Chicago’s Archbishop-designate Blase Cupich introduced himself to his new city on Saturday, downplaying political interpretations of his appointment and stressing the need to be attentive to God’s voice.
“My priority as a priest and now as a bishop is to recognize that God is already at work in the lives of people,” the archbishop-designate told a Sept. 20 press conference in Chicago. “People come to us as priests, as ministers of the Church, because they have already experienced God, and what they want us to do is to confirm, support and nourish people in that call.” “My first priority is just to be attentive to all that God is doing here already,” he said.
Pope Francis has named Cupich, the current Bishop of Spokane, Washington, as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago. He will be installed on Nov. 18 at the city’s Holy Name Cathedral. Cardinal Francis George said he is “most grateful” to Pope Francis for appointing his successor. The cardinal praised the archbishop-designate as “well prepared for his new responsibilities,” saying he brings “a deep faith, quick intelligence, personal commitment and varied pastoral experience.”
Archbishop-designate Cupich voiced a desire to work in a collaborative fashion, noting the importance “to set aside my ego and my agenda.” “It’s not my Church, it’s Christ’s Church. I have to be attentive to his voice in the lives of people and the Word of God,” he said.
The archbishop-designate spoke about the unexpected nature of his appointment.
“Surprise doesn’t come close,” he said. Recalling that Pope Francis’ first act was to ask for others’ prayers, he asked that the people of Chicago pray for him.
The Archbishop of Chicago plays an influential role in the Catholic Church in the U.S. and typically becomes a cardinal. News of the appointment has already drawn many interpretations, echoed by reporters’ questions at the Saturday press conference. Archbishop-designate Cupich was asked whether Pope Francis’ appointment was intended to send a message.
“I think that his priority is not to send a message, but a bishop,” he replied. “And that’s what he’s sending here. Someone to serve the needs of people.”
“I wouldn’t want to in any way overly politicize this or put it in a different context.” Asked to respond to news reports categorizing him as a “moderate,” the archbishop-designate initially avoided labels.
“Labels are hard for anybody to live up to, one way or another. I just try to be myself, and I try to learn from great people.”
He said it would be normal for a new archbishop to bring different emphases and approaches. He said he would learn from Cardinal George and other individuals who “have demonstrated great leadership in the life of the Church.”
“I’m going to try to be attentive to what the Lord wants. Maybe if there’s moderation in that, then I’m a moderate.”
Archbishop-designate Cupich, 65, became Bishop of Spokane in 2010 after leading the Diocese of Rapid City, South Dakota since 1998. His pastoral letters have addressed topics including the renewal of faith, the importance of the Eucharist, and pastoral planning.
Chicago’s next archbishop was born in Omaha, Nebraska to a family with a Croatian background. He is one of nine siblings. After attending the College of St. Thomas in Minnesota and the North American College and Gregorian University in Rome, he was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Omaha in 1975. He served at several parishes. He later completed postgraduate studies at Catholic University of America. He was ordained and installed as Bishop of Rapid City in 1998, before moving to Spokane.
One controversy in the Spokane diocese concerned claims in 2011 that Bishop Cupich had barred priests from praying in front of abortion clinics and taking part in the 40 Days for Life campaign, a non-Catholic pro-life effort. In a September 2011 statement, the bishop said he would never bar conscientious participation in vigils, but he noted that most decisions about abortions take place before a woman goes to an abortion clinic. He stressed the need to rely on Church-initiated programs, “lest our concerns and our pastoral approach be defined too narrowly.”
One question at the Sept. 20 press conference focused on the archbishop-designate’s views of abortion clinic protests. The archbishop-designate said he has always supported peaceful manifestations of views. “We have to make sure that those are done that really produce something in the long run,” he added.
The archbishop-designate has been vocal on pro-life issues. In October 2002, as Bishop of Rapid City, he wrote a letter objecting to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) actively fundraising for the pro-abortion group NARAL’s political candidate fund.
On Saturday the archbishop-designate spoke of many public issues. He stressed the need for “comprehensive” immigration reform. He noted the importance of interfaith cooperation in advancing the common good. He said he hoped that the upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family would allow “all the issues to be widely discussed and considered” and would provide a framework to ensure “really open, candid and honest discussion.”
Archbishop-designate Cupich, a past chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, praised Cardinal George’s efforts to implement a “zero tolerance” policy on abuse. He expressed his own intention to focus on protecting children and to “bring about healing.”
The archbishop-designate has served as chair of the National Catholic Education Association since 2013 and has been on the board of governors of the Chicago-headquartered Catholic Extension Society since 2009. Archbishop-designate Cupich’s present diocese has about 100,000 Catholics. It is dwarfed by his new home. By comparison, the Archdiocese of Chicago has about 2.2 million Catholics making up 37 percent of the population.
The Chicago archdiocese has 356 parishes with many Masses in Spanish, Polish and other languages. The archdiocese has 771 active and retired diocesan priests, over 500 deacons, 674 religious priests, over 200 religious brothers and almost 1,700 women religious. The archdiocese says it has over 200 elementary schools, 37 secondary schools, and three seminaries.
Cardinal Francis George, who has headed the Chicago archdiocese since 1997, submitted his resignation two years ago at the age of 75, as is required by canon law. He has been in failing health, but has often expressed a desire to be the first Chicago archbishop to retire.