The news stirred a mix of reactions — excitement from some who know the homegrown priest, hope from those eager for a leadership change, and anticipation about what it means for the church and its faithful.
“It’s one of the most important appointments of Pope Francis for the United States, there’s no question about that,” said Villanova University professor and church historian Massimo Faggioli.
Succeeding Charles J. Chaput as the leader of the 1.3 million-member archdiocese, Pérez is a Cuban American who attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, was ordained in Philadelphia, and served parishes for more than two decades in West Chester and Philadelphia.
“That will help him,” said Faggioli, saying he’d heard Pérez was well-liked by local priests. “That has been a factor, probably, in his appointment.… Philadelphia is a very particular city and diocese because it was one of the most important Catholic archdioceses in the world … [and] it has to find its place again.”
The announcement was “wonderful news,” said Ulises Prudente, 34, a Mexican immigrant and lifelong Catholic who heard about Pérez at the morning Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, which has a robust community of Latino parishioners and offers a weekly service in Spanish.
“The world is better with different ideas,” Prudente said of the change in leadership, though he said he had viewed Chaput as “like a father.”
The appointment of Pérez by one of the most progressive popes in decades to fill a seat held by the retiring Chaput, a favorite of conservative Catholics, raised speculation about whether Pérez would bring any shift in style to the archdiocese. At 58, he is on the younger side, too: “He could stay here for almost 20 years,” Faggioli noted.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author who has advocated for a new model of compassion between Catholic leaders and LGBT congregants, heralded Pérez’s appointment as the city’s first Hispanic archbishop and called him a “terrific choice” for Philadelphia.
“I generally don’t like to use words like conservative or liberal or progressive or traditional,” Martin said. “Both Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Pérez are focused on the gospel, which unites them both, so I think that’s the focus for both of them.”
Andrew DiStefano recalled listening to Pérez’s homilies when the priest was a visiting pastor at St. Patrick’s in Malvern about 15 years ago. The 54-year-old data analyst said he got the impression Pérez was “a traditionalist, but also very progressive in applying the church’s teachings and history in modern context.”
In his homilies, “the emotion and the passion just came through,” said DiStefano, brother of Inquirer staff columnist Joseph N. DiStefano. “It seemed like he connected with every person in the church.”
Connie Beraducci, who was raised in South Philadelphia and has been a volunteer at the basilica since 2018, said she appreciated Pérez’s Philadelphia roots.
“I think that’ll make him more accessible and comfortable with us,” she said. “He’ll know his way around.”
Kathy Kane of West Chester, a cofounder of the accountability-focused group Catholics4Change, said she hoped Pérez’s tenure will “open up a new line of communication” with the archdiocese for discussions about child sex-abuse prevention.
“My only hope is that with new leadership would come new interest in actually preventing abuse,” Kane said, citing arrests this year of a suspended priest accused of raping a teenage girl at his former Roxborough parish and two Catholic-school teachers accused of sexually assaulting students. “The state of child protection in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia … is a catastrophe, and I don’t know how it can get worse. Hopefully, with Archbishop Pérez, it can get better, but that’s going to be up to him.”
In Cleveland, Pérez drew attention for advocating for immigrants and denouncing the Trump administration’s family separation policy. Many there are sad to see Pérez leave, particularly just 2½ years after arriving, said Paul V. Murphy, director of the Institute of Catholic Studies at John Carroll University in a suburb of Cleveland.
“He’s the kind of person that people feel comfortable with. He’s not stern in any way,” said Murphy, who said he had met Pérez a few times.
Several people who have met him described Pérez as engaging and warm. Philadelphia Bishop John J. McIntyre, who has known Pérez since 1992, said he would bring a joyful, outgoing personality to the role.
Martin, the Jesuit author, praised Chaput on Facebook for “helping return the archdiocese to a firmer financial footing.” He also urged the faithful to pray for Pérez.
“Speaking as a Philadelphian, Philadelphians like other Philadelphians,” said Martin, who was born and raised here. “And I think they’re happy that someone who knows the city already will be coming to be their shepherd.”