Pope Francis Replaces Conservative Archbishop of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia during a mass in Philadelphia in 2015.

By Elizabeth Dias and

Pope Francis sought to shift the ideological balance of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States on Thursday, replacing one of his most prominent conservative critics as the archbishop of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis announced in a statement that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was retiring, and that Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, a former Philadelphian and relative newcomer to the national scene, would assume the role.

“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation” of Archbishop Chaput, the statement said, adding that the pope had named Archbishop Perez to take his place.

“I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese,” Archbishop Chaput wrote on his Facebook page Thursday morning, calling the nomination a “moment of great joy” for Philadelphia’s Catholics. He said that Archbishop Perez “is already known and loved by our priests and people.”

Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Francis’ mission to move beyond the culture wars. The move is a sign that the pope, who has installed key allies in Chicago and Newark, is still intent on changing the ideological direction of the American church by directing one of its most traditionalist dioceses toward a more pastoral approach.

Francis recently acknowledged that a good deal of the opposition to his pontificate emanated from the United States, telling a reporter who handed him a book exploring the well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine his agenda that it was “an honor that the Americans attack me.”

Archbishop Chaput’s departure was expected, as he had offered his resignation to Pope Francis when he turned 75 in September. Church law requires every bishop tender his resignation to the pope at that age, but the pontiff can choose not to accept it, often allowing prelates to remain in office for several more years.

In this case, the pope did not wait long before saying yes.

Archbishop Chaput became a favorite among Catholic conservatives for supporting the denial of communion to Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, opposing the legalization of gay marriage and, as archbishop of Denver before gay marriage was legalized nationally, helping defeat legislation that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples in the state.

Many conservatives around the church counted his removal as yet another power play by Francis, whom they have called a “dictator pope” who ignores their complaints that he is diluting the faith and breaking church traditions.

A small but vocal and influential group of American prelates has consistently raised the possibility that Francis may be leading the church toward schism. But Francis has mostly brushed those threats off as dust on the shoulders of his white robes.

“I pray that there are no schisms,” he said on a flight from Africa in September. “But I am not scared.”

At a press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday morning, Bishop Perez thanked Archbishop Chaput for his influence in his life, calling him “a great mentor, a great friend.”

“I am concerned of the shoes that I have to fill,” he said. “We thank him for his incredible ministry for the church.”

He also acknowledged the complexities of his new assignment, apologizing directly to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and he addressed Hispanic Catholics, at times in Spanish, raising concerns about anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.

“There’s a rhetoric at times that happens with our immigrants that is just not dignified, and we have to respect the dignity of the human person,” he said. “It is the role of the state and the government to protect our dignity.”

Archbishop Chaput said he would continue to live in Philadelphia and be involved in the archdiocese. He plans to take three months to read, cook, and pray, and then resume activities like giving talks and leading retreats around the country, a sign he likely will remain influential in the church as a prominent conservative thought leader.

A significant posting for the church in the United States, the archdiocese of Philadelphia is traditionally a cardinal’s seat, meaning that its leader is usually named a cardinal, the church’s highest clerical rank after pontiff. Cardinals under age 80 elect the pope, giving them critical sway in the future of the church.

Pope Francis notably never elevated Archbishop Chaput for the red hat. That denial has frustrated many conservatives, especially as Francis appointed a cardinal and ally to the archdiocese of Newark, which had never before had a cardinal, and which has outsized prominence as part of the New York media market.

In a June 2017 interview, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, then the top doctrinal watchdog in the Roman Catholic Church, said he was “disappointed” that the archbishop of Philadelphia had not been elevated to cardinal, “because the appointment of the cardinals should not be a personal relation with the pope to these bishops.” Asked why Francis had declined to make the appointment, he said “politics.”

Weeks later Francis removed Cardinal Müller from his position.

As it became clear that Francis would never make Archbishop Chaput a cardinal, many church analysts noted that the conservative became more vocal in his criticism, often using a column on the archdiocese’s website as a soapbox to express a dissonant view.

Archbishop Chaput was also a firm administrator, tapped to reform a region in financial and spiritual disarray after extensive allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the area. A county grand jury in 2005 reported that leaders of the Philadelphia archdiocese, including two cardinals, had covered up extensive sexual abuse of minors.

A second grand jury in 2011 accused the archdiocese of not stopping the abuse, and Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Chaput to lead the archdiocese about five months later.

Archbishop Chaput removed priests accused of abuse, closed 49 schools, and sold the archbishop’s mansion for $10 million as part of a plan to reduce the operating budget deficit.

