Surprise! Cardinal Rigali Retires at 76

The media sharks are in a feeding frenzy over the announced retirement of Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia.  Naturally they want to tie His Eminence’s stepping down to the ongoing abuse scandal in the Pennsylvania archdiocese.  With the disclaimer that I’m not really up on the situation in the City of Brotherly Love I’ll tell you what I do know.

Every member of the clergy, even deacons, is required to submit his resignation when he reaches the age of 75.  Cardinal Rigali did so last year.  He submitted his letter to the Holy Father.  Priests and deacons send their letters to the local ordinary (bishop).  Historically, approval of these resignations can take a long time, sometime years, depending on the health of the retiree and on how important his work is to the Church.

Cardinal Rigali has enjoyed a long and successful career.  He served directly under Pope John Paul II at the Vatican before being chosen to be archbishop of Saint Louis.  Among his accomplishments in Saint Louis included getting the Holy Father to visit here in 1999.  I can’t imagine anyone in the Church working harder, or for longer hours, than Cardinal Rigali.  Eight years ago he was elevated to the College of Cardinals and put in charge of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The abuse problems in that archdiocese were well known and obviously the Vatican hoped the new Cardinal would be able to calm things down.  He wasn’t.

I know Cardinal Rigali.  He ordained me and I have a special regard for him as a shepherd and as a person.  I’m afraid that the Philly situation was just too much for him.  Seeing him on television today I thought he looked very tired.  It’s time for him to get out of the public eye and get some much-deserved rest.  If there’s a need to select a new Pope in the next four years, Cardinal Rigali will get to vote.

We’re supposed to be a church of forgiveness, something that many of our brothers and sisters have a hard time remembering.  There has been much sin committed in the past by people in positions of trust in our Church.  I believe that our US Bishops have done a good job of removing abusive clergy.  Clearly there are exceptions, just as there are in everything.

Maybe it’s time to stop playing the blame game and to give credit where credit is due.

Have a blessed and peaceful retirement, Cardinal Rigali.

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