COMMENTARY: The archbishop of Chicago will influence the shape of the Church in the United States for many years to come.
BY MATTHEW BUNSON 07/15/2016
There is a saying that the only mystery deeper than the Trinity is how new bishops are selected.
That maxim is especially relevant when speaking about the important Vatican office of the Congregation for Bishops, which is in charge of the discreet but vital process of choosing most of the world’s bishops and archbishops.
Currently headed by the Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the bishops’ office also oversees the creation of new dioceses, organizes the mandatory five-year (ad limina) visits of bishops to Rome and has the sensitive task of investigating bishops who might be negligent in their duties and recommending their possible removal by the Pope.
To be a member of the congregation is thus to wield considerable influence, especially when it comes to nominating new bishops from one’s own country. It is not without some exaggeration that U.S. members of the congregation have often been colloquially termed “kingmakers.”
That influence is why Pope Francis’ July 7 appointment of Archbishop Blase Cupich — archbishop of Chicago since November 2014 — should not be underestimated. While not without his critics, he remains the most prominent episcopal pick for the Church in the United States made so far by Pope Francis.
Archbishop Cupich joins Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington as one of only two Americans currently with the congregation. The Chicago archbishop essentially is replacing Cardinal William Levada, who recently turned 80 and resigned all cardinalatial duties.
At 67, Archbishop Cupich will presumably be a member for at least the next decade, and will thus have a hand in shaping the demeanor of the Church hierarchy in the United States for many years to come. He will remain in Chicago as archbishop, but his trips to Rome will now be more frequent, and it is generally believed that he will be among the new members of the College of Cardinals when Francis convokes his next consistory.