When Archbishop Joseph Kurtz was elected president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2013, Spokane’s Bishop Blase Cupich said that the decision reflected the pope’s desire for pastoral leaders. “Pope Francis doesn’t want cultural warriors, he doesn’t want ideologues,” he said.
With reports that Cupich (pronounced “SOO-pitch”), 65, has been tapped as Chicago’s next archbishop, many believe he embodies the pope’s vision for a bishop. Widely viewed as a moderate voice among Catholic bishops, he often eschews cultural battles in favor of dialogue and engagement.
As Catholic bishops fought the Obama Administration’s mandate that employers, including Catholic hospitals, schools, and nonprofits, offer insurance for contraception, Cupich offered a conciliatory approach, supporting the cause but calling for dialogue and compromise.
He lamented policies that gave government the power to “decide what it means for any church to be church and what defines the permissible exercise of religion,” but chastised those church leaders who threatened to shutter social services rather than comply with the mandate.
“These kinds of scare tactics and worse-case scenario predictions are uncalled for and only unnecessarily disturb the hardworking and dedicated people who are employed by the Church,” he told diocesan employees earlier this year.
Instead, he sought to work with the Administration on fixes, recalling the church’s support for universal access to health care.
In the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, Cupich, who was then bishop of Rapid City, S.D., wrote an essay for America magazine in which he reminded Catholics of church teaching that deems racism a “sin.” He warned that even with the first black nominee of a major party, “this potentially healing moment could turn into the infliction of one more wound if racism appears to determine the outcome.”
Some bishops threatened to deny Communion to voters casting ballots for pro-choice politicians, but Cupich seemed to offer a compromise. He wrote, “Voting for a candidate solely because of that candidate’s support for abortion or against him or her solely on the basis of his or her race is to promote an intrinsic evil.”
When Washington State was voting on same-sex marriage in 2012, Cupich again fell in line with other bishops, instructing Catholics to vote against the referendum. But a letter Cupich drafted to be read at Masses was remarkable for its comparatively affirming language.
He praised those who are ”motivated by compassion for those who have shown courage in refusing to live in the fear of being rejected for their sexual orientation.”
Also in line with the pope’s focus on the poor, Cupich spoke at a Washington, DC conference earlier this summer against economic libertarianism, calling inequality, “a powder keg that is as dangerous as the environmental crisis the world is facing today.”
Earlier this year, he told Crux: “We devote much more attention and financial resources to those who are poor and in need every day. I am fairly well convinced that the amount we spend on these other issues is just a small fraction of what we spend on poverty each and every day.”
Cupich said Pope Francis “has given us, as bishops in this country, a chance to recalibrate how we are going to highlight, in our own efforts, putting poverty front and center.”
Indeed, Cupich himself lives simply: He told The New York Times earlier this year that he owns no furniture and lives in a room at a seminary, and at the time, was in the process of re-evaluating his diocesan budget to make sure it emphasized assisting the poor.
Not all Catholics will be happy with the news of his appointment, however. Cupich has faced critics from some Catholics for his approach to abortion and even the liturgy.
It was reported that when he arrived in Spokane in 2010, Cupich instructed Catholic priests and seminarians not to hold demonstrations in front of abortion clinics.
“The pastoral challenge is to get people to take a second look at the issue of abortion,” he said in 2010.
In Rapid City, he clashed with Latin Mass enthusiasts, leading to a standoff on Good Friday, when critics say he barred them from celebrating Holy Week services in Latin.
Cupich gained a national platform when he was tapped to lead the bishops’ efforts in implementing new policies to protect children from sex abuse, even criticizing the bishops themselves.
“Catholics have been hurt by the moral failings of some priests, but they have been hurt and angered even more by bishops who failed to put children first. People expect religious leaders above all to be immediate and forthright in taking a strong stand in the face of evil,” he wrote in 2011.
He is the leader of the bishops’ Committee on the Protection for Children and Young People.
Cupich compared lay ministers to religious brothers and sisters, praising those who see their work as a calling. “The fact that these lay men and women describe themselves as responding to a call, however, is a hopeful sign that the Spirit of Christ is at work in this new reality,” he wrote in America in 2008.
Cupich was ordained a priest in 1975 has experience as both a Catholic school teacher and pastor. In 1998, Pope John Paul II named him bishop of Rapid City, S.D., and he was moved to Spokane by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.