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 U.S. Roman Catholic Church.
Cupich, 65, is seen as a moderate in the Catholic Church 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 Chicago church are declining funds to support its schools and parishes and the continued 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.
The Chicago diocese 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.
"I think we can expect him to be really interested in both immigration issues and the pastoral and concrete needs of immigrants," said Cristina Traina, religious studies chairwoman at Northwestern University.
Forty-four percent of Chicago-area parishioners are Hispanic.
The city's archbishops are typically 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.
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 also has called on bishops not to live like princes, and Cupich will live in modest quarters in the cathedral rectory rather than in the 19-chimney mansion on Chicago's Gold Coast that has been home to the city's archbishops since 1885.
The archdiocese also includes 17 hospitals and five Catholic colleges and universities serving 49,000 students.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jim Loney and Will Dunham)