Source: Moderate Spokane bishop to replace Cardinal George

Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, will be named the next archbishop of Chicago, The Associated Press has learned.

Cupich will succeed Cardinal Francis George, according to a person with knowledge of the selection who spoke Friday on the condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly. George, 77, has had cancer and has said he believes the disease will end his life.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has scheduled a news conference for 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Chicago. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese would not comment.

Pope Francis' choice for Chicago has been closely watched as his first major appointment in the U.S., and the clearest indication yet of the direction he will steer American church leaders.

Cupich - his name is pronounced BLAZE SOO-pich, ABC 7 Chicago reports - is a moderate and is not among U.S. Roman Catholic bishops who have taken a harder line on hot-button topics. Francis has called the church's focus on abortion, marriage and contraception narrow and said it was driving people away.

An official from the Diocese of Spokane said he could not comment.

Judith Dzieglewicz, a member of the teaching staff at Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights, said she does not know anything about the new archbishop but said, "I'm grateful that someone has been appointed so that Cardinal George can have time to work on getting well."

As for his replacement, she said she hopes he follows the example of Pope Francis, "so that we all learn to become like Pope Francis, clergy and laity alike."

"I see Pope Francis as one who is truly living the way Jesus wanted us to live. He just seems to embrace and love everyone regardless of their stature in life," she said.

Father David F. Ryan, pastor of St. Francis de Sales Parish in Lake Zurich, said he would like to see the Archdiocese of Chicago continue to reach out to people.

"The Archdiocese of Chicago touches so many lives," Ryan said. "And this voice of the new archbishop continues with the voices of all in its history, and that is to make Christ known.

"Cardinal George did it in his time here and did it well. And the new archbishop, Blase Kupich, I'm confident and hopeful that he'll continue in that same voice."

The Archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million parishioners, including in the suburbs, and is the third-largest diocese in the country. Chicago archbishops are usually elevated to cardinal and are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

The Chicago church has long been considered a flagship of American Catholicism, sparking lay movements of national influence and producing archbishops who shape national debate. George is especially admired in the church's conservative wing as an intellectual who took an aggressive stand on abortion, gay marriage and other issues.

George succeeded Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a liberal and hero to Catholics who place equal importance on issues such as abortion and poverty.

Cupich, 65, is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, where he was ordained a priest. He holds degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University and The Catholic University of America. He was appointed bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998, and served there until 2010, when he was appointed to Spokane.

In a 2012 essay in the Jesuit magazine America, Cupich said the U.S. bishops "rightly objected" to the original narrow religious exemption in President Barack Obama's requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraception. But Cupich called for a "return to civility" in conversations about religious liberty and society.

Cupich also served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' child protection committee at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis and as church leaders were putting in place a toughened policy on disciplining guilty priests.

"While the outrage to the (government) decision was understandable, in the long run threats and condemnations have a limited impact," Cupich said. "We should never stop talking to one another."

Cupich has also defended Francis' views on the economy and emphasis on fighting poverty, which some Catholics and others have criticized as naive and against capitalism.

"Instead of approaching life from the 30-thousand-feet level of ideas, he challenges policymakers and elected officials - indeed all of us - to experience the life of everyday and real people," Cupich said at a conference last June on the Catholic case against libertarianism. "Much like he told religious leaders, Francis is saying that politicians and policymakers need to know the smell of the sheep."

The search for a new archbishop officially began last May, two months after Francis Cardinal George announced his cancer was showing signs of new activity after it had been in remission for more than a year.

It was in 2006 that the cardinal was first diagnosed with bladder cancer. The disease returned in 2012 to his kidney and liver. His third bout of cancer last spring was also in his kidney.

"I think the nuncio was very aware that the Cardinal was laboring under great hardship to continue carrying the responsibility of the archdiocese. And so, I'm sure they did the best they could to expedite the process," St. Xavier University Professor Graziano Marcheschi told ABC 7 Chicago.

In April, George resumed chemotherapy. His treatment forced him to cancel a trip to Rome for the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, who appointed him cardinal.

Last month, it was announced the cardinal would participate in a new clinical research trial at the University of Chicago.

Despite his illness, the cardinal submitted to the pope his preferences for a successor, ABC 7 Chicago reported.

"I think (the pope) wants someone who understands the people, who's willing to be with the people, and who's not a careerist," Marcheschi said.

Until he's installed, the successor holds the title archbishop elect and George will remain cardinal, though without administrative power. It will be the first time in the Chicago archdiocese that a new leader is appointed while the former is still alive. The archdiocese says its news conference will be in the first-floor conference rooms 1A-1C of the Archbishop Quigley Center, 835 N. Rush St., Chicago.

George has served the Chicago area since 1997. He submitted his resignation letter when he turned 75, as bishops are required to do by church law.

Daily Herald staff writer Steve Zalusky and ABC 7 Chicago contributed to this report.

  Cardinal Francis George in April. Joe Lewnard/
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