New Archbishop

Archdiocese of Philadelphia Introduces 1st Hispanic Archbishop

Nelson J. Perez, the current Bishop of Cleveland, will be the new leader of the Catholic church in Philadelphia, taking over for retiring Archbishop Charles Chaput

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What to Know

  • Pope Francis has named Cleveland Bishop Nelson J. Perez as the next archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
  • Perez, 58, will be the 1st Hispanic archbishop in the history of the Philadelphia Catholic Church. He succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput who is retiring.
  • "He is exactly the man with exactly the exactly the abilities our church needs," Chaput said before introducing Perez Thursday morning.

Nelson Perez, the current Bishop of Cleveland, is set to become the first Hispanic archbishop of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia when he is installed next month.

Exiting Archbishop Charles Chaput announced on social media Thursday morning that Pope Francis had named Perez as the 10th archbishop of Philadelphia's Catholic Church.

"He is exactly the man with exactly the exactly the abilities our church needs," Chaput later said before introducing Perez at a Thursday morning news conference. Chaput called his successor “a man who already knows and loves the church in Philadelphia."

Archbishop-elect Perez earlier had tweeted the news himself, saying "It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment - joy that I will be returning to serve (the Archdiocese of Philadelphia), sadness in that I will be leaving (the Diocese of Cleveland)."

"Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Archbishop Charles J. Chaput," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a brief statement while announcing Perez as the new leader of Philadelphia's nearly 1.3 million Catholics.

Rocco Palmo, a Philadelphia-based blogger who covers the Catholic church, first reported the news Wednesday.

Perez, 58, will be the first Hispanic archbishop in the history of the Philadelphia Archdiocese when he takes over for Chaput. Perez will be installed on Feb. 18, Chaput said.

Perez said he learned he would be changing jobs again when he got a call Saturday while visiting his mother in Florida.

"I was shocked, just absolutely shocked," Perez said. “Once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest. I come back really with a sense of great gratitude and joy to serve alongside great bishops."

Bishop Nelson Perez has been named the next archbishop of Philadelphia. NBC10’s Miguel Martinez-Valle reports on how Philadelphia has already been home for Perez.

Perez is no stranger to some Philadelphia-area Catholics.

Born to Cuban immigrants in Miami, Florida, and raised in New Jersey, Perez graduated from Montclair State University in 1983 where he earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology. He then taught at a Catholic elementary school in Puerto Rico before entering Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia where he earned Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theology degrees in 1988 and 1989.

After being ordained to the priesthood, Perez served as parochial vicar of Saint Ambrose Parish in Philadelphia from 1989 to 1993. He was also the assistant director of the Office for Hispanic Catholics from 1990 to 1993, founding director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization from 1993 to 2002, Pastor of Saint William Parish in Philadelphia from 2002 to 2009 and Pastor of Saint Agnes Parish in West Chester, Pennsylvania, from 2009 through 2012.

NBC10's Randy Gyllenhaal speaks to parishioners at Saint Agnes Parish about Bishop Nelson Perez, who once served as pastor at the West Chester, Pennsylvania, church. Perez will become Philly's next archbishop in February.

Bishop Perez also taught psychology and religious studies at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, from 1994 to 2008 as well as developmental psychology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in 2011.

He also served Hispanic parishioners in Philadelphia during his time in the area, said Rev. Kevin Gallagher of Saint Denis Parish in Havertown, Pennsylvania.

Rev. Kevin Gallagher of Saint Denis Parish in Havertown, Pennsylvania, shares insight as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia names Cleveland Bishop Nelson J. Perez as its next archbishop.

In 1998, Perez was named Chaplain to His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, with the title of Monsignor. He was also named a Prelate of Honor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

In 2012, Perez was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York by Pope Benedict XVI, a role he held until 2017.

In 2017, Pope Francis appointed Perez the Bishop of Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.

Perez shared his enthusiasm for the city, saying "it's awesome to be back in Philadelphia with people who are faith-filled, who love the Lord, love the church.” Perez also praised Chaput's tenure in the diocese, saying he faced challenges in Philadelphia with “great courage and steadfastness.”

The appointment of Perez – a relative national newcomer – marks a shift in ideology not only in the Philadelphia Church but in the United States. Chaput is a prominent conservative in America's Catholic Church who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and is admired by the conservative wing of the church. He has reportedly at times not seen eye to eye with all of Pope Francis' stances, the New York Times reported.

Chaput, a member of the Cappuchin order, has denied he is a critic of Pope Francis, and he hosted the Argentine pope when he visited Philadelphia in 2015 for a big family rally. The visit, including a Mass that drew a reported 1 million people, gave Francis a much more positive impression of the U.S. than he had going into the trip.

But the two clashed. After Francis opened the door to letting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics receive Communion in 2016, Chaput closed the door in Philadelphia by saying they must abstain from sex if they want the sacrament.

On Thursday, Perez also addressed church sex abuse victims, telling them “I, and we, continue to pray for your healing and support and hold you deep within our hearts - those who have been hurt. It should have never happened, and we are sorry."

Perez has had to deal with that issue while in Cleveland. The diocese last year made public a list of 22 previously unidentified priests and other clergy it said had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Perez said in a letter announcing the release of the names that a committee assembled by the diocese determined that the accusations against the clerics were "more likely than not to be true."

Perez had pledged in 2018 to follow the lead of other dioceses and release the names of priests credibly accused of sexual abuse, past and present. The Cleveland diocese in 2002 began publishing the names of priests who were accused from that year forward.

Chaput, for his part, faced a difficult task trying to restore credibility in the Philadelphia hierarchy following revelations of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up by his predecessors that were revealed in 2005 and 2011 grand jury investigations.

Correction (Jan. 23, 2020, 6:27 a.m.): This story has been updated to properly reflect the heritage of past leaders of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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