Archbishop Chaput is also the first Native American archbishop and a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

Bishop Perez, a Cuban-American born in Miami and raised in New Jersey, will be the first Hispanic priest to lead the church in Philadelphia. In a statement released by the Cleveland diocese, he said he accepted the appointment with a mix of “joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood,” but also “sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply.”

The Hispanic population of the Philadelphia archdiocese has grown dramatically in recent years while the non-Hispanic population has remained relatively stagnant. The region has about 200 parishes and about 1.3 million Catholics.

Pope Francis has put himself squarely on the side of the immigrants whom many experts consider the future of the faith in the United States.

“Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses,” Francis told American bishops in a 2015 visit to Washington. Speaking “as a pastor from the South,” the church’s first South American pope gave the recommendation “close to my heart” that the bishops “not be afraid to welcome them.”

Francis also visited Philadelphia during that trip, for the World Meeting of Families, a global gathering of Catholics. He was welcomed by Archbishop Chaput, who by that time had already said that his fellow conservatives had “not been really happy” with parts of Francis’ reign.

Pope Francis named Bishop Perez the bishop of Cleveland in the fall of 2017, making his elevation relatively quick. Bishop Perez chairs a committee on cultural diversity for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. His return to Philadelphia is a homecoming of sorts, as he spent 23 years serving in different Philadelphia parishes after ordination to the priesthood.

His installation as archbishop is planned for Feb. 18.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope abolishes ‘pontifical secret’ in clergy sex abuse cases

Pope Francis celebrates a Mass for the Philippine community of Rome, in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican to Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019.

By NICOLE WINFIELD

Pope Francis has abolished the “pontifical secret” used in clergy sexual abuse cases, after mounting criticism that the high degree of confidentiality has been used to protect pedophiles, silence victims and keep law enforcement from investigating crimes.

In a new document, Francis decreed that information in abuse cases must be protected by church leaders to ensure its “security, integrity and confidentiality.” But he said “pontifical secret” no longer applies to abuse-related accusations, trials and decisions under the Catholic Church’s canon law.

The Vatican’s leading sex crimes investigator, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, called the reform an “epochal decision” that will facilitate coordination with civil law enforcement and open up lines of communication with victims.

While documentation from the church’s in-house legal proceedings will still not become public, Scicluna said, the reform now removes any excuse to not cooperate with legitimate legal requests from civil law enforcement authorities.

Prominent Irish survivor Marie Collins said the reform was “excellent news” that abuse survivors and their advocates had been pressing for. “At last a real and positive change,” she tweeted.

Francis also raised from 14 to 18 the cutoff age below which the Vatican considers pornographic images to be child pornography.

The new laws were issued Tuesday, Francis’ 83rd birthday, as he struggles to respond to the global explosion of the abuse scandal, his own missteps and demands for greater transparency and accountability from victims, law enforcement and ordinary Catholics alike.

The new norms are the latest amendment to the Catholic Church’s in-house canon law — a parallel legal code that metes out ecclesial justice for crimes against the faith — in this case relating to the sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable people by priests, bishops or cardinals. In this legal system, the worst punishment a priest can incur is being defrocked, or dismissed from the clerical state.

Pope Benedict XVI had decreed in 2001 that these cases must be dealt with under “pontifical secret,” the highest form of secrecy in the church. The Vatican had long insisted that such confidentiality was necessary to protect the privacy of the victim, the reputation of the accused and the integrity of the canonical process.

However, such secrecy also served to keep the scandal hidden, prevent law enforcement from accessing documents and silence victims, many of whom often believed that “pontifical secret” prevented them from going to the police to report their priestly abusers.

While the Vatican has long tried to insist this was not the case, it also never mandated that bishops and religious superiors report sex crimes to police, and in the past has encouraged bishops not to do so.

According to the new instruction, which was signed by the Vatican secretary of state but authorized by the pope, the Vatican still doesn’t mandate reporting the crimes to police, saying religious superiors are obliged to do so where civil reporting laws require it.

But it goes further than the Vatican has gone before, saying: “Office confidentiality shall not prevent the fulfillment of the obligations laid down in all places by civil laws, including any reporting obligations, and the execution of enforceable requests of civil judicial authorities.”

The Vatican has been under increasing pressure to cooperate more with law enforcement, and its failure to do so has resulted in unprecedented raids in recent years on diocesan chanceries by police from Belgium to Texas and Chile.

