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Spokane’s Catholic bishop to be named new archbishop of Chicago

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Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane (Photo: gonzaga.edu)

(CNN) — After 17 years as Chicago’s archbishop, the ailing Cardinal Francis George welcomed his pending retirement Saturday with praise for his successor — and words of relief.

The Vatican on Saturday announced that Pope Francis had accepted George’s resignation as archbishop and chosen Blase Cupich, bishop of Spokane, Washington, as the man who will succeed George in leading the Chicago area’s 2.3 million Catholics in November.

The 77-year-old George, who has been battling kidney cancer, told reporters that he’ll look forward to advising the Pope as cardinal through various committees, as health permits. But leaving the archbishop post will be a relief, partly because health problems have made it difficult for him to focus fully on his duties.

“This is a full-time job, so I am relieved and grateful that somebody who can do it full time will be in charge,” George said at a news conference in Chicago on Saturday morning.

George, the first Chicago native to lead the archdiocese, submitted his resignation when he turned 75 in 2012. Church law requires bishops to offer to quit at 75, though it is not uncommon for the Pope to let them continue in their posts.

Yet his required resignation offer also came in a year he was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer was dormant for a year after chemotherapy in 2012, but it showed new signs of activity this year, the Chicago archdiocese said.

After more chemotherapy, the archdiocese said in August that George agreed to participate in a University of Chicago trial of a new drug aimed at boosting his immune system to fight the disease, according to the archdiocese.

Cupich, talking to reporters with George, said one of this top priorities was to get to know his new flock. He currently serves 100,000 Catholics in his Spokane post, which he began in 2010.

“This is an enormous upgrade, so to speak,” said Cupich, who also was bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, from 1998 to 2010. “I want to get to know each and every one of you, so I hope that you’ll be patient with me.”

He said he would know which priorities to stress after he spends more time in the area. But when asked what his priorities were for Hispanics, who are a significant portion of Chicago’s Catholics, he offered what he thought politicians should be doing.

“We need comprehensive immigration reform,” Cupich said. “… Every day we delay it is a day too long, and we should move on it today.”

Cupich, like many archbishops settling into their new jobs in recent years, also will spend time assessing where his archdiocese is with priesthood sex abuse allegations. The church has been hit by many accusations of child abuse from across the United States and Europe, stretching back decades.

In 2011, plantiffs’ attorneys announced the Chicago archdiocese agreed to pay $3.2 million to settle a 2007 lawsuit that alleged church leaders failed to remove a priest that they knew had sexually abused minors.

In January 2014, the archdiocese said it would release to a plaintiffs’ lawyer documents related to 30 priests who’d been accused of abusing minors during the last 50 years. The archdiocese said 95% of those cases happened before 1988, and no priest with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor currently served in the archdiocese.

“(Cupich will) be fully briefed,” George said Saturday. “When I (became archbishop), I sat down for half a day and went through every single case, and that will happen here, too.”

George praised Cupich as a man of “deep faith, a quick intelligence, personal commitment and varied pastoral experience.”

George and Cupich, a Nebraska native, will remain in their current posts until Cupich is installed as Chicago archbishop November 18.

Pope John Paul II named George as Chicago archbishop in 1997. A year later, the Pontiff elevated George to cardinal, enabling him to participate in the conclaves that selected the next two Popes, Benedict XVI and Francis.

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