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Denver archbishop named to take over Philadelphia archdiocese

Ending days of speculation, Pope Benedict XVI has announced a shake-up of leadership in the troubled Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has been staggered in recent months by a far-reaching sexual abuse scandal.

Benedict said Tuesday that he had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Justin Rigali, who has been roundly criticized for his handling of sexual abuse cases. In his place, the pope named Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, who has developed a national reputation as an outspoken conservative, uncompromising in his opposition to abortion and gay marriage.

Chaput, 66, the highest-ranking Native American in the Catholic Church, also has a reputation as an able administrator and pastoral leader who won praise in some circles for his handling of Denver’s relatively modest number of sexual abuse cases. He will need those skills as he attempts to restore the faith of an archdiocese of 1.5 million badly shaken by parochial school closings and two grand jury reports that accused the church of keeping dozens of abusive priests in ministry.

After the latest report, in February, the chairwoman of the church’s own lay review board charged that Rigali and his bishops had “failed miserably at being open and transparent.”

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Appearing Tuesday alongside his successor, Rigali, 76, seemed contrite. “I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and the church,” he said.

Rigali had submitted his resignation to the pope on his 75th birthday, as is customary, and it was unclear how much of a role the scandal played in his departure. He is retiring to Knoxville, Tenn., where the bishop is a close friend.

Chaput, for his part, expressed some surprise at his selection.

“I don’t know why the Holy Father sent me here,” he said. “But I do promise that no bishop will love the people and priests of this local church more than I will.... And no bishop will try harder to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past.”

To some extent, the transition in Philadelphia echoes the recent change in Los Angeles, where Archbishop Jose Gomez replaced Cardinal Roger Mahony, whose tenure was tarnished by his handling of sexual abuse cases. Gomez served under Chaput in Denver and considers him a mentor. Mahony and Rigali were seminary classmates.

Gomez issued a statement calling Chaput “a man of profound faith and extraordinary pastoral sensitivity.”

Chaput gained national attention during the 2004 presidential campaign when he said that a vote for Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, a Catholic who supports abortion rights, was tantamount to “cooperating in evil.”

In 2010, he told a Protestant audience in Houston that President John F. Kennedy, who once told a similar gathering that he would not allow the Vatican to dictate his political positions, had been “sincere, compelling, articulate — and wrong.”

That same year, he supported the decision of a Catholic school in Colorado not to reenroll the children of a lesbian couple. On Tuesday, in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter, he said that gay marriage was “the issue of our time,” and that Catholics had a duty to speak out in favor of “traditional, faithful” marriage between a man and a woman.

mitchell.landsberg@latimes.com


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