Vatican confirms: Cupich new Chicago archbishop

This story appears in the Cupich to Chicago feature series. View the full series.

by Joshua J. McElwee

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jmcelwee@ncronline.org

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The Vatican announced Saturday that Pope Francis has appointed Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., as the new archbishop of Chicago, confirming Friday's early reports of the appointment.

While the Vatican press release only states the basic facts of the appointment -- for example, giving Cupich's academic background and ecclesiastical history -- selection of the new Midwestern archbishop may give clearer view into what the pontiff is looking for in selecting prelates.

Cupich, a 65-year-old Omaha, Neb., native who served as a pastor and director of worship for that diocese before being appointed bishop of Rapid City, S.D., and then Spokane, will replace Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who is 77 and has been fighting cancer.

Known for a certain moderate stance amongst the U.S. episcopate, Cupich sought to tamp down fears during the U.S. bishops' fight against a federal mandate requiring coverage of contraceptive services in healthcare plans that Catholic ministries might shut down over the issue.

Cupich has also frequently written direct letters to the faithful of the Spokane diocese on the diocesan website, releasing the letters in both English and Spanish and addressing a variety of issues from the need for immigration reform to the desire to ban the death penalty.

The Vatican release did not announce when Cupich will be formally installed in the Chicago post, however Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the apostolic nuncio to the U.S., said in a statement Saturday that Cupich would be installed during a Mass in Chicago Nov. 18.

The Chicago archdiocese announced Friday it will be hosting a press conference at 9:30 AM central time Saturday morning. That conference is expected to see Chicago's cardinal and archbishop-elect speaking to reporters and answering questions together.

Cupich's appointment in all likelihood means the archbishop-elect will at some point be elevated by Francis to the cardinalate, as Chicago is the country's third most populous Catholic city and one of the most historically Catholic. As a cardinal, Cupich will likely exert more influence both in the U.S. bishops' conference and in Rome.

Born in Omaha in 1949, Cupich earned a bachelor's in philosophy from the College of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 1971, before later earning a licentiate and doctorate in sacramental theology.

He served as bishop of Rapid City from 1998 until 2010, when he was named bishop of Spokane.

He is currently a member of various committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and is also board president of the National Catholic Education Association.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is jmcelwee@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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