Blase Cupich to be next archbishop of Chicago. (UPDATED)

Photo: CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec

Atlanta -- Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, will succeed Cardinal Francis George as archbishop of Chicago. His installation Mass will be held on November 18. The Associated Press broke the story Friday night, and was quickly followed by other outlets. Vatican Radio confirmed the appointment early Saturday morning. On Friday evening, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced it would hold a press conference on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. Central.

The appointment of George's successor was widely considered to be Pope Francis’s most significant decision for the church in the United States. The decision to tap Cupich to lead Chicago--the third largest U.S. diocese--signals a major change for the American church.

In 1997, Pope John Paul II selected George to be the eighth archbishop of Chicago. He was the first Windy City native to serve as archbishop, and he followed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a leading liberal churchman beloved of his people. Before long, Chicago Catholics would learn just how different George was from his predecessor. Highly regarded for his intellect, George never shied away from taking sides in the culture wars, most recently as a vocal opponent of the Affordable Care Act over its abortion-funding mechanism and the contraception mandate.

By contrast, Cupich is widely considered a moderate who has not always been in step with his more conservative colleagues in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For example, he has expressed skepticism about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops strategy of opposing Obamacare. And when the bishops were considering a draft of a statement on the economy, Cupich criticized it with vigor: "I don't see that I would share this with anybody, or that it would make any difference." He has expressed great enthusiasm for Pope Francis, praising the pontiff's preferred style of episcopal governance. He wrote:

Rather than limiting our consultation to those with financial and legal abilities, we also need to listen to those who work side by side with the poor each day, and who are on the frontlines in health care, education and other fields of ministry. We diminish our effectiveness when we do not call on these brothers and sisters to gain insight before making decisions in these areas. But, even more importantly, we pass up the chance to see how God is working through them and to more fully know God’s will.

Benedict XVI named Cupich bishop of Spokane in 2010. The Omaha native was ordained in 1975, and holds a B.A. in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, as well as several degrees in theology. He's served in parishes and taught high school. He's worked in priestly formation programs, and served as president of the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. And he worked in the U.S. nunciature. Pope John Paul II made him bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998. Soon after, he led the diocese through a synod process. He has served on USCCB committees related to the protection of young people, liturgy, education, and communications.

In an August 2013 column, Cupich argued that Pope Francis "has totally changed the story about the Catholic Church in the media." Rather than talk about church scandal and corruption, "people are talking about a church unafraid to go out into the world and make a difference." In short, Cupich wrote, "Pope Francis is a game changer."

Chicago is about to receive a game-changer of its own.

***

Updates throughout the day: The Chicago Tribune on Cardinal George's legacy, along with a timeline. Crux profiles Cupich here. NCR here.

Read Cupich's recent address on Catholicism and libtertarianism here. Read him on talking about faith in a secular world here.

I Storified my tweets on the press conference here:

 

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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