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Pope names moderate as Chicago archbishop, key role in U.S. Church

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[September 20, 2014]  VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis, in his first major appointment in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in the United States, on Saturday named Bishop Blase Cupich as the new archbishop of Chicago.

Cupich, 65, who is seen as a moderate and is currently the bishop of Spokane, Washington, succeeds the more conservative Cardinal Francis George, 77, who is retiring.

Chicago, with more than 2.2 million parishioners, is the third-largest diocese in the United States by population and its archbishop has traditionally played a major role in the American Church hierarchy and in relations with national political leaders.

The city's archbishops are traditionally elevated to the rank of cardinal, meaning Cupich would be able to enter a conclave to elect a pope after Francis's death or resignation.

A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Cupich studied at Catholic universities in the United States and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Crux, a major U.S. Catholic website associated with the Boston Globe, said Cupich is "widely viewed as a moderate voice among Catholic bishops (and he) often eschews cultural battles in favor of dialogue and engagement".

In this sense, he is in line with Francis' call for compassion rather than condemnation or confrontation on issues such as abortion and same-sex couples.

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While defending Church teachings Cupich has urged moderation and dialogue in the so-called "culture wars" in the United States Church over these hot-button issues.

In a dramatically blunt interview with an Italian Jesuit journal in 2013, Francis said the Church must shake off an obsession with teachings on abortion, contraception and homosexuality and become more merciful or risk the collapse of its entire moral edifice "like a house of cards".

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Michael Urquhart)

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