By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Blase Cupich was installed on Tuesday as archbishop of Chicago, taking the helm of the third-largest U.S. diocese after becoming the first major appointment by Pope Francis to the hierarchy of the American Roman Catholic Church.
Cupich, 65, is seen as a moderate and succeeds the more conservative Cardinal Francis George, 77, who has cancer and is retiring. Cupich previously served as bishop in Spokane, Washington.
Among the challenges facing the church in Chicago are declining funds to support its schools and parishes and the lingering fallout from cases involving sexual abuse by priests. Cupich has also expressed interest in addressing violence and poverty in the city.
He was installed as archbishop at a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, accompanied by George and the papal nuncio, Carlo Maria Vigano. He was seated in the archbishop's chair, or Cathedra, and received the crozier, or staff, emblematic of his new post. The crowd that packed the cathedral sang "Gloria."
Attendees included priests and nuns from the archdiocese, visiting bishops and Cupich's family. Songs and prayers were given in several languages, including Spanish, Polish and Tagalog, reflecting the city's diversity.
Forty-four percent of Chicago-area parishioners are Hispanic.
Cupich's sermon was sprinkled with jokes. He said he hoped he would not be expected to repeat Jesus' miracle of walking on water, saying: "I can barely swim."
His sermon honored immigrants and included a call for the healing of victims of sexual abuse and accountability by the church.
The Chicago Archdiocese has more than 2.2 million parishioners. Its archbishop has traditionally played a major role in the American Catholic Church hierarchy and in relations with local and national political leaders.
The city's archbishops are typically elevated to the rank of cardinal. That would make Cupich eligible to enter a conclave to elect a pope after Francis' death or resignation.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Cupich studied at Catholic universities in the United States and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Cupich's views are seen as in line with Francis' call for compassion rather than condemnation on issues such as abortion and same-sex couples.
Francis has also called on bishops not to live like princes. Cupich will live in modest quarters in the cathedral rectory rather than in the 19-chimney mansion in Chicago's historic Gold Coast district that has been home to the city's archbishop's since 1885.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jim Loney, Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)