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Enter the American Bergoglio

The Catholic world has been abuzz over the news that Blase Cupich will succeed Francis Cardinal George as the ninth archbishop of Chicago. Cupich, who has led two small American dioceses — Spokane, Washington, and Rapid City, South Dakota (where he succeeded Charles Chaput) — will take the reins this month of the third-largest archdiocese in the nation.

An examination of the reactions to episcopal appointments from America’s flagship progressive Catholic weekly often yields a pretty good indication of where a bishop stands. The fact that the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) speaks glowingly of Cupich and has even dedicated a special section of its website to the new archbishop-elect ought to tell us something about George’s successor. The fact that Cupich granted NCR an “exclusive” interview ought to tell us even more.

David Gibson of Religion News Service confirms NCR‘s adulatory assessment, describing Archbishop-elect Cupich as “a prelate closely identified with the Catholic Church’s progressive wing.” Although liberal Catholics of the in-with-peace-and-justice/out-with-sexual-morality persuasion may be overblowing Cupich’s lean to the left, Pope Francis’s first major appointment in the U.S. has certainly raised eyebrows in many quarters.

Vatican-watcher Rocco Palmo, whose Whispers in the Loggia blog tends to be reliable, called the appointment “the most shocking major move the American hierarchy has seen since the turn of the millennium.” Though Palmo has not been forthcoming in citing specifics in support of his hyperbolic assertion, he did explain that the choice of Cupich reflects the Pope’s desire for a Church “geared toward the ‘periphery’ as opposed to being locked in its ‘sacristies.'” It’s instructive to note that Palmo’s comment — and his semantics — complies with the curia’s continuing conversational condemnation of Joseph Ratzinger and his decades of influence in moving the Church’s pastoral program toward an embrace of orthodoxy — a change from the more immediate post-Vatican II efforts to explain away most of the Church’s teachings on personal morality.

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