Bishop Blase Cupich 'overwhelmed,' 'surprised' to be named archdiocese leader

 
 
Updated 9/20/2014 8:13 PM
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  • Cardinal Francis George, retiring leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago, left, shakes hands with newly appointed Archbishop of Chicago, Bishop Blase Cupich right, after Cupich spoke to the media Saturday during a news conference in Chicago.

    Cardinal Francis George, retiring leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago, left, shakes hands with newly appointed Archbishop of Chicago, Bishop Blase Cupich right, after Cupich spoke to the media Saturday during a news conference in Chicago. Associated Press

  • Bishop Blase Cupich, Cardinal Francis George's successor as head of the Chicago Archdiocese, addresses the media Saturday morning in Chicago. Cardinal George is seated behind him.

      Bishop Blase Cupich, Cardinal Francis George's successor as head of the Chicago Archdiocese, addresses the media Saturday morning in Chicago. Cardinal George is seated behind him. Madhu Krishnamurthy | Staff Photographer

  • Bishops await Cardinal Francis George's announcement of his successor, Bishop Blase Cupich, the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, during a news conference Saturday.

      Bishops await Cardinal Francis George's announcement of his successor, Bishop Blase Cupich, the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, during a news conference Saturday. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Cardinal Francis George announced as his successor Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, during a news conference Saturday.

      Cardinal Francis George announced as his successor Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, during a news conference Saturday. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich, the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, answers questions about how he would lead Chicago area Catholics during a news conference Saturday as the man he is set to replace, Cardinal Francis George, looks on.

      Bishop Blase Cupich, the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, answers questions about how he would lead Chicago area Catholics during a news conference Saturday as the man he is set to replace, Cardinal Francis George, looks on. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George, shown here in the background.

      Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George, shown here in the background. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Cardinal Francis George introduced as his successor Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, the new archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, during a news conference Saturday.

      Cardinal Francis George introduced as his successor Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, the new archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese, during a news conference Saturday. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George.

      Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George.

      Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George.

      Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. He will succeed Cardinal Francis George. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday.

      Bishop Blase Cupich was named the archbishop designate of the Chicago Archdiocese during a news conference Saturday. MADHU KRISHNAMURTHY | Staff Photographer

  • Bishop Blase Cupich, of Spokane, Washington, will head the Archdiocese of Chicago come November.

    Bishop Blase Cupich, of Spokane, Washington, will head the Archdiocese of Chicago come November.

"A sense of relief" is how Cardinal Francis George described his emotions as he introduced his successor, Bishop Blase Cupich, of Spokane, Washington, who will head the Archdiocese of Chicago come November.

At a news conference Saturday, Cardinal George, the first archbishop of Chicago to retire in office after leading the diocese for 17 years, expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis for speeding up the appointment of a new archbishop and allowing him to tend to his own health.

"I leave this church in better hands than mine," said the 77-year-old prelate, who continues to struggle with health issues related to his bladder cancer and a new experimental treatment he is undergoing.

Cupich said Saturday people should not read too much into Pope Francis' decision to appoint him being a harbinger of the American Catholic Church's future direction.

"I think the Holy Father is a pastoral man," said the 65-year-old, who will be Chicago's ninth archbishop. "I think he sent a pastor, not a message."

Cupich said he was stunned upon learning of his appointment 10 days ago, and that the weight of this new role hasn't yet sunk in.

"I was quite overwhelmed and very surprised," he said. "My breath was taken away. I've never said 'No' to the church, so yes, I'll do it. I am grateful to God for giving me this blessed opportunity. I bow my head and hope that everyone in Chicago will pray for me in the days ahead. I am no saint, and this is a pretty big niche (to fill)."

He spoke of his priorities leading the flock of nearly 2.2 million Catholics in the Chicago area -- a huge jump from the 100,000 Catholics under his pastoral care in Washington -- and the future financial health of the church.

"I've always learned that money follows mission," he said. "If you get the mission right, the money will come. God is already at work in the lives of the people. What they want us to do is to confirm, support and nourish them in that call."

Cupich said his philosophy is to be himself and learn from the great leaders who came before him. "And I'm following a great man," he added.

Cupich will be formally installed Nov. 18. In the meantime, he said, he will learn as much as he can from Cardinal George.

"We haven't had those in-depth discussions," he said of the issues facing Chicago area Catholics.

Among the most divisive of issues is decades of clergy child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the American Catholic church.

Cupich, who served as chairman of the U.S. bishops' child protection committee at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis, noted the church has made progress on that issue and needs to keep its focus on protecting children and healing those victimized by clergy. He lauded Cardinal George for taking a firm stand on the matter in the face of opposition.

"We would not have zero tolerance with regard to child protection if it were not for this man here," Cupich said. "Not only do we have that in the church of the United States, we have it universally now."

However, a statement by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests criticized Cupich for not doing enough on his home turf of Spokane, where more than 200 victims have come forward, according to the Spokesman-Review newspaper. "Prudent people will remain skeptical and let Cupich hopefully prove through his deeds (not his words) that he is committed to the safety of children," the group said in a news release.

Cupich has been described as a moderate and has called for civility in the culture wars. But, he said, he did not foresee a shift in direction from Cardinal George's leadership, who was known as a conservative voice in the church.

"I don't come with any intentionality," he said. "Everybody brings their own gifts, talents and experiences. It's reasonable to expect there will be different emphasis, different approaches. Everybody has made me feel at home here from the very beginning in ways that have really supported me. It's important for me to put aside my ego and my agenda and work with people … It's not my church. It's Christ's church."

Cupich also made it a point to address the Hispanic Catholic population in Spanish at his news conference. He stressed that his priorities for them are the same as those for all faithful.

"Every culture brings their own deep spirituality," he said. "I've always tried to relate to Hispanic people in such a way that lets them know that I am part of their family."

He added that it's time for political leaders to act on the church's call for comprehensive immigration reform.

"We should move on it today," he said.

Cupich said he comes from a family of immigrants and plans to reach out to immigrant communities. He added that he hoped to continue Cardinal George's tradition of interfaith cooperation beyond building relationships.

"We have bonds that strengthen one another ... how can we work in such a way that can serve the common good," he said.

Cardinal George said Cupich is well prepared for his new responsibilities and has deep faith, quick intelligence and pastoral experience. He added that he will consult with Cupich on any decisions that have impact beyond his remaining tenure.

"I am relieved and grateful that now somebody who can do it full time will be in charge," said the cardinal, who had postponed an October trip to Rome because of the demands of his cancer treatment.

Cardinal George said he still plans to travel to Rome in November to meet Pope Francis if his health permits.

"He's a nice man, and I would like to get to know him," he said.

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