CHICAGO — Ailing Cardinal Francis George will be replaced by Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Washington, the Vatican announced Saturday.
George, the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago who is battling cancer, will step down Nov. 18, he said at a press conference Saturday morning.
George expressed relief at being the first archbishop of Chicago to retire, and Cupich, who is said to be a moderate, provided his stance on a few issues like protesting outside of abortion clinics, the history of sex abuse and the Catholic church and immigration reform.
He spoke passionately about the latter, saying "I don't want to dance around the issue that we need comprehensive immigration reform. It's time for leaders to put aside their own agendas. Every day we delay it, is a day too long."
Having only been in Chicago for 18 hours, Cupich said he hasn't had time to have in-depth discussions with George about navigating the issues Chicago faces so he was unable to provide a list of concrete priorities before he starts in November.
But, he said, his first priority is to be really attentive to what's already happening in Chicago.
Cupich said he did not expect to be asked to fill the role 10 days ago, a position he called an "enormous upgrade" compared to his role in Spokane, a region that has 100,000 catholics versus Chicago's 2.2 million.
"Surprise doesn't come close," Cupich said at Saturday's press conference, adding later that the reality is "still sinking in."
When asked if he considered himself a moderate, Cupich said: "I'm following a great man, so I'm going to learn from him and pick up from other individuals who have really demonstrated great leadership in the life of the church.
He added: "It's not my agenda, it's not what I feel, I'm going to try and be attentive to what the Lord wants."
Cupich (pronounced SOO-pich) was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1975, when he began in career in Omaha. He was installed as bishop of the Archdiocese of Spokane in 2010, according to his biography on the Archdiocese of Spokane's website.
Cupich, 65, born in Omaha, is the grandson of Croatian immigrants. He studied at the University St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, as wells as Gregorian University in Rome. He has a doctorate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
He was first appointed bishop in 1998, presiding over the archdiocese in Rapid City, South Dakota, until 2010.
On Saturday, Cupich spoke to the media, addressing issues such as his stance on protesting outside of abortion clinics.
"I've always supported the rights for people to express themselves, especially in regard to very important and critical issues of today," he said.
And when asked where the issue of sex abuse and the church stands, Cupich said that "we've made progress."
He added: "We would not have zero tolerance with regard to child protection without this man," pointing to George.
George is battling cancer, and announced his plans to retire last year. He has been undergoing chemotherapy after the discovery of cancer in his kidney in April, and was previously treated for cancer in 2012 and 2006.
He submitted his resignation in January 2012, though the move was largely seen as a formality required of all bishops at age 75. George is 77.
The first Chicago native to be named archbishop of the region of 2.2 million Catholics, George was ordained less than a year before Vatican II. He said Mass in Latin for eight months before the rules changed.
George said Saturday he's experiencing muscle weakness, and is walking clumsily as a result of his health problems, and he is looking forward to reading the newspaper without his high-profile role in mind.
"One minute you're the center of everything, and the next minute you're not," George said.
He said both he and Cupich are committed to a smooth transition.
"[Cupich] is well-prepared for his new responsibilities, bringing to them faith, good intelligence, personal commitment and past experience. I hope that you'll see that connection for many years to come," said George.
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