Nelson Perez, a Latin Roman Catholic bishop of Cleveland who criticized US President Donald Trump's immigration policy, was appointed on Thursday by Pope Francis to replace a sincere conservative who recently retired as archbishop of Philadelphia.
Perez, 58, succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, a hero in the traditional wing of the church for his reputation as a “cultural warrior” on issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
Perez, who will be installed in February, said he was "deeply grateful" to the pope for choosing him to head the archdiocese of Philadelphia, home to some 1,4 million Catholics. He served there as parish priest decades before.
“It is with great joy tinged with a feeling of sadness that I accept the commitment - a joy that I will return to serve @ArchPhilly.
@DioceseofCLE ”, he said on Twitter.
Perez, who criticized Trump's policy of separating migrant families, was born the son of Cuban exiles in Miami. He grew up in New Jersey and started working as a priest in Philadelphia in 1989.
Perez will be the first Latin archbishop of Philadelphia, one of the most important dioceses in the United States, and the third to head any American archdiocese.
His appointment reflects demographic changes. Thomas Groome, a professor of religious studies and a former director of the Boston College Center at the Church, said Hispanics are the backbone of the US church.
"The American church, 100 years ago, was predominantly Irish," he said in a telephone interview. “This era has passed. I think it's a new day for the church's Latin American ministry. ”
About 55% of Latino adults in the United States, about 19,6 million people, identify themselves as Catholics, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.
At a news conference in Philadelphia on Thursday morning, Perez often spoke to the public in Spanish, translating some of his comments into English.
He said he would like people to call him “Father Nelson,” as he was known to members of the Hispanic community when he was a young priest in Philadelphia.
He also acknowledged the still-developing sexual abuse crisis that continues to shake the church. The scandal, including a cover-up of hundreds of priests by senior prelates of sexual misconduct, prompted lawsuits and criminal investigations.
"I would like to tell the victims of the church that we hug them deeply and are sorry," he said.
Source: Reuters // Image: REUTERS / Yara Nardi