by Perry Bulwer
Pope Benedict XVI formally accepted the resignation of Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali today. When I read the headline I assumed Rigali resigned because of his role in endangering children by protecting dozens of priests credibly accused of child sex crimes, as alleged by two separate grand juries. The archdiocese is facing criminal charges for transferring known pedophile priests without warning their new parishes, which is a common practice in the Catholic church. Even the archdiocese's own lay review panel on clergy abuse accused the archbishop of failing to be open and transparent with regard to clergy crimes against children. Cardinal Rigali, like so many other cardinals and bishops, put the protection of the church before the protection of children, and thereby lost all credibility as a moral authority. So has the Pope.
Instead of demanding Rigali's resignation when it became clear that he had mishandled clergy crimes, endangering children and bringing the Philadelphia archdiocese and the entire church into disrepute in the process, the Pope not only kept him in his position, but ignored for more than a year church law that required Rigali to resign when he reached the age of 75. Rigali turned 75 in April 2010, 15 months before the Benedict accepted his resignation. The Pope, who has almost instantly excommunicated some priests for disobeying church law, simply ignored those same internal laws by allowing Rigali to remain in office long past his due date.
Apparently, the Pope thinks priests who attempt to marry or ordain women deserve no place in the church, while priests who cover-up sex crimes against children and enable other priests to continue sexually assaulting children get special treatment. The Bible prescribes in Matthew 18:6 the special treatment such offenders ought to be subjected to. Something about being tossed into the sea with a rock tied around their neck. But the Pope ignored that imperative too. I suppose the three decades Rigali spent as a Vatican diplomat and administrator payed off and made him many powerful friends, as Benedict chose to reward rather than punish him for his criminal activity.
The Pope had a chance to show some real moral courage and leadership by cleaning house in Philadelphia and appointing a replacement that would put the protection of children before the church. Instead, the Pope's pick to replace Rigali, Denver archbishop Charles Chaput, is just more of the same. The Denver archdiocese had its own child sex crimes scandal to deal with, which should have put Chaput out of the running for the Philadelphia position. After the Denver diocese settled with 43 clergy crimes survivors Chaput stated that “he could not judge actions of the bishops who handled White's case, since they have all died.” But the cover-ups by those bishops was clearly evident, otherwise the diocese would never have settled the lawsuits, so why couldn't Chaput judge those dead bishops' actions? Would he have judged their actions if they were still living? I think not, since it is extremely rare for bishops and cardinals to criticize each other.
Will Chaput's attitude better serve to protect the children in his new archdiocese or the bishops and priests under his command? Perhaps it remains to be seen, but we already know that archbishop Charles Chaput is one of the most conservative bishops in the U.S., which is probably why the Pope picked him, has a history of politicizing issues, and discriminates against children because of their parents' background. None of that is good news for the children of Philadelphia who have the misfortune of being raised Catholic.