PHILADELPHIA — In a decision sure to have a far-reaching impact on the Church in America, Pope Benedict XVI has chosen Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput to be the next archbishop of Philadelphia.

As the replacement for retiring Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop Chaput will take over not only a major metropolitan area with a reputation for faithful Catholicism, but also an archdiocese that has been shaken to its foundation by the latest episode of sexual abuse in the Church.

Both archbishops met the press July 19 in the administrative building behind the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, the 137-year-old structure where Archbishop Chaput will be installed as the 13th bishop and ninth archbishop of Philadelphia on Sept. 8 at 2pm.

Cardinal Rigali will remain as the apostolic administrator until the archbishop’s installation, and then will retire to the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn., where he has been invited to live.

“The announcement of a new diocesan bishop is always an occasion of great joy and hope for a local Church,” Cardinal Rigali said. “We recall that God always provides for his people, and we are reminded of the fundamental mission of the Church, which is also the core mission of the bishop. It is no other than the proclamation of the person of Jesus Christ.”

For his part, Archbishop Chaput seemed humbled by his new role as shepherd of Philadelphia, which traditionally results in elevation to the College of Cardinals.

“Philadelphia is one of America’s truly great cities, rich in history and achievement, with an extraordinary community of Catholic faith that goes back to saints like John Neumann and Katharine Drexel,” he said. “I don’t know why the Holy Father sent me here, but I do trust his heart, and I do believe in his judgment.

“I know other bishops would have been smarter than I am, or more talented, or more connected to Philadelphia’s past. But I do promise that no bishop will love the people and priests of this local Church more than I will. No bishop will give more of himself than I will. And 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.”

From Denver to Philadelphia

Archbishop Chaput arrives in Philadelphia with a reputation for his unflinching defense of Church teaching and the role of faith in civic life. His bestselling book Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life urges Catholics to let their faith inform their voting choices, and he has never been shy about commenting on the issues of his time.

During the 2004 presidential election, he wrote, “Candidates who claim to be ‘Catholic’ but who publicly ignore Catholic teaching about the sanctity of human life are offering a dishonest public witness. They may try to look Catholic and sound Catholic, but unless they act Catholic in their public service and political choices, they’re really a very different kind of creature. And real Catholics should vote accordingly.”

This was perceived as a direct criticism of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

Chaput (pronounced SHAP-yoo) was born in Concordia, Kan., in 1944, the son of a French-Canadian father and a mother who belonged to the Potawatomi tribe. (His two names in the language of his tribe mean “wind rustling the leaves of the trees” and “good eagle.”) Inspired by the life of St. Francis of Assisi, he joined the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, St. Augustine Province, in 1965. He served the Capuchins in various capacities, first as a communications director, then as a pastor, provincial vicar, secretary and treasurer, and finally chief executive and provincial minister.

In 1988, Pope John Paul II appointed him bishop of Rapid City, S.D., and nine years later was appointed archbishop of Denver, making him the first archbishop of American-Indian descent.

Denver saw a boom in vocations, with Archbishop Chaput ordaining 71 priests between 1998 and 2011. He has led initiatives to address religious liberty, the interests of Native Americans, women and Hispanics in the Church, health care and pro-life issues. For the U.S. bishops’ conference, he has served on the Committees for Divine Worship, Migration, and Domestic Justice and Human Development, among others.

Cardinal Rigali

Justin Francis Rigali was born in Los Angeles in 1935 and ordained to the priesthood in 1961. That same year he entered the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, emerging three years later with a doctorate in canon law. He served in various positions in the Vatican before being named a papal chamberlain to Pope Paul VI. In 1970, he became the English-language translator for the Pope, as well as director of the English language section of the Vatican Secretariat of State, a role he would fill under the next two Popes.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, he held a number of teaching positions at the Vatican. Blessed Pope John Paul II elevated him to the episcopacy in 1985 and in 1994 appointed him as the eighth bishop of St. Louis.

In 2003, he became the eighth archbishop of Philadelphia, filling a see once occupied by St. John Neumann in a city known for its vibrant, traditional Catholic culture. For the past eight years, he has led 1.5 million Catholics not only in Philadelphia, but in the surrounding region, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.

“It has been a great grace and privilege to serve as the archbishop of this historic see over the past eight years,” he said. “Throughout the archdiocese, I have found a deep faith and an unwavering generosity of spirit.”

Scandal Rocks Philadelphia

The sexual-abuse scandals finally struck Philadelphia in 2005, implicating two beloved bishops, the late Cardinal John Krol and the retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, in the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.

Cardinal Rigali took a hard line against abusers, conducting internal investigations, cooperating with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and laicizing any priests revealed to be abusers. New victim-assistance practices were implemented, and there was a sense that Cardinal Rigali had brought the Church through a rough period with admirable leadership.

However, a second grand jury report released in February of 2011 presented evidence of 37 more cases of child abuse by clergy or Church employees that were deemed “credible.” Although conceding that the archdiocese had made progress in the handling of sex-abuse allegations, the report was also deeply critical of the Church’s efforts in the intervening six years.

Thus, Archishop Chaput finds himself facing a fresh wound in the body of the Church, along with the familiar challenges of a modern urban American see, specifically parish and school closings, high unemployment, and increased demand for the services of Catholic charities.

During the press conference, Archbishop Chaput was challenged to defend his alleged opposition to extending the statue of limitations in Colorado to include sex crimes. He made it clear that he did not oppose the extension, only the way it singled out the Catholic Church.

“I want everyone in Colorado to be treated the same,” he said. “The law has to be applied fairly to everyone. It can’t be directed at the Church alone. That sounds fair. It’s what Americans do.”

There was a somber note to Cardinal Rigali’s departure, which marked the end of a long career of service in both Rome and America.

“It is a formidable task to be a bishop,” he said. “I have tried always, throughout my ministry, to be faithful to the ideal of episcopal ministry. If I have offended anyone in any way, I am deeply sorry. I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and his Church worthily and effectively.”

He dismissed the idea that his letter of retirement, which bishops must submit to the Pope upon turning 75, was accepted because of the grand jury report, but added that “it’s providential that it comes at this time.

Throughout the Church there has been a curve of learning. All of us would have liked to know back then everything we know now, but that’s not possible. The ideals that we have today are the ideals we always had, but we see now with greater precision how we can be committed to the protection of children.”

For his part, Archbishop Chaput had high praise for his predecessor, calling him “one of the great Churchmen in my lifetime. He has served the Church with enormous dedication, and in ways I will never be able to duplicate.”

Register correspondent Thomas McDonald filed this report from Philadelphia.