Sep 20, 2014 12:40 PM

Pope names Cupich as next Chicago archbishop

The Associated Press

Bishop Blase Cupich, who has struck a moderate tone on divisive social issues, was appointed the archbishop of Chicago on Saturday, succeeding a cardinal with an aggressive approach to the culture wars.

Cupich, of Spokane, Washington, will take over leadership of the Archdiocese of Chicago in November, succeeding Cardinal Francis George, who has been battling cancer and has said he believes the disease will end his life.

Cupich is Pope Francis' first major appointment in the U.S. and the clearest indication yet of the direction he wants to steer American church leaders. The Chicago archdiocese is the nation's third-largest and its most important, serving more than 2.2 million Catholics. Chicago archbishops are usually elevated to cardinal and are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

George is especially admired in the church's conservative wing as an intellectual who took a hard line against abortion and gay marriage. Francis has said he wants church leaders to focus more on mercy and compassion and less on hot-button issues.

At a Chicago news conference Saturday, Cupich pledged to consult with local Catholics as he leads them.

"All my mistakes in life have come from when I've decided on my own, 'This is how things have to go,'" he said.

Speaking in Spanish, he urged swift action on immigration reform, noting that his grandparents had come to the U.S. from Croatia. "Every day we delay is a day too long," he said. About 44 percent of the archdiocese's parishioners are Latino.

Cupich played down any broader significance about why he was the pope's choice. "I think he sent a pastor, not a message," Cupich said.

Still, the Rev. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, said Cupich "will be a pastorally dedicated, theologically astute and visionary leader in line with Francis' transformative papacy."

In 2012, during the run-up to the Washington state referendum that ultimately recognized gay marriage, Cupich repeatedly underscored church teaching that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But he also wrote at length to parishioners about the suffering of gays and lesbians because of anti-gay prejudice, and he condemned violence and bullying that has led some gay teens to suicide.

"I also want to be very clear that in stating our position, the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility toward homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity," Cupich wrote.

In a letter last year on the Obama administration's birth control coverage rule for employers, Cupich said faith-affiliated groups should never be forced to provide services that the church considers morally objectionable. However, he condemned threats by some U.S. church leaders that they would shut down social service agencies over the Affordable Care Act.

"These kind of scare tactics and worse-case scenario predictions are uncalled for," he wrote in a letter to diocesan employees. "I am confident we can find a way to move forward."

Cupich, 65, is one of nine children and 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. In the 1980s, he worked on the staff of the Vatican embassy in Washington. He was appointed bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998, and served there until 2010, when he was appointed to Spokane.

Cupich also served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' child protection committee at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis and as church leaders were putting in place a toughened policy on disciplining guilty priests. In a news conference, he said he was "committed" to healing the wounds from the crisis and pledged to "work hard on this and make it an important part of my ministry."


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