Pope Francis Says Goodbye To Charles Chaput, Former Denver Archbishop

January 25, 2020
Charles ChaputCharles ChaputMatt Rourke/AP
Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia, Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, who held the same post in Denver almost a decade ago. 

Chaput led Denver churches from 1997 to 2011. He was an outspoken bishop on matters both political and cultural and played a role in addressing some clergy sex abuse allegations both in Colorado and Philadelphia. He helped Philadelphia’s archdiocese after it dealt with its own series of allegations. But Chaput’s poor handling of allegations in Colorado also garnered criticism.

In 2007, allegations of sexual abuse involving Rev. Kent Drotar, a leader at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, came up. Drotar was sent to therapy for a few months but was reassigned to another parish with a school.

Chaput was confronted about the assignment and said he had documentation from the therapist that Drotar was fit to serve in a parish. After a victim of Drotar’s abuse, Stephen Szutenbach, confronted him, Chaput put together a conduct response team that removed Drotar from the parish within weeks.

Szutenbach said the only new information he gave Chaput during their meeting was that he threatened to go to the media if something wasn’t done.

“The reaction of Archbishop Charles to protect himself and his reputation and the seminary’s reputation is a complete act of clericalism,” Szutenbach told CPR News in 2018.

Lee Kaspari was a priest at Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in Lakewood from 1965 to 1969, when he resigned. He said he collected information about clergy sex abuse from newspapers, lawsuits and SNAP Colorado, — Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests — and frequently corresponded with Chaput because he always wrote back to him.

Kaspari said in September 2006, he wrote to Chaput and sent him documentation about sexual abuse allegations against Rev. Joseph Hart. Kaspari said Chaput attended his 50th anniversary ordination celebration.

“As far as I was concerned, he was really extremely defensive, extremely into denial,” Kaspari said. “I sent him all kinds of information. I had letters from people in SNAP, directors of National SNAP. I had lawsuit information. I had newspaper articles I sent them to him. He wrote me back, don't ask me why, he said, ‘I don't know about this. If you know anything, let me know.’”

Kaspari said he remembers Chaput was also against extending the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse.

“He was opposing and basically he had a bully pulpit so he could send out to all the churches letters or information that they would oppose extending the SOL — the statute of limitations,” Kaspari said.

In a May 2006 edition of First Things, a religious magazine, Chaput wrote:

“It makes no sense to hold innocent people accountable today for the evil actions of a small number of individuals from decades ago… The people paying for these abuse settlements are innocent Catholic families who had no part in events of the past. Revenge is not justice, no matter how piously one argues it. Punishing the innocent is wrong, yet that’s exactly what laws imposing ‘retroactive liability’ are designed to do.”

Corey Perrine/AP
Archbishop Charles Chaput, from left, Chief Communications Officer Kevin Gavin, Archbishop-elect Nelson Perez and Sister Kathleen Schipani, IHM, laugh at a humorous moment as Perez speaks during a news conference, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in Philadelphia. Perez, the bishop of Cleveland, was introduced as the new leader of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, making him the first Hispanic archbishop to lead the region's 1.3 million-member flock.

Chaput submitted his letter of resignation in September when he turned 75.

In the Catholic Church, every bishop is required to submit a letter of resignation to the pope at that age and the pope can choose to accept or deny the request. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Nelson Jesus Perez of Ohio to replace Chaput within months of his resignation.

To some, Chaput is characterized as a conservative leader in the Catholic church. He denied divorcees communion and told Philadelphia church leaders not be involved in same-sex marriages. He also criticized Democrats who support abortion.

JD Flynn, editor-in-chief of Catholic News Agency, worked for the Archdiocese of Denver under Chaput’s leadership. He said characterizing the bishop as only conservative isn’t fair.

“On some political issues, like abortion or marriage, Chaput would be characterized probably as conservative,” he said. “On some issues like immigration or the death penalty, Chaput would probably be characterized as progressive.”

Chaput advocated the abolition of the death penalty, saying “killing people in the name of justice is needless and wrong.” He also worked with then-Boulder Rep. Jared Polis on immigration reform. 

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