PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A conservative American Indian archbishop named Tuesday to lead the troubled Roman Catholic church in Philadelphia vowed to work to heal the wounds of sex-abuse victims, clergy and lay members alike.
Archbishop Charles Chaput, 66, takes over an archdiocese of nearly 1.5 million Catholics that has been rocked by two grand jury reports that accuse the church of hiding sex-abuse complaints for decades. A high-ranking monsignor is charged with felony child endangerment for his handling of priest transfers.
Like other dioceses, Philadelphia also faces a dwindling supply of priests and nuns and seemingly endless rounds of school closings and consolidations.
"I do not know why the Holy Father sent me here," said Chaput, who has spent most of his career in the western United States. "(But) no person will work harder to try to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past."
Chaput is known as an outspoken bishop who criticizes Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, speaks out against government playing too large of a role in health care and opposes gay marriage and stem-cell research. Last year, he defended a Catholic school's decision not to re-enroll a lesbian couple's children.
Critics of his tenure in Colorado complain that he fought hard to block efforts to extend the time that child sex-abuse victims have to file suit. Chaput said he did so because he didn't want the church treated differently under the law than anyone else.
"He has a lot of healing to do, and I hope that would be his focus. And for a long time, that should be his primary, if not sole focus," said Nicholas Cafardi, a Duquesne University law professor who once served as counsel to the Pittsburgh archdiocese.
Outgoing Cardinal Justin Rigali, who traveled the world as a translator for three popes and was expected to land a job in Rome, will instead retire to Tennessee after eight turbulent years leading the archdiocese.
A city grand jury this year excoriated Rigali and his predecessor, finding they protected church interests over those of victims.
Rigali, 76, apologized for any shortcomings at a joint news conference Tuesday morning, a few hours after the pope announced Chaput's appointment.
"If I have offended anyone in any way, I am deeply sorry," Rigali said. "I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and the church."
Chaput called him "one of the great churchmen of my lifetime."
In a stunning break this spring, Ana Maria Cantazaro, the chairwoman of Rigali's internal investigative panel on priest abuse, published an essay saying the cardinal and his bishops "failed miserably at being open and transparent" about problem priests.
The archdiocese now finds itself defending the first criminal indictment ever filed against a U.S. church official over the priest-abuse scandal. Monsignor William Lynn, 60, faces up to 14 years in prison if convicted of child endangerment and criminal conspiracy.
Two priests, an ex-priest and a former Catholic school teacher are charged in the same case with rape. Three of them raped the same boy, starting when he was a 10-year-old altar boy in 1998, the indictment charges.
The grand jury also accused church officials of keeping 37 clergy in active ministry despite credible complaints they sexually abused young people or showed other signs of troubling behavior. The allegations came nearly a decade after U.S. bishops had promised to oust all predators from ministry.
In other matters, Rigali has overseen the closing of dozens of Catholic schools because of declining enrollment, but he also spearheaded a $200 million capital campaign, the construction of two suburban high schools and a church for a burgeoning immigrant Hispanic community.
Pope Benedict XVI accepted his resignation more than a year after it was tendered, as required, at age 75. He remains a Cardinal and can vote in the conclave to elect a new pope until his 80th birthday.
While Rigali mostly avoided publicity, Chaput seems to shy away from neither the cameras nor controversy.
Regarding the lesbian parents, he said Catholic school parents are expected to agree with church beliefs, including those forbidding sex between anyone other than married, heterosexual couples.
Chaput was one of the bishops Benedict chose in 2009 to investigate the Legionaries of Christ, the disgraced religious order that in recent years confirmed that its late founder fathered three children and sexually abused young seminarians. The pope also turned to Chaput in another sensitive case: an inquiry into Australian Bishop William Morris of the Toowoomba diocese, whom Benedict removed in May partly because the bishop indicated he would ordain women and marry men if church rules allowed the practice.
Between 2005 and 2008, the archdiocese of Denver settled 43 sex abuse allegations against priests for a total of $8.2 million. Chaput has publicly apologized to all the victims, saying the church was "mortified and embarrassed."
"It's obvious Rome is asking Archbishop Chaput to handle several very tough and sensitive jobs," said Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops who is friendly with Chaput. "He was regarded in Rome already as a very able and reliable man who could be counted on to do a good honest job and do it well."
Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called Chaput's apology to Denver abuse victims "lofty words" that didn't jibe with his opposition to the 2006 proposal to extend the statute of limitations for sex offenders.
Chaput pushed sex abuse victims to settle their claims, ensuring little information was released about what church officials new about the allegations.
"His track record on dealing with abuse is deplorable," Blaine said.
At a noon Mass celebrated by Chaput and Rigali, an unidentified woman was restrained as she walked across the altar carrying a manila envelope addressed to the bishop. The return address bore the Spanish word "Depunciante," which means plaintiff or accuser. She was not arrested, and it was not immediately clear what the envelope contained.
Chaput, a Kansas native born into the Prairie Band Potowatami Tribe, is one of two Native American bishops in the church, and the only one made an archbishop. His given Native American names, he explained Tuesday, mean "good eagle" and "the wind is rustling."
"So that's who I am: A good eagle that rustles the leaves," he said.
Associated Press Writers Victor L. Simpson contributed to this report from Rome.
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