“Good chance to become a cardinal”

Church in the USA © Bradley Birkholz (KNA)

Nelson Jesus Perez has been named the new archbishop of Philadelphia by Pope Francis. Until now he was bishop of Cleveland. He replaces the previous archbishop, Charles Chaput, who is retiring.

Interviewer: Who is the new archbishop appointed by Pope Francis yesterday? Who is Nelson Jesus Perez?

Klaus Prompers (journalist and USA expert): Considering that the Diocese of Philadelphia in particular is now home to a great many Spanish speakers, from Latin America, from Cuba and other parts of the southern part of the Americas, he fits right in with this community that he will have to lead in the future as head pastor. He himself is a son of Cuban-born parents and has spent 20 years of his priestly life in Philadelphia. He speaks fluent Spanish, which he demonstrated in a press conference yesterday – which then made the sign language interpreter, who obviously didn't know Spanish, look a bit silly. That's why he then translated that back into English again.

He is a man who knows how to deal with both parts of the church in Philadelphia. In the past eight years, he has served in two different positions as bishop and auxiliary bishop. In press conference yesterday afternoon local time, he said he felt like he had come home again. Every time he has become a bishop, he has gone to see his parents, and this time he has again gone to see his mother. He says it was like coming home.

Interviewer: His predecessor Chaput was considered conservative. Who's that coming with Perez? Is he a liberal representative?

Prompers: I think there are two different views on this. Perez is certainly not as conservative as Chaput has made himself out to be, for example on ies of dealing with remarried divorcees and with homosexuals. There Chaput has always appeared very conservative. In his diocesan bulletin, on his Archdiocese of Philadelphia websites, Cardinal Muller has taken to the floor more often to rail against Pope Francis. In this respect, Chaput can certainly be counted among the conservative elite of the American bishops. The fact that he has now just turned 75 certainly suited the pope's concept. And the fact that he never became a cardinal in the eight and a half years he was archbishop of Philadelphia is also due to the fact that he belongs to the conservative wing of the Catholic Church in the USA.

It is now hoped that Perez will take a somewhat more liberal approach. However, that is not guaranteed. He has proven that he is good at reaching out to people. He has proven that he is also open to these questions that I already mentioned, for example, whether remarried divorced people should be allowed to take communion again. But he also spoke last night in his new diocese, which he will serve from 18. He is a man who knows how to deal with both parts of the church in Philadelphia, and he proved that he also has an ear and a word for what is known as the "Week for Life" in our country, which begins on February 25. April will celebrate. He demonstratively took part in a service in favor of life – both the unborn and the dying, proving that his spectrum is quite a wide one.

Interviewer: Donald Trump has also announced he will participate in a large protest against abortion this weekend. How has the Catholic Church in the USA reacted to this??

Prompers: Some will cheer, others will regret the fact that the president, in the middle of his election campaign, is trying to win back the conservative parts of the Catholic Church. We remember: In the last election in 2016, he had managed to get both 82 percent of evangelical Christians and 42 percent of Catholic Christians on his side, who then voted for him.

In 2016, he had sent a video message during the election campaign. This time he will come in person, and this will be cheered by the conservatives, of course. This November Trump wants to be re-elected. But the conservative majority is by no means as sure as it sometimes seems to be at the moment. In swing states, undecided states that include Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, for example, that's where he needs to score points. That's why he's walking in Washington D.C., in the U.S. capital, taking to the streets Saturday with Catholics for life.

Interviewer: Back again to Nelson Jesus Perez, the new archbishop of Philadelphia. Of course, people are looking at him now and thinking: Will he become a cardinal?? His predecessor, after all, did not make it, although that is customary for Philadelphia. Does the pope possibly also have his fingers in the pie?? Because if he became a cardinal, then he could also vote for the pope.

Prompers: That would be in the logic of the cardinal appointments of the last three to four years, in which Pope Francis has very succinctly made cardinal appointments that basically indicate that he can continue the course he has taken even after his death or after his resignation-who knows.

Pope Francis, after all, has appointed bishops worldwide as cardinals, who may vote a little more progressively in the next election. And again for someone like him, who wants to give the Church a new shape, a new face, who wants to re-found the Church in the Church of the poor. Basically, I think we can expect Perez to become a cardinal. For example, at the moment he is responsible for cultural diversity in the U.S. bishops' conference. From this one can also conclude, he is open to many new things. He's not only going down beaten paths, not only going into those districts where the Church has always been strong, but he's also trying to reach those who are not being reached by the Church right now. In this respect, I think he has a good chance of becoming a cardinal.

The interview was conducted by Dagmar Peters.

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