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Charles Chaput: Advice for Denver archbishop as he takes on troubled Philadelphia archdiocese

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The appointment of Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to succeed embattled Cardinal Justin Rigali as the Archbishop of Philadelphia is receiving mostly positive reviews in his new home city, at least thus far. That may say more about antipathy for Rigali, who critics accuse of failing to deal forthrightly with an epidemic of sexual-abuse charges against priests, than it does about enthusiasm for Chaput, a largely unknown quantity in the area. But this response should buy Chaput a little time. And he'll need it.

Chaput has not been entirely immune to criticism about the handling of sexual abuse allegations in Colorado. Note the case of Katia Birge, who says she was raped by a Catholic lay minister when she was 25. SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, chastised Chaput in the matter, which ended last December via a church settlement with Birge. For the most part, though, the Denver archbishop has been quicker to act than many of his peers, as noted in this excerpt from a piece in the Philadelphia Daily News.

One example of how Chaput handles such allegations: In April 2010, a man came to the Denver Archdiocese alleging he'd been abused by a priest in the 1970s. Within a week, the Archdiocese had suspended the priest and reported him to law enforcement although the statute of limitations prevented any action against him.

Another attribute that should stand Chaput in good stead: Since being appointed Denver archbishop in 1997, he's become more politically nimble. Note his willingness to stand alongside pro-choice politicians like Representative Jared Polis while pursuing immigration reform even as he wades into culture-war issues like children's access to violent video games. And he'll need all this acumen to navigate the treacherous waters in Philadelphia, where locals will need plenty of convincing before anointing him the archdiocese's savior.

As an example, check out a column by the Daily News' Ronnie Polaneczky. After declaring that Chaput is "cut from the same conservative cloth" as Rigali, she polls assorted church reformers for what advice they'd offer the new guy.

Sister Maureen Turlish, who heads Voice of the Faithful Philadelphia, says, "I'd ask Chaput to see that being a 'good' Catholic doesn't require that you blindly follow church leadership," says Turlish. "I would tell him, 'We are not the enemy. We are good Catholics. We need to work together.'" She'd also like Chaput to open church records involving the sex-abuse scandals, which stretch back decades.

Along these lines, Susan Matthews, co-administrator of the blog Catholics4Change, suggests a three-point to-do list:

• Protect the children of the Archdiocese.

• End the clericalism that isolates the church from its people.

• Give every sex-abuse victim a chance to receive justice.

Winning over the likes of Turlish and Matthews won't be easy for Chaput. But no big job ever is.

More from our News archive: "Archbishop Charles Chaput puts Obama administration on notice about abortion funding."

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