“The Pope has chosen Philadelphia, scandal notwithstanding”
An interview with Archbishop Charles Chaput
Philadelphia will be the location of the eighth World Meeting of Families. The announcement, made by Benedict XVI during Sunday’s Angelus, caught many by surprise. The American Catholic Church is in fact, still dealing with the delicate situation regarding pedophile priests, and Philadelphia has been, during the past few years, one of the epicenters of the scandal.
The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput does not deny the existence of the problem, but declares he is “very happy” regarding the choice. Born in Kansas in 1944, and ordained to the priesthood in 1970, Chaput belongs to the order of the Cappucine Friars, and is the first Native American Archbishop. He has been at the helm of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia since July 2011, and so far the journey has not been easy.
Your Excellence, how did you feel on hearing that Philadelphia had been assigned the job of hosting the next edition of the World Meeting of Families?
Three months ago I received a letter from the Pontifical Council for Families asking if Philadelphia would be interested in hosting the next World Meeting of Families. These are difficult times for our Diocese; I was worried. So in my answer I said we would be happy to take on the job, but I underscored our financial and logistical problems. Six weeks ago Rome wrote us again, saying that our financial and management difficulties were understandable, but that notwithstanding everything the Pope had personally decided on Philadelphia.
You mentioned the problems the Diocese is dealing with: the economic problems, although serious, are certainly not the most pressing…
You are right. One of the most burning issues is of course the Pedophilia problem: there have been cases of pedophile priests. Among these cases is a priest who is now on trial, accused of not being prudent enough in assigning posts to priests. On account of this, the Diocese has been closing many schools and reorganising parishes and this has set a problem.
Could you give us a concise identikit of your Diocese?
Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities and dioceses in the United States; its people are very proud of its history. Still today it is an important city: it is the sixth largest city in the U.S.. Of the general population of four million, one and a half million are Catholics. There are 267 parishes where 600 diocesan priests work, aided by numerous clerics and many nuns. There are around one hundred Catholic schools the dioceses; they are in difficulty now, but have a strong tradition behind them.
Some would say that you belong to the so-called “creative conservatives”; you fight for the right to life, and at the same time for social justice. This disorientates those who would link the pro-life movement to the “right” and the fight for the poor to the “left”. But the Gospel is one…
The perception of this question is confused in the States as well. Even Catholics are often divided. If you defend the right-to-life you are automatically conservative; if you fight for the less fortunate you are “progressive”. Unfortunately, I have seen that those who defend life are often not interested in social justice, and vice-versa. This is crazy, since the church’s social doctrine includes both aspects. They are the two sides of the same coin, of human dignity.
Your Excellency, can you give us any other details regarding the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia?
No, it is too soon; let’s talk in the fall. We still don’t have a date, or the theme of the meeting, much less a team. One thing is sure: we must start soon as it is a huge project.
What were your impressions here in Milan?
I was struck, in particular, by the young volunteers. The young are the most important part of the family; we mustn’t lose sight of this aspect. That will be our challenge in Philadelphia.