(New throughout, adds comments and details)
By Philip Pullella and Rich McKay
VATICAN CITY, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Nelson Perez, the Latino Roman Catholic bishop of Cleveland who has criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policy, was named on Thursday by Pope Francis to replace an outspoken conservative who recently retired as archbishop of Philadelphia.
Perez, 58, succeeds Archbishop Charles Chaput, a hero with the church’s traditionalist wing for his reputation as a “culture warriors” on issues such as homosexuality and abortion.
Perez, who will be installed in February, said he was “deeply grateful” to the pope for picking him to head the Philadelphia archdiocese, home to about 1.4 million Catholics. He had served there as a parish priest decades earlier.
“It is with great joy tinged with a sense of sadness that I accept the appointment - joy that I will be returning to serve @ArchPhilly, sadness in that I will be leaving @DioceseofCLE,” he said on Twitter.
Perez, who criticised Trump’s policy of separating migrant families, was born the son of Cuban exiles in Miami. He grew up in New Jersey and began working as a priest in Philadelphia in 1989.
Perez will be the first Latino archbishop of Philadelphia, one of the most important dioceses in the United States, and the third to head any American archdiocese.
His appointment reflects changing demographics. Thomas Groome, professor of religious studies and former director of the Boston College Center on the Church, said Hispanics made up the backbone of the U.S. church.
“The American church, for 100 years, had been predominantly Irish,” he said in a telephone interview. “That era has passed. I think it is a new day for the Hispanic ministry of the church.”
About 55 percent of Latino adults in the United States, about 19.6 million people, identify themselves as Catholic, according to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Center.
At a press conference in Philadelphia Thursday morning, Perez frequently addressed the audience in Spanish, translating some of his remarks into English.
He said he would like people to call him “Father Nelson” as he was known by members of the Hispanic community when he was a young priest in Philadelphia.
He also acknowledged the still-unfolding sexual abuse crisis that continues to rock the church. The scandal, including a decades-long cover-up by senior prelates of sexual misconduct by hundreds of priests, has spurred lawsuits and criminal investigations.
“I’d like to say to the victims of the church, that we hold you deep in our hearts and we are sorry,” he said. (Reporting By Philip Pullella in Vatican City and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Alex Richardson and David Gregorio)