Christine M. Flowers: Charles in charge

ONE of my favorite songs is Sam Cooke's mournful "A Change Is Gonna Come." The last lines are like an old spiritual:

There's been times that I thought

Archbishop Chaput

I wouldn't last for long

But now I think I'm able to carry on

It's been a long, long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

Oh, yes it will

 That's beautiful, but sad.

While sometimes necessary, change is not always a good thing. That's why conservatives are drawn to traditions and customs that defy trendy evolutions.

But when something is beginning to sour, when the parts don't work or you realize housecleaning is in order, change can be beneficial.

So when I learned that my ship had a new captain, I was ecstatic. That ship, made of old oak pews and iron crosses, is my beloved church. The captain is our new archbishop, Charles Chaput. From what I've heard, he's exactly the person to steer us away from the dangerous shoals and into calmer water.

But unlike the Catholics quoted this week in this paper and its sister, I differ on the direction we need so desperately to take.

In a column by the DN's Ronnie Polanezcky, Sister Maureen Turlish was quoted as saying, "There's the institutional church, and then there is the

real church - the people."

Sister Maureen heads Voice of the Faithful, a group that's made its name attacking the church over the sex-abuse scandal. I find it quite interesting whenever someone says "the institution" doesn't matter as much as "the people." It seems just another way to strip away its fundamental principles to create something more "user-friendly." And there's danger in that, just as you can diminish a vessel's seaworthiness by stripping away basic parts of its structure.

Voice of the Faithful focuses on the abuse scandal. It calls for more transparency and accountability, which is fine.

But it has also vilified the culture of clericalism as a primary reason for the pedophilia, which is their signal for the "spiritual-but-not-religious" folks to start tinkering with the church. For example, some argue that the scandal has its roots in priestly celibacy, while others say it's because women are barred from the priesthood. So, according to that reasoning, we should allow priests to get hitched (works for the Protestants) and let the lassies wear those chasubles.

Sorry if you're not laughing.

I'm not either. It seems like just another attempt to remake the church in some Unitarian Universalist image in which the living is easy and "hard" is a scary four-letter word.

That's why I'm ecstatic that Chaput is leaving Denver for Philadelphia. He brings good intentions, great work - and exactly the type of leadership we need to navigate rough and unforgiving waters.

He's already shown a willingness to confront controversy head-on, whether it be the recent scandals that have rocked this Rock of Peter, or the more subtle attacks that can be listed under the heading of kinder, gentler anti-Catholicism.

That's not to say that the abuse scandal is a figment of some Know-Nothing imagination. It's a disgrace, criminal and a tragedy. But it's also a convenient target for all of the hatred, anger and nouveau-Catholic fantasies that have been directed at the church for many years, starting well before Boston exploded with accusations of abuse.

Anti-Catholicism comes in many forms, not a vandalized statue of the Blessed Virgin, or evangelical wailing about the "Whore of Babylon." There are the more subtle (and not so subtle) critics who think the church is an anachronistic embarrassment for the enlightened, the pro-choice women who cringe at pro-life homilies, the same-sex couples who feel rejected because their faith forbids them a sacrament, the "truth and justice" types who think statutes of limitations should be lifted only for priests.

They try to frame their criticism in reasonable terms. But the end result is the same. Catholicism is, for them, a dirty word. Because it judges. Because it has rules and beliefs they just don't buy.

And Charles Chaput, like New York's Timothy Dolan, isn't going to let them get away with it anymore.

In an op-ed Chaput wrote before the 2004 elections, he drew that divine line in the sand, explaining why believers (not just Catholics) need to fight for a pure and undiluted faith:

"Patriotism, which is a virtue for all people of faiths, requires that we fight, ethically and nonviolently, for what we believe." Claiming that "we don't want to impose our beliefs on society is not merely politically convenient; it is morally incoherent and irresponsible."

Welcome to Philadelphia, Archbishop. You're the hope and change I've been waiting for.

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. See her on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m. E-mail She blogs at blogs/ flowersshow.