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. ••