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Sep 19, 2014 10:04 PM

APNewsBreak: Cupich to be next Chicago archbishop

The Associated Press

Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, will be named the next archbishop of Chicago, The Associated Press has learned.

Cupich will succeed Cardinal Francis George, according to a person with knowledge of the selection, who spoke Friday on the condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly. George, 77, has been battling cancer and has said he believes the disease will end his life.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has scheduled a news conference for Saturday morning. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese would not comment.

Pope Francis' choice for Chicago has been closely watched as his first major appointment in the U.S., and the clearest indication yet of the direction he will steer American church leaders. Cupich is a moderate and is not among U.S. Roman Catholic bishops who have taken a harder line on hot-button topics. Francis has called the church's focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away.

An official from the Diocese of Spokane said he could not comment.

The Archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million parishioners and is the third-largest diocese in the country. Chicago archbishops are usually elevated to cardinal and are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

The Chicago church has long been considered a flagship of American Catholicism, sparking lay movements of national influence and producing archbishops who shape national debate. George is especially admired in the church's conservative wing as an intellectual who took an aggressive stand on abortion, gay marriage and other issues.

George succeeded Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a liberal and hero to Catholics who place equal importance on issues such as abortion and poverty.

Cupich, 65, is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, where he was ordained a priest. He holds degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University and The Catholic University of America. He was appointed bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998, and served there until 2010, when he was appointed to Spokane.

In a 2012 essay in the Jesuit magazine America, Cupich said the U.S. bishops "rightly objected" to the original narrow religious exemption in President Barack Obama's requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraception. But Cupich called for a "return to civility" in conversations about religious liberty and society.

"While the outrage to the (government) decision was understandable, in the long run threats and condemnations have a limited impact," Cupich said. "We should never stop talking to one another."

Cupich has also defended Francis' views on the economy and emphasis on fighting poverty, which some Catholics and others have criticized as naive and against capitalism.

"Instead of approaching life from the 30-thousand-feet level of ideas, he challenges policy makers and elected officials indeed all of us to experience the life of everyday and real people," Cupich said at a conference last June on the Catholic case against libertarianism. "Much like he told religious leaders, Francis is saying that politicians and policy makers need to know the smell of the sheep."


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