Archbishop Chaput sees deep roots in sexual abuse crisis

INDIANAPOLIS - Noting that the church in Philadelphia is "now my family, an intimate part of my life" a year after being appointed to lead the church there, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said that the clergy sexual abuse scandal "has caused terrible suffering for victims, demoralized many of our clergy, crippled the witness of the church and humiliated the whole Catholic community" in that region.

He made this assessment June 20, hours after a Philadelphia jury told Judge Teresa Sarmina that they could not agree on four of five charges in a clergy sexual abuse trial. Judge Sarmina instructed the jury, which has been in deliberations for 12 days, to continue to seek a verdict in the case against Father James J. Brennan and Msgr. William Lynn.

Archbishop Chaput made his remarks during a keynote address in the 2012 Catholic Media Conference, sponsored jointly by the Catholic Press Association and the Catholic Academy for Communications Arts Professionals.

The day after his talk in Indianapolis, the archbishop announced a reorganization of the archdiocesan administration that will result in the loss of 40 jobs and the closing of The Catholic Standard & Times, the 117-year-old archdiocesan newspaper. He said the archdiocese faced a shortfall of $17 million between expected revenue and expenses, not including more than $11 million in legal fees over the past year.

"As a bishop, the only honest way I can talk about the abuse tragedy is to start by apologizing for the failure of the church and her leaders - apologizing to victims, and apologizing to the Catholic community," Archbishop Chaput added. "And I do that again here, today."

At the same time, Archbishop Chaput praised Cardinal Justin Rigali, retired archbishop of Philadelphia, for his efforts in 2011 "to reach out to victims and prevent abuse in the future (which) is strong by any professional standard."

"And from what I've experienced over the past 10 months," Archbishop Chaput continued, "the church in Philadelphia today has a much deeper understanding of the gravity of sexual abuse and a sincere zeal for rooting it out of the life of the church and helping anyone hurt in the past."

He went to argue that the clergy sexual abuse crisis "masks other problems that also run very deep" in a "troubled Catholic culture."

The problems, which Archbishop Chaput said "began building decades ago" when "the church in the United States became powerful and secure. And Catholics became less and less invested in the church that their own parents and grandparents helped to build."

The blame for this problem, he said, can be assigned both to church leaders "for a spirit of complacency and inertia, clericalism, even arrogance" and to lay Catholics who "have been greedy to lose themselves in America's culture of consumerism and success."

"The result," Archbishop Chaput said, "is that Philadelphia, like so much of the church in the rest of our country, is now really mission territory again - for the second time."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970