The Chicago Archdiocese officially has a new archbishop, Blase Cupich (soo–pitch) as of November 18. Cupich became the bishop of Spokane, WA in 2010. He has graduate training in Liturgy and has studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Originally from Omaha, Nebraska he was the third of nine children born to Blasé and Mary Cupich.
The Chicago Tribune calls him a charismatic clergyman, the grandson of Croatian immigrants, with a strong emphasis on social justice and a pastoral approach that involves listening and dialog. The same newspaper quotes him as saying, “The church can challenge society, but society also challenges the church.”
Cupich has become known for his more moderate approach for dealing with controversial issues such as abortion and gay marriage. As the bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, Cupich was one of the bishops in 2004 who was not in favor of denying communion to candidates who supported abortion rights. He said that we cannot cherry-pick particular issues. We have to be willing to talk about all issues. He emphasized that, while the Catholic position begins with protecting the unborn, it doesn’t end there.
In 2011 Cupich headed the US Catholic Conference of Bishops Committee for Protection of Children and Young People. At that time there was a Grand Jury finding that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had allowed 37 priests accused of abuse or inappropriate behavior to remain in active ministry. Cupich’s response to this failure to comply with the reforms listed in the Dallas Charter of 2002 was to express frustration and disappointment since so many people were working hard to implement the reforms. He later said that the Philadelphia situation was unusual.
As bishop of Spokane, Cupich lived in simple suite of rooms in the seminary. In Chicago he has announced that he will be living in the cathedral rectory and not in the opulent Gold Coast mansion with is the Archbishop’s official residence. Many have pointed out a similar tone and style in Archbishop Cupich and Pope Francis. Their simplicity, cordiality, and focus on engagement as opposed to separation or denunciation of those who disagree with the church are attributes they share.
Cupich gave a talk in June 2014 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC on the contradiction between Catholic social teaching and libertarianism in the United States. He supported the position of Pope Francis which focuses on encounter and accompaniment in society and the economy. In other words, Catholic social teaching focuses on our obligations to each other. This contrasts with the Libertarian view that the one’s interests as an individual come first.
Cupich is the first major appointment in the United States by Pope Francis. Additional appointments by the Pope will likely bring significant change to the church in the United States.