Pope Francis, facing growing conservative opposition to his papacy from Catholics in the United States, on Thursday replaced the popular archbishop of Philadelphia, one of his most prominent critics and a prelate admired by church traditionalists.
Pope Francis announced in a statement that he had accepted the resignation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, who had reached retirement age, and that he would elevate Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, a Cuban-American born in Miami and relative newcomer to the national scene, to the role.
The move is a sign that the pope, who has installed key allies in Chicago and Newark, is still intent on changing the ideological direction of the American church by setting a new tone in one of its most traditionalist dioceses.
Though Archbishop Chaput will move to an emeritus role, he plans to maintain an active speaking presence around the country. That means he will almost certainly remain influential as a prominent conservative thought leader in the church.
“Chaput is popular,” the Rev. William Grogan, priest of the Holy Cross Parish in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, said in an interview. “He came here with a great passion for evangelism.”
Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Francis’ mission to move beyond the culture wars dominated by sexual politics.
Francis recently acknowledged that a good deal of the opposition to his pontificate emanated from the United States, telling a reporter who handed him a book exploring the well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine his agenda that it was “an honor that the Americans attack me.”
Archbishop Chaput’s departure was expected, as he had offered his resignation to Pope Francis when he turned 75 in September. Church law requires every bishop to tender his resignation at that age, but the pope can choose not to accept it, often allowing prelates to remain in office for several more years.
In this case, the pope did not wait long before saying yes.
“I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese,” Archbishop Chaput wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday morning, calling the nomination a “moment of great joy” for Philadelphia’s Catholics. He said Archbishop Perez “is already known and loved by our priests and people.”