Philadelphia's Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Justin Rigali, is expected to retire today roughly five months after the 1.5 million-member archdiocese "was convulsed by evidence that officials had ignored sexual-abuse charges against dozens of currently active priests."
In April, Cardinal Rigali turned 75, which is the customary retirement age for bishops, although some have continued to serve for years beyond.
"Because he's over 75, you can't make the case that he resigning because of the scandals," said Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow of the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University and a Jesuit priest. "Certainly, the Vatican never wants to give the appearance of having someone resign under pressure."
But Cardinal Rigali's tenure in Philadelphia will inevitably be linked to the mishandling of sexual-abuse cases, which had gone on for decades but erupted this year into what Father Reese called "a disaster for the church."
Rigali initially responded to the February grand jury report by saying that there were not any priests in active ministry "who have an admitted or established allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against them." But later on in March, the archdiocese "suspended 21 priests in what experts said was the most sweeping action of its kind for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States."
After the suspensions, Cardinal Rigali apologized for the abuses, saying in a statement: "I am truly sorry for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse, as well as to the members of our community who suffer as a result of this great evil and crime."
Should he retire today, Cardinal Rigali, 75, would be replaced by "a Native American who is known for his aggressive public opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage", Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, 66.