MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
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The Vatican has appointed an outspoken archbishop to lead the troubled Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Charles Chaput, of Denver, will move to Philadelphia in September. He succeeds Cardinal Justin Rigali, who has been criticized for the way he's handled child sex abuse allegations.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has the story.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: For the past five months, Cardinal Rigali has been dogged by claims that he may have protected questionable priests. In February, a grand jury report alleged that as many as 37 priests who had been accused of abuse were still in active ministry, and it charged several other clergy in a sex abuse scandal.
Initially, Rigali said none of his priests had been credibly accused of abusing children. But a few weeks later, he suspended 21 clergy, a record number. Today, he announced that the Vatican accepted his resignation, and he sounded almost relieved.
NORRIS: It is a formidable task to be a bishop. You ought to try it.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Rigali, who's 76, said his retirement had no connection to the scandal. Still, he said...
NORRIS: If I have offended anyone in any way, I am deeply sorry. I apologize for any weaknesses on my part in representing Christ and the church worthily and effectively.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: His successor, Archbishop Chaput, said he had no idea why the pope appointed him.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: But I do promise that 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.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Professor Mathew Schmalz says he thinks he knows why the pope selected Chaput.
P: Archbishop Chaput does have experience dealing with messes.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Schmalz teaches religion at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.
P: The lessons that he brings are administrative decisiveness, being forthright, and trying to get to the bottom of things.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: He notes that Pope Benedict XVI appointed Chaput to lead the investigation into the Legionaries of Christ, whose founder was accused of abusing many children. He says the Vatican also had Chaput investigate a bishop in Australia for advocating the ordination of women. The bishop was ultimately removed.
Chaput is famous for his bold style and conservative views, says Father Thomas Reese at Georgetown University, particularly on culture war issues.
NORRIS: Chaput is very concerned about political issues. He, in Denver, has been very vocal on them, not afraid to be confrontational. I think he's going to do the same thing in Philadelphia, where he's got an even bigger pulpit to do it from.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Chaput has excoriated Catholic politicians, including John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, for supporting abortion rights, saying that they offer a, quote, dishonest public witness.
Some believe this appointment says something about where Pope Benedict is taking the church.
P: Oh, this is clearly a statement and a signal.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: Robert George is a professor at Princeton University, and a good friend of Archbishop Chaput.
P: It's pretty clear that this means that the pope wants the church to be in the middle of the cultural struggle, on the great moral issues of our day.
BRADLEY HAGERTY: And some note that Chaput will be fighting those issues in the swing state of Pennsylvania, just in time for the 2012 election.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.