We must demand more from Archbishop Chaput – more transparency, more support for legislative change, and more accountability.
While many Philadelphia Catholic pundits are cheering the recent appointment of Denver Archbishop Chaput to replace Cardinal Rigali, victims remain rightfully wary. We’ve seen first hand how easy it is for church officials replace a priest, vicar general, or bishop and then claim that a local abuse crisis is “over.”
But as we all know, Philadelphia’s crisis is far from over.
No one can predict the future. But after a careful examination of Archbishop Charles Chaput’s career in Denver, we implore Catholics to be wary, law enforcement to remain vigilant, and law makers to never lose sight of the recommendations that the most recent grand jury report made earlier this year – especially since Chaput has acknowledged he hasn’t read the 2005 report, and refuses to comment on whether he has even glanced at the 2011 document (more on that below).
During this tenure in Denver, Chaput was cheered by many for what a “progressive” view on dealing with abuse in the church. The truth was far different. Far, far different.
In 2006, when Colorado legislators tried to expand archaic statutes of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse, including a civil window for older victims, Chaput spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and used the pulpit to kill the legislation. In 2008 when another bill was proposed in the legislature, his (paid) spokespeople called the laws “inherently unfair,” even though an integral part of the law completely removed the civil statute of limitations for all children who were sexually abused from 2008 onward. What about that is unfair?
While fighting the legislation, Chaput played a game well known in politics: “I’m bad, but so are they.” To do this, his lawyers did a simple search of Colorado public school teachers who has been arrested for sexual abuse. Then they put the names in a list, publicized it, and then claimed that Chaput had unearthed a scandal of molestation in the public education system. The PR stunt was a slap in the face of clergy sex abuse survivors. Why? Because the teachers on Chaput’s list were already exposed and arrested, unlike the vast majority of the predator clerics in the Catholic church. The teachers on Chaput’s list were not carefully hidden by their superiors, shuttled from parish to parish, covered-up by church officials, and allowed to molest more kids.
In fact, according to Bishop-Accountability.org, the leading database of documents chronicling the sex abuse crisis in the US Catholic Church, Chaput has been less than forthcoming in naming accused clergy. In 2004, when the first national John Jay study on abusive priests was released, Chaput fudged the math. He only reported diocesan priests, and didn’t submit any information on religious order priests who – like himself – make up more than half of the priests in the diocese. (Remember, Chaput is a religious order priest, a Capuchin OFM). Then, he only submitted the names of priests that the diocese had “confirmed” had abused kids, not the number of total accusations. That sounds oddly similar to the problem in Philadelphia, when Cardinal Rigali said that no molesting priests were in ministry, just months before the grand jury found 37 accused priests working in parishes.
In 2009, when Katia Birge, an adult victim of rape, came forward to tell diocese officials how she was abused by a diocese volunteer, Juan Carlos Hernandez, she was 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, the media discovered that the Archdiocese of Denver did no background checks on volunteers who take adults and children on trips. Chaput also refused to confirm if he did background checks on domestic priests.
Child victims of abusive priests such as Leonard Abercrombie (who molested numbers of children, including three brothers) and Harold White (who abused his own godson) have had to endure far worse. It hasn’t been a picnic in the Archdiocese of Denver.
Finally, and probably most disturbing, Chaput has admitted that he has not read the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report. There has been no confirmation as to whether he has read the 2011 report. How can anyone lead an Archdiocese if crisis if they refuse to acknowledge and study the key documents that exposed at least 37 perpetrators in ministry?
Philadelphia is at a crossroads. The latest grand jury report was a tipping point – handing down indictments, 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 – more transparency, more support for legislative change, more accountability – than has ever been asked from any other Philly cleric.
The only way that children will be protected now and in the future and the only way that victims will heal is if everyone – law enforcement, Catholics and legislators – remain vigilant, demand change and enforce transparency. We – victims, children and the larger community – cannot afford a Rigali in Chaput’s clothing.