- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis has named Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich to be a member of the powerful Vatican office that vets bishops’ nominations, signaling he wants a key pastoral voice involved in the selection of U.S. church leaders.

Francis in 2014 had hand-picked Cupich to lead the Chicago archdiocese in his first major appointment for the U.S. church. Cupich is a moderate like Francis and replaced the late Cardinal Francis George, who had been an aggressive defender of orthodoxy.

Cupich now will be a member of the same Vatican advisory board where a staunch American conservative, Cardinal Raymond Burke, sat for years until Francis removed him.

In another sign of Francis’ esteem for Cupich, he tapped him as a special appointee to attend his recent synod on the family.

Francis has said he wants to reform the way the church selects its bishops, who wield enormous power in running church affairs and interpreting church doctrine at the local level. Currently, local bishops propose names to the Vatican ambassador in their country, who then sends possible candidates onto Rome for review.

But Francis - the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio - experienced firsthand how the process can be manipulated by ideologically driven interests, with several of the future pope’s candidates blocked when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires.

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