Pope Francis announced the appointment of Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich to the Congregation for Bishops, effectively giving the liberal prelate the prerogative to select bishops in the United States.
The Congregation for Bishops is the department of the Roman Curia – the Vatican’s bureaucracy – which oversees the selection of new bishops. After evaluating candidates, the committee makes recommendations to the pope, who typically approves the recommendations.
As a general matter, members of the committee will defer to the choice of a committee member when an opening occurs in their home country. Two Americans currently sit on the committee; Cupich and Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C. As such, Cupich and Wuerl have wide latitude in appointing bishops in the United States.
One observer notes they are Pope Francis’ “kingmakers” in the United States, and reflect the manner of bishop Francis would like to appoint in the U.S. (RELATED: Pope Francis Says Most Modern Marriages Are ‘Invalid’)
Cupich was appointed to succeed Francis Cardinal George, a devoted intellectual acolyte of Pope John Paul II, as archbishop of Chicago in 2015. His appointment returned Chicago to its historical position as the seat of progressive Catholicism in the United States. Cupich is cut from the Catholic Church’s social justice clothe, deemphasizing orthodox belief and practice in favor of interfaith dialogue and liberal political causes like immigration reform, and pursuing closer ties with the gay community.
During his ecclesial career, Cupich has antagonized conservative elements in the Catholic Church; he has criticized pro-life activists for their anti-abortion tactics and banned several hundred Catholics from celebrating Good Friday and Easter Mass in the Tridentine rite, an older Latin form of the Mass preferred by a small minority of Catholic traditionalists.
The Congregation for Bishops has been a battlefield of factional conflict inside the Church since Francis’s ascension to the papacy. In December, 2013, the pontiff rearranged the committee’s membership, disposing of several prominent conservative clerics including Raymond Cardinal Burke, Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco, and Antonio Cardinal Varela in favor of progressive alternatives. Although a conservative presence remains in the Congregation, notably in Australia’s Cardinal Pell and Spain’s Cardinal Llovera, the committee is increasingly dominated by theological liberals.
By appointing Cupich to further solidify the liberal majority on the Congregation, Pope Francis will dramatically shape the next generation of bishops in his image.
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