e-mail us


Rapid City's Chaput goes to Denver see

NCR Staff

The appointment of Bishop Charles J. Chaput of Rapid City, S.D., to lead the Denver archdiocese is regarded as a sure sign that Denver Catholics eager for more progressive leadership are unlikely to get it -- at least not anytime soon.

Chaput, assuming leadership next month of a deeply divided archdiocese, is well-schooled in the style of his predecessor, Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, and is widely regarded to have been handpicked by Stafford to succeed him.

The theologically conservative, socially liberal Stafford was rewarded last summer for his loyalty to the pope with an appointment to a Vatican post. He was installed in November as president of the Pontifical Council on the Laity in Rome.

Catholics familiar with the national episcopal scene say Stafford and Chaput (pronounced shap-you) have collaborated at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, often jointly serving as watchdogs over the work of various conference committees.

"They think alike and they have worked together," said an expert in episcopal matters who requested anonymity.

Chaput's supporters regard him as a staunch champion of orthodoxy; his critics as a relentless nitpicker who often bogs down conference discussions in minutiae. Chaput was among a handful of bishops responsible for a litany of interventions in recent years as bishops struggled with proposed translations of prayers for a revised Sacramentary, the book used by priests celebrating Mass.

Nevertheless, he has an ingratiating manner and charmed listeners at a news conference in Denver on Feb. 18, telling them that he does his own laundry, washes his own windows, likes to cook, feed birds, attend plays and symphonies and read Tony Hillerman mysteries. He also said he is happy to be addressed as "Bishop Charles."

According to The Denver Post, Chaput seemed surprised when some came forward to kiss his ring and he seemed overwhelmed by his enthusiastic reception. He was cheered as he assured his welcomers that he would support the church's ban on women priests and follow Stafford in prohibiting the We Are Church Coalition, a national organization seeking church reforms, from circulating petitions on church property.

Chaput said he would follow Stafford's advice on setting priorities for the diocese and would continue Stafford's projects, including a $64 million capital fund drive for building schools.

During Stafford's 10-year reign in Denver, he created a backlash among liberals, including priests, laypeople, academics and nuns, who founded an alternative organization and newspaper.

Chaput said Catholics who dissent from church teaching would find him to be "approachable," if unrelenting.

"I can't give away what can't be given away," he said. "Some of the changes they want concern faith and morals. Churches shouldn't be used by those who agitate against it."

Chaput said he had tried to live his life simply and had "no elaborate words or big plans" to share. "I have no plans at all," he said, "other than to tell you about the love Jesus Christ has for each of you and to ask for your love and support in return."

He added, "A bishop should love his people with every ounce of his energy and life, just as Christ loved the church." Holding up his right hand to display the episcopal ring, he said, "This gold ring symbolizes my marriage to the church. I will do all I can to show love, forgiveness and joy."

He said he had no aspirations to follow Stafford to Rome. To desire such a promotion "would be like a husband looking at another woman," he said. "I am married to the local church. One life is enough."

Chaput will be installed in Denver on April 7. The appointment makes him, at 52, the nation's youngest archbishop and the first Native American to head an archdiocese. He is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe.

As a Capuchin priest and former president of the North American Capuchin Conference, Chaput also joins a growing number of U.S. bishops who are members of religious orders.

He was born in Concordia, Kan., and was the second Native American to be named a U.S. bishop, after Bishop Donald E. Pellotte of Gallup, N.M.

Chaput has been a member of U.S. bishops' committees on liturgy, priestly life and ministry, the diaconate and the ad hoc committee on World Youth Day, held in Denver in 1993.

In praise of Chaput's appointment, Stafford said, "I trust his judgment, value his counsel and know him as a son of St. Francis of Assisi. Like St. Francis, he has courage and clarity of purpose. He has a deep affection for people and loves our mountains and plains."

National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 1997