PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Charles Chaput was installed as Philadelphia’s archbishop on Thursday in a rich ceremony he compared to a wedding, but cautioned there were no quick fixes to the diocese’s still unfolding sex-abuse scandal.
The archdiocese, the country’s sixth-largest with 1.5 million Catholics, has been accused of concealing the sexual abuse of children by priests long after similar high-profile scandals emerged in Europe and the United States.
In his address to the packed Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, which holds 2,000, Chaput referred several times to the “turmoil” within the archdiocese. He spoke again and again of his metaphorical marriage to the parishioners.
“My appointment to the Philadelphia archdiocese is an arranged marriage,” said Chaput, drawing laughs.
Chaput, 66, becomes Philadelphia’s ninth archbishop after serving in Denver where he earned a reputation for dealing swiftly with accused priests. Last year he was criticized by parishioners for being too hasty in removing an accused priest.
The Kansas native is also known for his conservative views on hot-button issues such as abortion.
He urged those gathered for the ceremony not to be defined by critics.
“What we do in the coming months and years to respond to these challenges, that will define who we really are,” said Chaput. “In engaging that work we need to be Catholics first and always.”
A Philadelphia grand jury in February indicted three priests, a church teacher and Monsignor William Lynn, the first such indictment of a senior church official.
Chaput replaced Joseph Rigali, who retired in July. Following the grand jury report, Rigali suspended dozens of priests who are now being investigated for various misdeeds including the abuse of minors.
Some worry Chaput was brought to Philadelphia to repair the diocese’s image rather than root out problems.
“My concern is that basically he’s been more concerned in previous posts with public relations than with actually helping victims,” said Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Cardozo Law School who is helping with the civil abuse cases brought against Philadelphia priests.
She said Chaput actively involved himself in politics in Colorado to head off an effort to lift the statute of limitations to allow victims to bring decades-old abuse cases against priests.
In addition to the sex scandal, Chaput arrives as the teachers at the archdiocese high schools are on strike.
After being installed, Chaput exchanged hugs and accepted greetings from scores of church officials, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter as well as lay people, many wearing traditional ethnic dress.
Chaput traces his lineage to the Potawatomi tribe, and became the first native American archbishop.
Reporting by Tom Hals; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune