Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., will be the successor to Cardinal Francis George in leading the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The official announcement came the morning of Sept. 20.
This is the first major appointment by Pope Francis, one that will be closely watched by Catholic insiders. Cupich purportedly shares the Pope's stated commitment to fighting poverty and economic injustice, but nevertheless took stands, albeit measured ones, against the referendum that ultimately led to gay marriage in Washington State.
George has been taking a less-active role in the day-to-day affairs of the Archdiocese since early this year, when he announced that he was battling cancer. He submitted a letter of resignation in January of 2012, but that was a formality expected of all cardinals upon their turning age 75, and it was up to the discretion of the Pope whether to accept it or not.
Cupich has been in Spokane since 2010, and spent a great deal of time cleaning up a large-scale child abuse scandal in the Church there. Ultimately, the Archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in the wake of that scandal.
In an October 2013 commentary in America Magazine, published in the wake of Pope Francis' widespread comments on tolerance, Cupich wrote that the Church must look beyond the whims of its most elite benefactors and advisors to determine its course for the future.
"... Governance involves seeking how God is revealing his work through others in the community. 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."
Miguel Diaz, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and now a theology professor at Loyola University Chicago, told Chicago Tribune that Cupich "will be very much in line with Pope Francis' vision of a pastor bishop. He cares about the people who have been left out of the system. He will minister to the needs of the marginalized and the poor. Pope Francis has clearly chosen a man of great compassion."
In 2012, Cupich published a letter that outlined his position on Referendum 74, the bill that ultimately led to gay marriage in Washington State. Cupich said he was opposed to the bill, explaining, "… Many opponents of the law redefining marriage have close friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. They too recognize the importance of creating a supporting environment in society for everyone to live a full, happy and secure life. Yet, they also have sincere concerns about what a redefinition of marriage will mean for the good of society and the family, both of which face new strains in our modern world. They are asking the public to take a serious and dispassionate look at what a radical break with centuries of marriage law and practice will mean."
Cupich's letter urged opponents of the bill not to use the occasion as an excuse for intolerance and hostility towards gays and lesbians.
"My genuine hope is that we all can value the coming vote on Referendum 74 as an opportunity to have a substantial public debate regarding this critical issue, carried on with respect, honesty and conviction," Cupich wrote. "When addressing issues of depth and passionindeed, most importantly at such timeswe should be committed to the proposition that our public dialogue must be marked by civility and clarity, and that it should generate light rather than heat. … I offer these thoughts with respect, but also out of a sense of duty to contribute to the debate for the good of our state."
Cupich's cautious remarks about gay marriage nevertheless stand in contrast to George's, who has had a relatively hostile relationship with members of the LGBT community. He long opposed gay marriage in Illinois and vigorously lobbied against passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. This past summer the Archdiocese defended the firing of an Inverness worship director, Colin Collette, who was let go from his position after he announced his engagement to another man on social media, though George later met with Collette in person to discuss the matter.
In a September, 2014, column in the Catholic New World, George lamented that cultural and political elites, among others, have brought about a crisis of faith for many Catholics.
"Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be," George wrote. "This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure."
Such tensions, he added, can give way to persecution against Catholics: "Swimming against the tide means limiting one's access to positions of prestige and power in society. … It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law."
Chicago Tribune article at: trib.in/1u8zZ2g .
Cupich's America commentary at: www.americamagazine.org/francis-witness .
Cupich's marriage commentary at: bit.ly/1qjwAX2 .
George's Catholic New World commentary at: bit.ly/1Bn5czI .