If Rigali leaves, who will lead Philadelphia Catholics?

As soon as Tuesday, there could be a new leader for Philadelphia Catholics. While the Archdiocese is not commenting, multiple outlets report Cardinal Justin Rigali will step down. Depending on who replaces Rigali, it could say a lot about how the Philadelphia Church will handle allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Over a year ago when Cardinal Justin Rigali turned 75, he turned in his resignation as is required by the Catholic Church. Now it appears that Pope Benedict is going to accept the resignation and replace Rigali as the head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter broke the story citing sources within the Church. He said there are four contenders to replace Rigali: Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Archbishop Charles Chaput (pronounced sha-pew) of Denver and Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

“Philadelphia is such an important appointment, you can guarantee the Pope is going to know all the names on the list,” said Winters. “So even though they come to him in order of recommendation, he could pick the third person on the list, he could even say I’m not not crazy about this list and pick someone else, this is not Peoria, this is Philadelphia.”

The Archdiocese is an important appointment for two reasons: First, by tradition the new Archbishop likely will be promoted to Cardinal. It’s the Cardinals who pick the next pope. Second, Philadelphia is in the midst of a sexual abuse scandal. A January grand jury report found the Archdiocese failed in the past to investigate claims of abuse.   Five men, including a former high-ranking priest in the diocese, are being prosecuted for abusing children or failing to stop abuse by others.

Patrick Wall is an expert on the abuse crisis, a former Priest and Benedictine Monk who is also a Canon Lawyer. He said the four candidates being discussed publicly won’t run things much differently than Rigali.

“They probably are going to see closures of schools of parishes in order to take care of the decline in the number of priests and the new Archbishop is probably also going to have to come forward with a whole other list of priests that he is probably going to have to take out of ministry once he goes through the files he’s going to inherit,” said Wall.

The list of potential leaders does not please SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. SNAP president Barbara Blaine said all of the candidates carry baggage for how they dealt with allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

“I think if anything the parishioners of the Archdiocese should be skeptical of any of these coming in,” said Blaine.

The Archdiocese has been mum on when or even if the announcement of a change at the top is imminent.

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