Pope Francis has made his first major appointment in the United States since his election as pope, naming Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, as the next archbishop of Chicago. Cupich, 65, will become Chicago’s ninth archbishop as of Nov. 18, succeeding Cardinal Francis George who is battling cancer. George, 77, offered to retire two years ago.
The appointment is seen as a sign of the direction Francis intends to take the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. The Chicago archdiocese has 2.3 million members. Historically, Chicago archbishops are elevated to cardinals and eligible to vote for pope.
“This is an enormous upgrade, so to speak,” Cupich told a press conference Saturday. The Spokane diocese has about 100,000 Catholics. In his previous post in South Dakota, there were just 27,000 parishioners, he said.
Cupich is seen as a moderate. During the press conference he switched to Spanish -- the language of many of Chicago’s Catholics, asking them to think of him as “your brother.” Cupich has also made a strong push for immigration reform, was a chairman of a committee on the church’s sexual abuse crisis and spoke out against a referendum on same-sex marriage in Washington in 2012.
"I don't come with any intentionality," Cupich said responding to whether he foresees any changes in his leadership compared to his predecessor’s more conservative stance. George, who has served as Chicago’s archbishop since 1997, has criticized the Obama administration’s stance on abortion, same-sex marriage and religious liberty.
"Everybody brings their own gifts, talents and experiences. It's reasonable to expect there will be different emphasis, different approaches. Everybody has made me feel at home here from the very beginning in ways that have really supported me. It's important for me to put aside my ego and my agenda and work with people. … It's not my church. It's Christ's church," Cupich said.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Cupich was ordained in 1975. In 1998, he was ordained and installed as bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota. In 2010, he became bishop of Spokane. A grandson of Croatian immigrants, Cupich said he plans on reaching out to immigrant communities and promoting interfaith cooperation among its members.
"We have bonds that strengthen one another ... [to determine] how can we work in such a way that can serve the common good," he said.
George expressed support for his successor.
"I am relieved and grateful that now somebody who can do it full time will be in charge," he said.