Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Suffering Is the Thread" -- For Philadelphia and Beyond, Chaput's Keys to Life

Prominent as he's become over recent years, Philadelphia's ninth archbishop didn't exactly make his name on rebuilding broken dioceses.

Thanks to a strength of character and conviction shown on the wider scene, however, that's just the mandate Charles Chaput has been given to face in his charge of four months, where early January's recommendations by a Blue Ribbon panel for the closing and consolidation of 49 Catholic schools -- a third of them now under appeal -- are merely the first of several hurdles awaiting on the home-front over the coming year and beyond.

As previously noted, the pile of towering challenges -- among them the "hostile" fallout of the schools plan and a looming shake-up of parishes, the ongoing limbo of 21 suspended priests whose fates will soon be decided, a dire financial picture only beginning to come to light, at least seven abuse-related civil suits, and the March criminal trial of four current and former clerics charged with abuse and cover-up in the wake of a second grand jury, all of it underscoring the need for a wholesale renewal of an ecclesial culture -- is considered in church circles to be the most difficult plate an American bishop has been handed in the last half-century, and quite possibly even longer.

To address it all, in his longest taped sit-down to date with local media, six months since his appointment -- and with the Cardinal's Residence already on the market -- Chaput laid out the scene early this morning on the River City's CBS affiliate:

Money quote, Phils fans: "We have to get over thinking it's always going to be the way it was."

And in this most change-resistant of places, on a Sunday whose readings spoke of "the world in its present form passing away," but heralding a new one in which "the time of fulfillment" has come and "the kingdom of God is at hand," you couldn't ask for a keener echo to today... and, indeed, the difficult, yet very promising, road ahead.

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True story: once upon a time, not all that long ago, a certain native Philadelphian stepped up at a hometown dinner to sing a very pointed show-tune: "This Nearly Was Mine," from South Pacific.

Accordingly, much as the voice behind the song had already gone on to become archbishop of New York -- and, arguably, the last American Catholic leader to enjoy the almost-unchallenged secular clout of what's now a bygone age -- those who knew John Cardinal O'Connor (left) were almost beyond aware that he never lost the ways of a Southwest Philly goldleafer's son. Along the way, JPII's man in the "Capital of the World" just so happened to become the most powerful and iconic champion of the pro-life cause on these shores, a golden legacy whose fruits live on in abundance almost 12 years after his death.

Given that history, it was especially fitting that, earlier today -- on his first January 22nd wedded to the fallen "paradise" for which O'Connor never stopped longing -- the Last Lion's longtime protege would give the keynote speech at a Georgetown University conference for the movement's next generation which bears the cardinal's name. (As a Navy chaplain just returned from Vietnam, O'Connor earned his PhD in political science from the nation's oldest Catholic college in 1970.)

Its key thread dedicated to the right to life of special needs kids -- a frighteningly high number of whom are aborted given today's pre-natal testing -- here, the fulltext of Chaput's talk in Hoyaville:

PHOTOS: Reuters(1)