For Philadelphia Archdiocese, a Powerful Conservative Voice

Before he was named on Tuesday to lead the prominent but troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput spent the last 14 years in Denver establishing himself as one of the nation’s most prominent advocates of a politically engaged and conservative Catholicism

He isamong a minority of Roman Catholic bishops who have spoken in favor of denyingcommunion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights. He helped defeatlegislation that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples in Colorado.And he condemned the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic institution, for grantingPresident Obama an honorary degree in 2009 because of his stance on abortion.

Forthese and other decisions stands, Archbishop Chaput has been hailed as achampion by not only Catholic conservatives, but also by evangelicalProtestants.

But itwould be wrong to believe that the Vatican has givenhim the prominent posting in Philadelphia solely in the service of politics.The archbishop has been frequently tapped to investigate internal churchproblems. It is a profile that could serve him well in Philadelphia, where agrand jury accused the archdiocese of a widespread cover-up of sexual abuse andindicted a top church administrator.

“Clearlythe appointment does mean a kind of strong, new conservative voice in one ofthe church’s most important jobs,” said John L. Allen Jr., senior correspondentof the NationalCatholic Reporter, who lives in Denver and reports frequently from theVatican.

“Butif the sexual abuse crisis is your filter,” Mr. Allen said, “the narrative isthat you’ve got a strong reformer and trusted administrator who is going toclean house.”

In thepast 10 years, the Vatican has appointed Archbishop Chaput to serve on threehigh-profile investigations, known as visitations: of American seminaries in thewake of the sexual abuse scandal; of the Legion of Christ after the group’sfounder was discovered to have sexually abused seminarians, fathered childrenand embezzled money; and, most recently, of Bishop William Morris of Australia,who had said publicly that the church should consider ordaining women andmarried men (the investigation resulted in his removal).

Advocatesfor sexual abuse victims, however, bristle at the characterization ofArchbishop Chaput as a reformer. They point out that he fought hard againstlegislation in Colorado that would have extended the statute of limitations forpeople who say they were sexually abused to sue the church.

Inevery state that such legislation has been proposed, Catholic bishops havefought it. But Archbishop Chaput went further, taking to the pages of First Things, areligious magazine, to explain his rationale. He argued that the legislationsingled out the Catholic Church, when many institutions, especially publicschools, were also responsible for extensive sexual abuse of children.

“Thepeople paying for these abuse settlements are innocent Catholic families whohad no part in events of the past,” he wrote. “Revenge is not justice, nomatter how piously one argues it.”

ArchbishopChaput, who is 66, is known in Denver for a pastoral style that is far morepersonable than that of the current archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal JustinRigali. Like Cardinal Sean O’Malley in Boston, Archbishop Chaput is a member ofthe Capuchins, a missionary religious order, though he eschews the long brownhabit in favor of the black shirt and white collar.

He haswritten two books, both advocating that Catholics become more assertive in thepublic square.

In Denver,Archbishop Chaput has been an innovative evangelist for conservative, orthodoxCatholicism, said Tom Reynolds, vice president for mission at Regis University,a Jesuit institution in Denver. He said Archbishop Chaput had started a newseminary program, increased vocations to the priesthood and attracted“neotraditionalist Catholic movements and religious orders” to the Denver area.

“Hehasn’t always gotten along well with the folks who are on the liberal end, whowant to move forward with Vatican II reforms,” Mr. Reynolds said, referring tothe Second Vatican Council.

ButArchbishop Chaput has not issued any public sanctions or penalties againsttheologians, priests or laypeople, Mr. Reynolds said, unlike what has takenplace in some other dioceses headed by conservative bishops.

ArchbishopChaput will achieve even greater power and prominence if he is elevated tocardinal, as is traditional for the archbishop in Philadelphia. But he may haveto wait a few years until Cardinal Rigali retires as a voting member of theCollege of Cardinals, at age 80.


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