But even under the penalty of subpoenas and raids, bishops have sometimes felt compelled to withhold canonical proceedings given the “pontifical secret,” unless given permission to hand documents over by the Vatican. The new law makes that explicit permission no longer required.

“The freedom of information to statutory authorities and to victims is something that is being facilitated by this new law,” Scicluna told Vatican media.

The Vatican in May issued another law explicitly saying victims cannot be silenced and have a right to learn the outcome of canonical trials. The new document repeats that, and expands the point by saying not only the victim, but any witnesses or the person who lodged the accusation cannot be compelled to silence.

Individual scandals, national inquiries, grand jury investigations, U.N. denunciations and increasingly costly civil litigation have devastated the Catholic hierarchy’s credibility across the globe, and Francis’ own failures and missteps have emboldened his critics.

In February, he summoned the presidents of bishops conferences from around the globe to a four-day summit on preventing abuse, where several speakers called for a reform of the pontifical secret. Francis himself said he intended to raise the age for which pornography was considered child porn.

The Vatican’s editorial director, Andrea Tornielli, said the new law is a “historical” follow-up to the February summit and a sign of openness and transparency.

“The breadth of Pope Francis’ decision is evident: the well-being of children and young people must always come before any protection of a secret, even the ‘’pontifical secret,’” he said in a statement.

Also Tuesday, Francis accepted the resignation of the Vatican’s ambassador to France, Archbishop Luigi Ventura, who is accused of making unwanted sexual advances to young men.

Ventura turned 75 last week, the mandatory retirement age for bishops, but the fact that his resignation was announced on the same day as Francis’ abuse reforms didn’t seem to be a coincidence.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope compares politicians who rage against gays to Hitler

The Catholic Church leader also denounced a resurgence in anti-Semitism in Europe

By Philip Pullella

Pope Francis said on Friday politicians who rage against homosexuals, gypsies and Jews remind him of Hitler.

“It is not coincidental that at times there is a resurgence of symbols typical of Nazism,” Francis said in an address to participants of an international conference on criminal law.

“And I must confess to you that when I hear a speech (by) someone responsible for order or for a government, I think of speeches by Hitler in 1934, 1936,” he said, departing from his prepared address.

“With the persecution of Jews, gypsies, and people with homosexual tendencies, today these actions are typical (and) represent ‘par excellence’ a culture of waste and hate. That is what was done in those days and today it is happening again.”

During the 1933-45 Nazi regime in Germany, six million Jews were killed and homosexuals and gypsies were among those sent to extermination camps.

Pope Francis did not name any politicians or countries as the targets of his criticism.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro had a history of making homophobic, racist and sexist public remarks before he took office on Jan. 1. He told one interviewer he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.

In May, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the death penalty to incoming legislation prohibiting gay sex, seeking to temper a global backlash led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John.

The United Nations had warned Brunei it would be violating human rights by implementing Islamic laws that would allow death by stoning for adultery and homosexuality.

In recent weeks, Pope Francis has also denounced a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

On Wednesday, in improvised remarks at his general audience, he said: “Today the habit of persecuting Jews is beginning to be reborn. Brothers and sisters: this is neither human nor Christian; the Jews are our brothers and sisters and must not be persecuted! Understood?”

Last week, a Vatican cardinal said he was “disgusted” by anti-Semitic abuse directed at an 89-year-old Italian senator and Holocaust survivor, who was given police protection after receiving death threats.

In July, a European Union study said young Jewish Europeans experience more anti-Semitism than their parents, with a rise in abuse coming in emails, text messages and social media postings.

More than 80% of Jews of all ages said they felt anti-Semitism had increased on the Internet over the past five years and around 70% said they faced more hostility in public, the study found.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican office suspends Indy archdiocese’s Brebeuf decision

By: Bob Blake

A Vatican office has temporarily suspended the decision of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to no longer recognize Brebeuf Jesuit Prepatory School as a Catholic institution over the school’s refusal to fire a teacher in a same-sex marriage.

The decision of the archdiocese to cut ties with Brebeuf was announced in June in a decre from Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

The school reached out to the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education in Rome to consider “the issues at hand and, hopefully, rescind and permanently set aside the Archbishop’s decree.”

