New Philadelphia archbishop a church problem solver

CHICAGO Tue Jul 19, 2011 4:19pm EDT

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Vatican's choice of a strict conservative to lead the scandal-tainted Philadelphia archdiocese reflects the church's overall approach to the sex abuse crisis, church critics and analysts said.

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who was named on Tuesday to succeed the retiring Archbishop Justin Rigali, has a reputation for cleaning up church scandals and for his conservative attitude on sexual issues, they said.

Chaput became known in his previous post for tamping down the abuse crisis there by getting victims to resolve their cases in a church-operated mediation program without exposing the church hierarchy.

"They paid victims money so Chaput could look as though he were bringing reforms. We don't believe the truths have been exposed there," said Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, adding that victims were "bullied" into the mediation program.

Blaine said Chaput lobbied to undermine a proposed Colorado law that would have extended the statute of limitations on abuse crimes, using the pulpit to label the law anti-Catholic. The bill died.

The 66-year-old prelate received publicity over his comments that former presidential candidate John Kerry be refused communion because of his support for abortion rights. Chaput also was outspoken about what he called President Barack Obama's intrusion into social issues.

The church has called upon Chaput to resolve scandals, such as dealing with the founder of a Catholic religious order who had fathered children and a former Australian bishop who advocated ordaining women, said Melissa Wilde, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who has written extensively about the church.

"His perspective is to make it the least costly and least embarrassing to the church as possible," Wilde said. "It makes perfect sense why they brought him in" to Philadelphia.

Two separate grand juries have excoriated the Philadelphia diocese for harboring priests who abused children. The former head of the diocese's office for clergy was charged with child endangerment in February in the first case of a senior U.S. church official being indicted.

Chaput's appointment fits with the conservative philosophy of the last two popes, and points to the church's current direction, Boston University political scientist Alan Wolfe said.

"Should the church be a kind of big tent, and be willing to overlook some of the things that the church considers sinful? Or should the church be smaller and more coherent and hold its teachings much more firmly? He's clearly in the latter," Wolfe said of Chaput.

"A large number of American Catholics are not as strict on issues of doctrine, especially those regarding sexual matters, as the conservative wing of the church leadership," Wolfe said.

(Editing by Peter Bohan)

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