Editorial: A job too big for Rigali

Car­din­al Justin Rigali prob­ably de­served bet­ter. He was just over­whelmed by a dev­il of a dif­fi­cult time, a pre­l­ate lack­ing the power to change either per­cep­tion or the course of things, and his resig­na­tion as arch­bish­op is an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse.

Thus ends eight years as the lead­er of the Arch­diocese of Phil­adelphia, a ten­ure more not­able for the bur­den of the clergy sex-ab­use scan­dal than for Rigali’s abil­ity to spir­itu­ally re­ju­ven­ate Cath­ol­ic fol­low­ers whose faith has been shaken by rev­el­a­tions of dec­ades of cler­ic sexu­al ab­use of young boys and church cov­er-ups that pro­tec­ted the pred­at­ors.

In keep­ing with pro­tocol, Rigali gave the Vat­ic­an his resig­na­tion once he turned 75 in April 2010. The spot­light this week moved to his suc­cessor, Arch­bish­op Charles J. Chaput, who comes here from Den­ver, and Rigali was con­trite about any short­com­ings in his own ser­vice to the arch­diocese.

The real­ity is that he would only con­tin­ue to be an in­ef­fect­ive fig­ure­head. Upon Rigali’s ar­rival in Oc­to­ber 2003, the clergy-ab­use scan­dal had already erup­ted in Bo­ston, with oth­ers be­ing un­earthed else­where in the na­tion, and a 2005 grand-jury in­vest­ig­a­tion in Phil­adelphia made it clear that Rigali was left with a real mess by his pre­de­cessors, es­pe­cially Car­din­al An­thony J. Bevilac­qua, who was as­sailed in the jur­ors’ re­port for con­ceal­ing the trans­gres­sions of pe­do­phile priests and put­ting chil­dren at risk.

But Rigali nev­er did emerge pub­licly as a force­ful cru­sader for change — in fact, in a second grand-jury probe re­leased six months ago, the arch­diocese was ad­mon­ished for in­sti­tut­ing a vic­tim-as­sist­ance pro­gram that was stock­pil­ing con­fid­en­tial in­form­a­tion to pre­pare for po­ten­tial lit­ig­a­tion by those vic­tims.

But law­suits have come. And Rigali’s biggest li­ab­il­ity, per­haps, is that he lacks the cred­ib­il­ity to de­fuse a scan­dal that is go­ing to play out for some time to come. ••

You can reach at fgusoff@bsmphilly.com.

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