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

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Charles Chaput.
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.

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Susan Matthews.
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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Jeb Barrett
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Joelle Casteix

SNAP Western Regional Director

(949) 322-7434


Jeb Barrett, Denver SNAP

A Rigali in Chaput’s clothing

Wemust demand more from Archbishop Chaput – more transparency, more support forlegislative change, more accountability – than has ever been asked from anyother bishop.

byJoelle Casteix, SNAP Western Regional Director and Jeb Barrett, SNAP DenverDirector

While many Philadelphia Catholic pundits are cheering therecent appointment of Denver Archbishop Chaput to replace Cardinal Rigali,victims remain rightfully wary. We’ve seen first hand how easy it is for churchofficials replace a priest, vicar general, or bishop and then claim that alocal abuse crisis is “over.” In Philadelphia,this crisis is far from over.

Wecannot predict the future. But after a careful examination of Charles Chaput’scareer in Denver,we implore Catholics to be wary, law enforcement to remain vigilant, and lawmakers to never lose sight of the recommendations that the most recent grandjury report made earlier this year.

Duringthis tenure in Denver,Chaput was cheered by many for what a “progressive” view on dealing with abusein the church. The truth was far different.

In2008, when Coloradolegislators tried to expand archaic statutes of limitations for victims ofchild sexual abuse, including a civil window for older victims, Chaput spenthundreds of thousands of dollars and used the pulpit to kill the legislation.He called the laws “anti-Catholic,” even though an integral part of the lawcompletely removed the civil statute of limitations for all children who weresexually abused from 2008 onward. What about that is anti-Catholic?

Whilefighting the legislation, Chaput played a game well known in politics: “I’mbad, but so are they.” To do this, his lawyers did a simple search of Colorado public schoolteachers who has been arrested for sexual abuse. Then they put the names in alist, publicized it, and then claimed that Chaput had unearthed a scandal ofmolestation in the public education system. The PR stunt was a slap in the faceof clergy sex abuse survivors. Why? Because the teachers on Chaput’s list were alreadyexposed and arrested, unlike the vast majority of the predatorclerics in the Catholic church. The teachers on Chaput’s list were notcarefully hidden by their superiors, shuttled from parish to parish, covered-upby church officials, and allowed to molest more kids.

Infact, according to, theleading database of documents chronicling the sex abuse crisis in the USCatholic Church, Chaput has been less than forthcoming in naming accusedclergy. In 2004, when the first national John Jay study on abusive priests wasreleased, Chaput fudged the math. He only reported diocesan priests, and didn’tsubmit any information on religious order priests who – like himself – make upmore than half of the priests in the diocese. (Remember, Chaput is a religiousorder priest, a Capuchin). Then, he only submitted the names of priests thatthe diocese had “confirmed” had abused kids, not the number of totalaccusations. That sounds oddly similar to the problem in Philadelphia, when Cardinal Rigali said thatno molesting priests were in ministry, just months before the grand jury found37 accused priests working in parishes.

In2009, when Katia Birge, an adult victim of rape, came forward to tell dioceseofficials how she was abused by a diocese volunteer, Juan Carlos Hernandez, shewas vilified in the press. Blaming the victim is an old and tired game.Fortunately in this case, it did not work. In the process of her battle, themedia discovered that the Archdiocese of Denver did no background checks onvolunteers who take adults and children on trips. Chaput also refused toconfirm if he did background checks on domestic priests.

Childvictims of abusive priests such as Leonard Abercrombie (who molested numbers ofchildren, including three brothers) and Harold White (who abused his owngodson) have had to endure far worse. It hasn’t been a picnic in theArchdiocese of Denver.

Philadelphia is at acrossroads. The latest grand jury report was a tipping point – handing downindictments, vindicating victims, and pushing for serious legislative change.Catholics are rightfully outraged. But we urge them to not become complacent.Instead, they must demand more from Archbishop Chaput – moretransparency, more support for legislative change, more accountability – thanhas ever been asked from any other bishop.

Theonly way that children will be protected now and in the future and the only waythat victims will heal is if everyone – law enforcement, Catholics andlegislators – remain vigilant, demand change and enforce transparency. Wecannot afford a Rigali in Chaput’s clothing.

SNAP, the SurvivorsNetwork of those Abused by Priests, is the world's oldest and largest supportgroup for clergy abuse victims. We've been around for 23 years and have morethan 10,000 members. Despite the word "priest" in our title, we have memberswho were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns,rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Joelle Casteix

SNAP Western Regional Director

(949) 322-7434


Jeb Barrett, DenverSNAP




God bless you Archbishop Chaput, sorry to see you go. The world could use more of you.


May God bless and keep Chaput ... far away from me.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Thanks for sharing this information, Jeb. Much appreciated.

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