Pope Francis accepted the resignation of conservative Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia Thursday and replaced him with an ideological ally.
Chaput, a persistent critic of Francis, was required to tender his resignation upon turning 75 but the pope could have allowed him to stay on in Philadelphia. The pope has given the post to Bishop Nelson Perez of Cleveland, the official Vatican News reported.
“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation” of Chaput, the Vatican said in a statement.
Francis picked Perez to lead the troubled Philadelphia archdiocese, which like other Catholic communities nationwide has been contending with a clerical sex abuse scandal and dwindling church attendance.
By doing so, Francis sidelined an archbishop who had been increasingly critical of his papacy and who endeared himself to conservative Catholics by calling for the denial of Communion to politicians who back abortion rights and by opposing the legalization of gay marriage.
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Chaput, on his official Facebook page, welcomed his successor and gave no inkling that anything was amiss.
“This is a moment of great joy for the people of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia,” he wrote. “Bishop Nelson Perez is a man who already knows and loves the Church in Philadelphia, and is already known and loved by our priests and people. I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese.”
Francis, in recent years, has appointed like-minded clerics to run the archdioceses in Chicago and Newark in an effort to move the Catholic Church in the U.S. away from the traditionalist approach and make the church more inclusive and open to divorced and gay Catholics who have been treated in the past like pariahs.
Chaput was appointed to the Philadelphia post by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict in 2011.
After Francis replaced Benedict in 2013, Chaput stated openly that there were grumblings in some corners about the new pope’s progressive approach.
“This is already true of the right wing of the church,” Chaput told the National Catholic Reporter. “They generally have not been really happy about his election, from what I’ve been able to read and to understand.”
Five years later, Chaput made headlines by calling on divorced Catholics, as well as gay Catholics, to abstain from sex even if they are married if they want to receive Communion.
“Live as brother and sister,” Chaput wrote.
Chaput’s seven-page guideline was seen by many as a rebuttal to Francis’ “Joy of Love,” which the Pope released three months earlier and which encouraged priests to show “pastoral discernment” to civilly remarried Catholics who want to receive Communion.
Like Chaput, Francis has spoken out against gay marriage, but the pope also called for an end to “unjust discrimination” against homosexuals.