Chaput in Philly shutters schools, pays millions in sex-abuse defense

As Denver welcomes new Catholic Archbishop Samuel Aquila, more bad fiscal news breaks from the Philadelphia archdiocese now run by former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. In a report released Tuesday, the Philadelphia archdiocese revealed it doled out $11 million over the last two years defending priests against criminal charges mostly concerning sexual abuse.

In fact, the $11 million sum is a low-ball figure, according to the Washington Post, because it doesn’t include money pouring into the ongoing trial of Secretary of the Clergy William Lynn, the official accused of covering up accusations of abuse and failing to remove suspect priests from parish ministry over the course of a decade. The archdiocese has retained four private attorneys to defend Lynn.

Less than a year ago, Pope Benedict appointed Chaput to replace embattled Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali, whose name had become synonymous with the spiraling Philadelphia sex abuse scandal. Church watchers were not surprised by the appointment. Chaput made a name for himself in the 1990s for his shrewd work in guarding Denver Church finances at a time when dioceses around the country began making multimillion-dollar payouts to victims of sexual abuse.

In 2011, it was clear that Church coffers in Philadelphia were under serious threat.

A grand jury had skewered Rigali, his bishops and staff for retaining dozens of problem priests. It charged three priests and a Catholic school teacher with rape and Lynn with endangering children by only shuffling the accused priests to different posts.

The media has covered the legal wrangling in detail, spotlighting lurid accusations and testimony that seems to confirm some of the worst suspicions and stereotypes about the contemporary Church.

Indeed, Lynn took the stand recently to defend himself and told a familiar and horrifying story of a rigid ecclesiastical hierarchy that prioritized the reputation of the Church over the welfare of the victims and potential victims of abuse. He said that, in failing to effectively address problems, he was only following orders from his direct superiors Monsignor Malloy and Cardinal Bevilacqua.

At one point in the mid 1990s, Lynn compiled a list of 35 priests credibly accused of abuse and submitted it to Bevilacqua for review and action. The cardinal signed the memo and then ordered it shredded. But a copy was reportedly secreted away by Malloy, locked in a safe and subsequently brought to light by secular investigators.

The archdiocese spent $19 million on payroll this year.

This past spring, Chaput oversaw the closing of nearly 50 Catholic schools in the Philadelphia area, laying off some 1700 teachers. Enrollment in Philadelphia Catholic schools has dropped 35 percent since 2001, down to 68,000 students. Enrollment in Catholic schools around the country has dropped by 587,000 students since 2000, according to the National Catholic Education Association.

[ Video still of Abp Charles Chaput via YouTube ]