Pope Francis has announced Bishop Nelson Perez as the new Archbishop of Philadelphia. The Archbishop-elect will assume the role of Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, whose resignation was accepted today by Pope Francis, according to Vatican News.
Archbishop Chaput, 75, announced his retirement in September. He served the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and Philadelphia’s approximately 1.3 million Catholics, for eight years. He was appointed by Pope John Paul II and is a supporter of Pope Francis critic Carlo Maria Vigano, who called for Pope Francis to leave the Papacy.
Vatican News reported that Archbishop Perez, 58, is the first Archbishop named from the Philadelphia area in over 100 years. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, where he earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Theology in 1988 and 1989, respectively. Perez is coming to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after serving as the Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland for less than two years.
Archbishop-elect Perez is a certified deep sea diver, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Here’s everything you need to know about Archbishop-elect Nelson Perez:
1. Archbishop-Elect Nelson Perez Has Philadelphia Pedigree
Vatican News reported Perez went to Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, earning a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Arts of Theology in 1988 and 1989 respectively. He later taught developmental psychology classes at the seminary, as well as psychology and religious studies courses at LaSalle University, according to CBS3 Philly.
According to Vatican News, Perez was appointed Parochial Vicar at St. Ambrose Parish as his first assignment from 1989-1993. He served as assistant director of Hispanic Catholics (1990-1993), founding director of the Catholic Institute for Evangelization (1993-2002), Pastor of St. William Parish (2002-2009) and Pastor of St. Agnes Parish (2009-2012).
Perez spoke at a press conference held at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:
I come back with a sense of great gratitude and joy to serve alongside great Bishops — I’ve known all these guys for years…. Bishop Sullivan and I would stand outside and smoke. It’s awesome to be back in Philadelphia with people who are faith-filled and love the Church….
I’m sad to leave the people of Cleveland because they were so good to me and I will always have [my friends] in my heart. Now I’m [in Philadelphia], and in a very real sense — a very practical sense — I’m home. I’ve never left. Once a Philly priest, always a Philly priest. It’s like you’re just part of them and what wonderful priests we have.
Rocco Palmo, who broke the story on the Pope’s announcement, said that he is “a figure ‘native’ enough to know and to be able to engage the ironclad local culture…yet still sufficiently ‘outside’ as to challenge the intransigence of the same.”
2. Perez Is the First Hispanic-American Archbishop in the History of the Philadelphia Catholic Church
Rocco Palmo reported Philadelphia was the last major diocese in the States to have had only white Bishops and that Archbishop-elect Perez “is the son of Cuban exiles.”
Perez was born in Miami in 1961 to David and Emma Perez and spent his youth in North Jersey and West New York, according to CatholicPhilly.
At his press conference, Perez said, in Spanish, “The Hispanic community in Philadelphia saw me grow up during my time as a seminarian in Philadelphia when I had jet black hair and weighed 50 pounds less. Many of them just call me Fr. Nelson and I will continue to be that for them.”
3. Perez is Part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Vatican News reported Perez is part of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as Chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church and a member of the Administrative Committee of the USCCB and the Bishops’ Committee of Religious Liberty.
According to CatholicPhilly, Archbishop Chaput said at the press conference, “This is a moment of great satisfaction and joy for the clergy and people of the Archdiocese, and for me personally. When I first spoke with the nuncio about my retirement and this transition last May, I asked for a successor who would care for and guide our people, speak the truth with conviction.”
Perez formerly served as Chair of the Bishop’s Sub-Committee for Hispanic Affairs. He is a former member of the Bishop’s Sub-Committee for the Campaign for Human Development. CatholicPhilly reported he currently serves as a member of the Administrative and Religious Liberty Committees, and in 2018 he began a three-year term as bishop liaison for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry.
4. Perez’s Work Includes Improving Catholic Education in Cleveland
According to the Associated Press, Perez worked to strengthen Catholic education in the Cleveland diocese, developing a strategic plan to implement change in elementary Catholic education and a “think tank” to bring younger Catholics into the life of their local church.
Philadelphia Catholic institutions have faced many of the same challenges that face Church property, including schools and churches, across the nation. Many schools have been closed and parishes merged, with structures being sold or demolished.
In his press conference, Perez said, “Watching [Archbishop Chaput] from afar, I saw him make tough decisions, many times, like a father would have to do. All of us who have walked beside him should thank God for this man.”
Deacon Thomas Croke, director of property services for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said in an email to Heavy, “This is a great day for the Archdiocese and we join all of the faithful in prayerfully welcoming Archbishop-elect Perez home as he prepares to assume his new role in service to our local Church and in thanksgiving to Archbishop Chaput for his tireless service as our shepherd since 2011.”
5. Perez Brings Close Ties to Holy Father Pope Francis to Philadelphia
The Associated Press reported that Archbishop Chaput, appointed in 2011, was favored under conservative Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. While he did not obtain the cardinal’s red hat, he was invited to participate in Vatican missions. In 2016, Pope Francis allowed divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, while Chaput did not allow them the sacrament in Philadelphia.
Perez said, “I’m thankful to the Holy Father for placing this great trust in me that I really don’t deserve. I also have great shoes to fill, of Archbishop Chaput’s. He’s been my Bishop for a few months, but he’s been my brother Bishop and a friend for a long time…. This guy’s been a Bishop longer than I’ve been a priest…. He is steadfast in his love for [Philadelphia] and the Church.”
CatholicPhilly reported that Perez was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1998 and a prelate of honor by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. In 2012, he was ordained auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, New York, and was installed as the 11th Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland in 2017 by Pope Francis.
This story will be updated as more information is made available.