“We have just learned that the Congregation for Catholic Education has decided to suspend the Archbishop’s decree on an interim basis, pending its final resolution of our appeal,” school President Father Bill Verbryke wrote in a letter posted to the school’s website on Monday. “The Archbishop very kindly informed me that, as a result of this temporary suspension of his decree, Brebeuf is free to resume our normal sacramental celebrations of the Eucharist. Most happily, this means that we will be able to celebrate the Mass for the Feast Day of St. Jean de Brebeuf on October 24.”

In the letter Verbryke said the suspension of the order is temporary.

“It does not mean that the matter has been resolved, or that any permanent decision has been made,” Verbryke wrote. “It also does not mean that anyone should infer that the Congregation for Catholic Education is leaning one way or the other on any of the issues at hand. The Congregation has simply granted a temporary suspension of the Archbishop’s decree until it makes a final decision.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope says US critics use ‘rigid’ ideology’ to mask failings

Pope Francis addresses journalists during his flight from Antamanarivo to Rome, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019, after his seven-day pastoral trip to Mozambique, Madagascar, and Mauritius.

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis said Tuesday he wasn’t afraid of a U.S. Catholic Church schism led by his conservative critics, but sees a “rigid” ideology opponents use to mask their own moral failings has already infiltrated the American church.

Francis said during an airborne news conference that he prays a schism in the U.S. Catholic Church doesn’t happen. He nevertheless doubled down on confronting outspoken conservatives in the U.S. and beyond who oppose his outreach to gay and divorced people and his concern for the poor and the environment.

Francis said he welcomed “loyal” criticism that leads to introspection and dialogue. Such “constructive” criticism shows a love for the church, he said. But he ideologically driven critics don’t really want a response but merely to “throw stones and then hide their hand.”

“I’m not afraid of schisms,” Francis told reporters while the papal plane was flying back from his trip to Africa. “I pray that there aren’t any because the spiritual health of so many people is at stake.

“Let there be dialogue, correction if there is some error. But the path of the schismatic is not Christian,” he added.

Francis’ comments are likely to inflame a heated debate roiling the Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere. The pope’s mercy-over-morals emphasis irks some doctrine-minded Catholics who came of age during the conservative papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

During his flight to Africa last week, a French journalist presented Francis with a book about the pope’s conservative critics in the U.S. Francis acknowledged his right-wing opponents and said, “For me, it’s an honor if the Americans attack me.”

The book, “How America Wants to Change the Pope,” documents the growing criticism of Francis by a small wing of U.S. Catholics who question many of his positions. Some have gone so far as to accuse Francis of heresy and warned of the risk of schism, or a formal separation from the Holy See.

Francis’ allies, including German Cardinal Walter Kaper and the head of Francis’ Jesuit order, have said the conservative criticism amounts to a “plot” to force the first Jesuit pope to resign so a conservative would take his place.

Asked about the criticism and risk of schism, Francis insisted his social teachings were identical to those of St. John Paul II, the standard-bearer for many conservative Catholics.

And he noted that church history is full of schisms, most recently after the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s church meetings that modernized the church.

A group of traditionalist Catholics led by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre rejected the reforms and grew into what Francis said was the “most well-known” of recent church schisms.

“I pray there are no schisms, but I’m not afraid of them,” he said.

Francis said all schismatics share a common trait: They allow ideology to become “detached” from Catholic doctrine and distance themselves from the faith of ordinary Catholics.

“When doctrine slips into ideology, there’s the possibility of schism,” he warned.

He lamented that many bishops and priests were already engaged in a “pseudo-schism” but said ideas won’t survive.

He claimed doctrinal rigidity, or “moral asceticism,” masked their own personal problems. It was perhaps a reference to how some of the church’s most notorious sexual predators – the late Legion of Christ leader, Rev. Marciel Maciel among them – preached a highly conservative brand of sexual morals.

“You’ll see that behind rigid Christians, bishops and priests there are problems,” Francis said, adding that such rigidity showed a lack of a healthy understanding of the Gospel. “We have to be meek with these people who are tempted to attack (because) behind them there are problems and we have to accompany them with meekness.”

Opposition to Francis in the U.S. reached a fever pitch in the last year following the publication of accusations by a former Vatican ambassador to the U.S. that Francis, and before him a long list of Vatican and U.S. prelates, turned a blind eye to the sexual misconduct of ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

Francis didn’t name Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano during his news conference. But he praised critics who spoke to him directly with openness to dialogue.

“At least those who say something have the advantage of honesty in saying so. And I like that,” he said. “I don’t like criticism when it’s under the table, when they smile at you and then then they try to stab you in the back.

“That isn’t loyal. That isn’t human,” Francis said.