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Posted: Friday, January 18, 2008 10:00 pm

Destination: Antioch

Overall rating: *** (out of five)

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Bishop Blase Cupich, a moderate who has called for civility in the culture wars and has embraced Pope Francis' focus on fighting poverty, will be named the next archbishop of Chicago, The Associated Press has learned.

Cupich will succeed Cardinal Francis George, according to a person with knowledge of the selection, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the person wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has scheduled a news conference for Saturday morning. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese would not comment. George, 77, has been battling cancer and has said he believes the disease will end his life.

The pope's choice for Chicago has been closely watched as his first major appointment in the U.S., and the clearest indication yet of the direction he will steer American church leaders. Cupich is a moderate and is not among U.S. Roman Catholic bishops who have taken a harder line on hot-button issues. Francis has called for a greater focus on mercy and compassion instead of divisive social issues.

The Archdiocese of Chicago serves 2.2 million parishioners and is the third-largest diocese in the country. Chicago archbishops are usually elevated to cardinal and are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

The Chicago church has long been considered a flagship of American Catholicism, sparking lay movements of national influence and producing archbishops who shape national debate.

George is especially admired in the church's conservative wing as an intellectual who took an aggressive stand against abortion, gay marriage and other issues. He had succeeded Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a liberal and hero to Catholics who place equal importance on issues such as abortion and poverty.

Cupich, 65, is a native of Omaha, Nebraska, where he was ordained a priest. He holds degrees from the Pontifical Gregorian University and The Catholic University of America. He was appointed bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1998, and served there until 2010, when he was appointed to Spokane.

In a 2012 essay in the Jesuit magazine America, Cupich said the U.S. bishops "rightly objected" to the original narrow religious exemption in President Barack Obama's requirement that employers provide health insurance that covers contraception. But Cupich called for a "return to civility" in conversations about religious liberty and society.

"While the outrage to the (government) decision was understandable, in the long run threats and condemnations have a limited impact," Cupich said. "We should never stop talking to one another."

Cupich has also defended Francis' views on the economy and emphasis on fighting poverty, which some Catholics and others have criticized as naive and against capitalism.

"Instead of approaching life from the 30-thousand-feet level of ideas, he challenges policy makers and elected officials — indeed all of us — to experience the life of everyday and real people," Cupich said at a conference last June on the Catholic case against libertarianism. "Much like he told religious leaders, Francis is saying that politicians and policy makers need to know the smell of the sheep."

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