Pope Francis Chooses Cupich to Lead Chicago Archdiocese

Archdiocese expected to announce new Chicago archbishop on Saturday

Pope Francis on Saturday appointed Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, the next Chicago Archbishop. 

The announcement was made early Saturday morning by the Vatican. The Chicago Archdiocese also held a news conference Saturday, where they introduced Cupich.

"The Holy Father's appointment of me humbles but also encourages me," Cupich said Saturday. "As Pope Francis began his pastoral minstry in Rome by asking the people to pray for him, so too now I bow my head in the hope that everyone in Chicago will pray for me in the days ahead."

Cupich will succeed Cardinal Francis George, 77, who announced several months ago that he wanted to begin the process of finding his replacement after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

George has previously expressed a desire to meet his successor.

"I leave this church in better hands than mine," George said Saturday. "This is a full time job. I am relieved and grateful that now somebody who can do it full time will be in charge."

Cupich will be installed as archbishop of Chicago on Nov. 18, officials said.

"Today all of Chicago honors Cardinal Francis George for his compassionate pastoral leadership and his steadfast commitment and service to Chicago's people and neighborhoods throughout the last 17 years," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. "And we congratulate Pope Francis on his appointment of Bishop Blase Joseph Cupich to succeed Cardinal George -- we welcome Bishop Cupich to Chicago with open arms and stand eager to work with him as he begins his pastoral duties in our city."

According to the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Cupich, 65, was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Omaha in 1975. He was named Bishop of the Rapid City, South Dakota Archdiocese in 1998 before taking over the Spokane position in 2010.

Cupich was born in Omaha, Nebraska.

This marked Pope Francis' first major appointment. Sources believe the Pope bypassed the Congregation of Bishops and worked the telephones on his own, calling Catholic leaders throughout the country to get a read on who would be best for Chicago.

Cupich had appeared on many lists of favorites for the position, but most agreed Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin was the frontrunner.

Many also expected the Pope's choice to be a Spanish speaker, and while Cupich doesn't speak Spanish, he is fluent in Italian.

"I think the Holy Father is a pastoral man, I think that his priority is not to send a message but a bishop," Cupich said. "I wouldn’t want to in any way overly politicize or put this in a different context, I think he cares a lot about people and he wanted to provide a pastor so I think he sent a pastor not a message."

Those who know Cupich describe him as a competent leader who's willing to take charge, and more of a peacemaker than a lightning rod.

"Having first met Bishop Blase Cupich when I was an 18-year-old backpacker in Europe and he was a seminarian in Rome, I can say with confidence that, as archbishop of Chicago, he will be a pastorally dedicated, theologically astute and visionary leader in line with Francis' transformative papacy," University of Notre Dame President, Father John Jenkins, said in a statement. "We thank Cardinal George for his dedicated service, and we welcome Bishop Cupich to the great Archdiocese of Chicago."

The Spokane Diocese declared bankruptcy 10 years ago after settling sex abuse complaints, but sources say it was Cupich's leadership who got it back up and running.

"People of faith really need to work together for the common good," Cupich said. "Labels are hard for anybody to live up to. I just try to be myself and I try to learn from great people."

Cupich didn't detail much about his plans for Chicago, but noted his stance on immigration reform and crimes against children.

"I don't want to dance around the issue that we need comprehensive immigration reform," he said. "Every day we delay it is a day too long and we should move on it today."

He also said he hopes to focus on the protection of children.

"I'll work hard at this and make it an important part of my ministry" he said, also noting that the system is "always going to be imperfect, it's never going to be enough."

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a news release Friday stating Cupich "acted irresponsibly by exploiting bankruptcy law to avoid embarrassing disclosures about the complicity of the Spokane church hierarchy in dreadful crimes against kids." The organization claims more than 200 children came forward in Spokane.

"He must not be dismissive of those who have been wounded," said Kate Bochte with SNAP.

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