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Philly archbishop served in Lawrenceville

| Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI's pick Tuesday to lead the troubled Roman Catholic church in Philadelphia prepared for the priesthood in the Pittsburgh area and served several assignments here in the years following his 1970 ordination.

Archbishop Charles Chaput, 66, of Denver will take over an archdiocese of nearly 1.5 million Catholics that has been rocked by two grand jury reports that accuse church leaders of hiding sex-abuse complaints for decades.

Chaput has vowed to work to heal the wounds of sex-abuse victims, clergy and lay members alike.

"I do not know why the Holy Father sent me here," Chaput said. "(But) no person will work harder to try to help persons who have been hurt by the sins of the past."

A native of Concordia, Kan., Chaput earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy in 1967 from St. Fidelis College Seminary in Summit, Butler County.

A member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, Chaput was a theology instructor and spiritual director at St. Fidelis from 1971 to 1974.

Between 1974 and 1977, he was the executive secretary and director of communications for the Capuchin Province of St. Augustine in Lawrenceville.

Chaput replaces Archbishop Justin Rigali, 76, who will retire to Tennessee after eight turbulent years leading the archdiocese. The grand jury excoriated Rigali and his predecessor, Anthony Bevilacqua, finding they protected church interests over those of victims.

Bevilacqua was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1983 to 1987.

Chaput, who became archbishop of Denver, Colo., in 1997, has been criticized for fighting to block efforts to extend the time that child sex-abuse victims have to file a lawsuit.

Chaput said he did so only so that the church would be treated no differently under the law than anyone else.

Between 2005 and 2008, the archdiocese of Denver settled 43 sex abuse allegations against priests for a total of $8.2 million. Chaput has publicly apologized to all the victims, saying the church was "mortified and embarrassed."

Church observers say the new Philadelphia archbishop has plenty of work ahead.

"He has a lot of healing to do, and I hope that would be his focus. And for a long time, that should be his primary, if not sole focus," said Nicholas Cafardi, a Duquesne University law professor who once served as counsel to the Pittsburgh archdiocese.

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