Monday, July 18, 2011

Render Unto Chaput -- Sources: Denver's Capuchin = Philadelphia's Revolution

He is brash, outspoken and fearless -- energetic, colorful, cultured... indeed, even hard-core....

And if multiple indications from near and far have it right, he stands set to bring the most revolutionary change American Catholicism’s most traditional major outpost has known in at least a century, to begin its rebuilding from the ashes of the darkest hour in its long, storied history.

After months of fevered, omnidirectional speculation over the succession to the 1.1 million-member archdiocese of Philadelphia, numerous reports over recent hours have narrowed their focus to the figure who’s arguably the standout voice of the nation’s Catholic right: 66 year-old Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Capuchin Franciscan and New York Times best-selling author who’s led the 550,000-member Denver church since 1997.

Five months since a second grand-jury report on the Philadelphia chancery’s handling of clergy sex-abuse cases led to the largest suspension of accused priests in the national crisis’ long history, blowing the lid on numerous concerns over the administration of the once-vaunted local church in the process, the La Stampa vaticanista Marco Tossati cited Chaput in a Friday brief as the “probable” pick to take over from Cardinal Justin Rigali, who reached the canonical retirement age of 75 in April 2010. In the time since, however, credible reports have spoken of “all systems go” for the move’s announcement, widely tipped for tomorrow, as local officials braced to receive the Kansas native as their ninth archbishop.

Given Chaput's reputation as a tough, clear, no-nonsense overseer with a knack for shaking things up, that phrasing is no accident. At the same time, though, it is worth noting that for the first time since Edmond Francis Prendergast -- the "Big Man" and native son who governed the Philly church from 1911-18 -- a Philadelphia archbishop will have served as pastor of a parish.

A member of the Potawatomi Prairie Band tribe, the archbishop’s Native American name is Pietasen (“rustling wind”) -- a moniker that led his late mother to call him “Windy.” Accordingly, for an ecclesial model that’s stood as the nation’s oldest, most enduring clone of institution-centric, clericalist Catholicism in the spirit of its roots in 18th-century Ireland, the reported move would represent nothing short of a hurricane.

The son of a small-town funeral director, the high-octane choice -- a veteran of leading two intense Apostolic Visitations -- would ostensibly come armed with a mandate to significantly revamp a two-century-old ecclesial culture that's been engulfed by the damning conclusions of the civil inquest and, just as much, by the eruptive aftermath it's birthed on fronts ranging from the courts, budgets and pews to the all-important presbyterate, whose traditional penchant for docility, widely-known across the Catholic world, has recently undergone a serious shift.....