I have offended anyone in any way, I am deeply sorry," he says. "I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and the church, worthily and effectively."

His successor, Archbishop Chaput, said he has no idea why the Pope appointed him.

"But I do promise no bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past, or work harder to strengthen and encourage our priests and renew the hearts of our people," Chaput says.

Religion Professor Matthew Schmalz thinks he know why the Pope selected Chaput.

"Archbishop Chaput does have experience dealing with messes," he says.

Schmalz, who teaches at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, says Pope Benedict the 16th appointed Chaput to lead the investigation into the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder was accused of abusing many children. He says the Vatican also had Chaput investigate a bishop in Australia for advocating the ordination of women. That bishop was ultimately removed.

Schmalz says that's the sort of track record the Vatican is interested in.

"The lessons he brings, administrative decisiveness, being forthright, and trying to get to the bottom of things," he says.

Successor Noted For His Controversy

Chaput is famous for his bold style and conservative views, particularly on culture war issues, according to Father Thomas Reese at Georgetown University.

"Chaput is very concerned about political issues. He, in Denver, has been very vocal on them; not afraid to be controversial," Reese says. "I think he's going to do the same thing in Philadelphia, where he's got an even bigger pulpit to do it from."

Chaput has excoriated Catholic politicians — including John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi — for supporting abortion rights, saying that they offer a "dishonest public witness."

And some, like Princeton professor Robert George, believe the appointment says something about where Pope Benedict is taking the church.

"This is clearly a statement and a signal," George says.

George is a good friend of Archbishop Chaput.

"It's pretty clear this means the pope wants the church to be in the middle of the cultural struggle on the great moral issues of our day," he says.

And some note that Chaput will be fighting those issues in the swing state of Pennsylvania, just in time for the 2012 election.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.