Meet Bishop Blase Cupich, Chicago's incoming archbishop

Meet Bishop Blase Cupich, Chicago's incoming archbishop
WBEZ/Lynette Kalsnes
Meet Bishop Blase Cupich, Chicago's incoming archbishop
WBEZ/Lynette Kalsnes

Meet Bishop Blase Cupich, Chicago's incoming archbishop

Updated 5:30 p.m.

Bishop Blase Cupich will be installed as the next archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago on Nov. 18. He’s currently the bishop of Spokane, Wash., and previously served as bishop of Rapid City, S.D.

He began a press conference Saturday by asking the people of Chicago to pray for him, as Pope Francis did right after he became pontiff.

Cupich’s appointment came as something of a surprise to many who have been closely watching the succession process. The bishop comes from a smaller diocese, and hadn’t been on most of the short lists. But he’s known as a moderate who observers expect will follow the pastoral approach of Pope Francis.

Observers, parishioners discuss Cardinal George's legacy

That viewpoint was evident at his first press conference here, where he was informal and used short parables to get his point across. In Spanish, he said he comes as a pastor, but he also comes here as a brother.

Bishop Cupich’s style of leadership

This is the Pope’s first major selection in the U.S., so the appointment has been closely watched as indicative of the direction in which the pontiff may hope to lead the U.S. Roman Catholic church.

“I think the holy father is a pastoral man,” Cupich said. “...I think that 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 took his time, and he wanted to provide a pastor. And so I think he sent a pastor, not a message.”

Bishop Cupich said he was humbled and encouraged by the appointment, calling it a “blessed opportunity.” He said surprise doesn’t come close to describing his reaction.

Bishop Cupich’s reaction to his selection:

Cardinal George said he was relieved and grateful the Pope had honored his request to retire. Each time that was mentioned at the press conference, he punched his arm in the air in apparent joy. All the previous bishops here had died in office.

George said he’s relieved, too, to leave the Archdiocese with “such an able and experienced man.”

“I described him as well-prepared for his new responsibilities, bringing to them a deep faith, a quick intelligence, personal commitment and varied pastoral experience, and I hope you’ve seen that in action in just a very few minutes, and you’ll see it in action for many years to come,” he said.

Cardinal George on why he’s grateful:

The Cardinal is facing his third battle with cancer, and is undergoing experimental treatment. Yet he’s largely maintained his bruising schedule.

George will stay in office for the next two months, while Cupich will continue serving as bishop of Spokane. They plan to stay in touch to plan a smooth transition. Once he’s retired, George said he hopes to help the new archbishop in any way he can, and to perform confirmations and confessions.

If he’s strong enough, Cardinal George plans to journey to see Pope Francis in Rome in November.

Bishop Cupich said his first priority will be getting to know people here and the area, talking about the position as an “enormous upgrade” in reference to the size of the Archdiocese of Chicago compared to his previous dioceses.

He said he’s worked among diverse cultures, including Latinos and Native Americans, and said that it’s important for groups to bring their cultures to their religious experience. He’s also pushed for immigration reform.

The bishop -- who headed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People from 2008-2011 -- said the church must continue to  work to protect children from priest sexual abuse and to help heal victims, adding he’ll try hard to make that an important part of the ministry.

Reaction to the selection was mixed in greater Chicago.

Mary Anne Hackett, president of the conservative Catholic Citizens of Illinois, said she’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

"Personally I don’t like the designation moderate for anybody," she said. "I think it would be nice to take a stand one way or another. That might just be a nice way of saying his position. That will unfold as time goes on."

But the Chicago-based national liberal group Call to Action said it’s quote “relieved” to learn Cupich is moderate. In a statement, they said the Pope’s selection shows quote “a desire for a humbler, more pastoral church.”

Local theologian Mike Murphy, who heads Catholic Studies at Loyola University Chicago, called Cupich a good fit for the city. He said the bishop is in line with Pope Francis’ vision for leadership.

"He is prepared to lead in a way that shepherds the people and not be anchored down to ideology," Murphy said. He added that he views Cupich as a moderate who’s doctrinally very serious while seeing a need for conversation in a polarized society. Murphy also pointed to the bishop's work serving the poor.

Bishop Cupich is now archbishop designate. It’s likely he’ll someday be appointed cardinal, but that wouldn’t happen until after Cardinal George -- who’s 77 -- turns 80.

Cupich will be formally installed as the new archbishop of Chicago on Nov. 18 at Holy Name Cathedral.