Pope Francis chooses moderate bishop to lead Chicago archdiocese

Pope Francis chooses moderate bishop to lead Chicago archdiocese
Bishop Blase Cupich
Bishop Blase Cupich AP

As the leader of two American dioceses, Roman Catholic Bishop Blase Cupich has staked out a firm position in the middle of the road.

He has spoken out against same-sex marriage and against conservative hostility toward gay rights advocates. He has opposed abortion, while urging parishioners and priests to have patience, not disdain, for those who disagree.

Cardinal Francis George
Cardinal Francis George

And he has criticized fellow U.S. bishops who threatened to shut down religious charities instead of pursuing a compromise with the White House over health care policies that go against Catholic teaching.

On Saturday, Pope Francis named Cupich as the next archbishop of Chicago, sending a strong signal about the direction that the pontiff is taking the church. Cupich will succeed Cardinal Francis George, 77, an aggressive defender of orthodoxy who once said he expected his successors in Chicago to be martyred in the face of hostility toward Christianity.

“I think what Francis is trying to do with his appointments in both the United States and around the world is to moderate the conversation and get us past the culture wars and the ideologues,” said Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey. “Francis is not trying to balance a lurch to the right with a lurch to the left. He’s trying to build up the big middle so we can have conversations and not arguments.”

The Chicago appointment is Francis’ first major mark on American Catholic leadership.

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George is two years past the church’s retirement age and is suffering from cancer. The Chicago archdiocese is the nation’s third-largest and among its most important, serving more than 2.2 million parishioners. Chicago archbishops are usually elevated to cardinal and are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope. Both George, and his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, had served as presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cupich will be installed as archbishop in November.

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, and one of nine children, the 65-year-old Cupich has served in a wide range of roles within the church.

He has been a parish pastor, a high school instructor and president of a seminary. After earning degrees in the U.S. and in Rome, he worked at the papal embassy in Washington, and as a bishop, has led several committees for the U.S. bishops’ conference. For a few years, he led the bishops’ committee on the child protection reforms adopted amid the clergy sex abuse scandal.

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