Nelson Perez appointed to lead Philadelphia Archdiocese

Mark Abrams
January 23, 2020 - 6:15 am
Bishop Nelson J. Perez officates over The Sacrament of Confirmation ceremony at The Church of St. Martin of Tours on December 7, 2012 in Bethpage, New York.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

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UPDATED: 12:45 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pope Francis has named Bishop Nelson Perez, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, as the new archbishop of Philadelphia. 

The announcement came from the Vatican Thursday morning.

Perez is no stranger to the archdiocese, its clergy and many parishioners across Philadelphia.

Related: Archbishop Charles Chaput turns 75, resigns from Philadelphia post

He was ordained by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua in 1989 and served in a variety of parish assignments during his 23 years in Philly.

Among his roles was working closely with Latino Catholics and directing archdiocesan evangelization efforts.

“Once a Philadelphia priest, always a Philadelphia priest,” he enthused. “The part of me that has that identity inside of me cannot wrap its head around being the archbishop of Philadelphia.”

The 58-year-old Perez had only been Cleveland's bishop for about two years. Before that, the Vatican sent him to Long Island for a few years in 2012.

Nelson Perez
Archdiocese of Philadelphia
He was in Philadelphia last month, too, visiting friends and former seminary classmates. As he renewed old acquaintances, he said it was unfathomable to them — and him — that his name would enter the mix of successors to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput.

“This is surreal in Philadelphia for all, whether you're Hispanic or not,” he added. “When I left in 2012, I never really thought I would be back — though I never kind of left either, right? because I left ministerially, but I didn't leave humanly.”

Perez said there are far more than 40 communities and parishes that celebrate Mass in Spanish, including Philadelphia. 

“Obviously I have some skills that I'm able to reach out to the Hispanic community in a particular way because of language and culture,” he said. “I have to see where they are now and where we can continue to build.”

Veteran Catholic journalist Rocco Palmo, who covers the Vatican and church issues, said this is a major sea change for the U.S. Catholic Church.

“He'll only be the third Latino archbishop in the country. But also, the first outside of either San Antonio or Los Angeles. Pope Francis is sending a major signal here,” Palmo said. 

Perez replaces Chaput, who submitted his resignation to the Vatican in September 2019 upon turning 75.

He served for eight years, dealing with the fallout of the clergy sex abuse crisis, the decline in Mass attendance, and the closure of several parishes and schools.

Chaput said he plans to remain in Philadelphia during his retirement. He’ll take three months off, then offer his services to Perez — his new boss.

Perez will officially be installed as Philly’s archbishop on Feb. 18.