Rigali appointment surprises some in St. Louis

Monday, September 29, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- News that Pope John Paul II named Archbishop Justin Rigali a cardinal on Sunday took some St. Louis Catholics by surprise.

Others said it was inevitable for a man who had spent a career in Rome, and who, as a conservative, "is very much in the mentality of the current pontificate," said Kenneth Parker, associate professor of historical theology at St. Louis University.

Yet another Vatican watcher in St. Louis called Rigali's elevation a political move calculated to stack electors of the next pope with individuals of a certain theological bent. The College of Cardinals elects the pope.

Rigali is the only American on the list of 31 new cardinals named Sunday.

"We are seeing the Vatican bureaucracy at work," said Ronald Modras, professor of theological studies at St. Louis University. "The Curia is planning for the next election" of the pope.

Modras said he believes Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re nominated Rigali as an elector to advance Re's own papal ambitions. He said Rigali and Re, head of the Congregation of Bishops, are friends and often vacation together.

Rigali, 68, came to St. Louis in 1994 to gain pastoral experience after three decades of working in the Vatican. In July, he was named archbishop of Philadelphia.

He will be formally installed in its cathedral there Oct. 7. His farewell Mass in St. Louis is Oct. 5. Since July, Rigali has served only as administrator of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

From last spring, when it was rumored that Rigali would go to Philadelphia, there was no question he eventually would become a cardinal. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is three times the size of the archdiocese here.

Bishop Raymond Boland of Kansas City, who presided over the service in Kansas City, described Rigali as a talented and devoted churchman. However, he said he had not expected Rigali to be named a cardinal until after he arrived in Philadelphia.

"I'm quite sure the Holy Father will use his expertise a great deal," Boland said. "I think he'll be spending quite some time in Rome besides having the responsibility of one of the largest archdiocese in the country in Philadelphia."

As word of Rigali's promotion spread Sunday, St. Louis Catholics heading to Mass were mostly enthusiastic.

"I think it's wonderful," said Sister Mary Ann Nestel, as she headed into St. Louis Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End. "It's our loss, Philadelphia's gain. He's wanted it. He served the church well."

Steve Ohmer, 49, parishioner at St. Pius V church in south St. Louis, was somewhat surprised. "He did fine here, but he was not very dynamic," he said.

Parker, who also is active with Voice of the Faithful-St. Louis, which supports clergy abuse survivors, priests of integrity and advocates for structural change in the church, said by naming Rigali cardinal, John Paul II was setting the stage for the next pope.

"Rigali is very much a part of John Paul II's vision of church, a conservative man, who is very reluctant to say anything that isn't vetted and endorsed by the pope."

Parker said Rigali has long expected to be named cardinal. "He's finally achieved what he'd hope to," he said. "I wish him well."

Parker said he was surprised and disappointed that Boston's new archbishop, Sean O'Malley, was not on the list although his name had been circulating in the Italian media as a possible candidate. O'Malley replaced Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as Boston archbishop amid public outcry over the priest sex abuse scandal.

"I see O'Malley as someone who's managed to touch the hearts of his constituency in a very short time," Parker said.

"It's a curious thing that someone who's allayed feelings of anger and pain is not being seen as a person appropriate to help the election of a new pope."

Modras, the theology professor, said it is extremely unusual to elevate to cardinal an archbishop who is in between assignments as Rigali is.

"This is very quick," he said. "There's a sense of breathlessness in the appointment. They're looking forward to the next election."

Rigali held two strategic and vital positions at the Vatican. He was president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, 1985-89, the school for Vatican diplomats.

He was secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, which made him the No. 2 man in the office that recommends bishops to the pope for appointment worldwide. Both jobs are extremely important that would be held only by a highly trusted insider.

Members of SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Rigali has let known abusers remain in active ministry and allowed his lawyers to attack the credibility and motives of abuse survivors in open court.

They said he has never met with survivors, and hired a public relations firm to do damage control on the abuse crisis.

"It's a problem in terms of both reality and perception," David Clohessy, of St. Louis, national director of SNAP.

"As a cardinal he will have greater clout and be among those who will select the next pope. But the other problem is in terms of perception, to see someone with Rigali's track record rise even higher in the hierarchy feels like rubbing salt into the wounds of people who are already deeply wounded," Clohessy said.

"It would be less upsetting if we had at least seen growth on Rigali's part over the years, but he has been pretty consistently hostile to victims and that has not changed over time."

Rigali said Sunday that his critics were entitled to their comments.

"It's a free country," Rigali said. "They're free to have their opinions, and I'm free to have mine. And they don't have to coincide. ...The important thing is that people of good will are intent on making sure children are protected, and that the evil of the sexual abuse of children is eradicated and extricated, rooted out -- whoever does it, whether it be an individual priest or whether it be parents and families."

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