Special Segment: When Called to Resign

December 25, 2011 9:59:53 PM PST
Chicago Archbishop Francis Cardinal George turns 75 in January, and under Catholic Church law, he then has to offer to step down.

ABC7's Alan Krashesky spoke with the cardinal on ABC7's NewsViews and has more about what this means.

It does not mean that he wants to quit, but nonetheless, on his birthday, January 16th, Francis Cardinal George will send a letter to Pope Benedict offering the pope his resignation as Chicago's archbishop. All bishops are required to do that when they turn 75.

So, appropriately, at Christmastime, Cardinal George is sharing his thoughts about this landmark event and what he would like to do when he no longer leads Chicago's Catholics.

"I'm the very first archbishop of Chicago who has lived long enough to do this," said George. "I'm kind of glad about that."

As a survivor of both bladder cancer and polio, Cardinal George knows that his health is a primary consideration. He says he feels good.

"As you get older, the weaker parts get weaker faster, so I have a little more trouble walking than I had before. As far as the cancer's concerned, well, I have another big checkup in January. They keep checking and so far, so good," said George.

When his resignation letter arrives on Pope Benedict's desk, it is unlikely it will be accepted immediately.

"It's there, and he can accept it when he wants to. He usually he waits at least one year, in the case of cardinals, sometimes two, sometimes three. I would hope it would be sometime between two and three years, but, um, it's up to him, finally," said George.

The cardinal is known for keeping a busy schedule that would likely tire somebody many years younger. He's at the forefront of key issues affecting Chicago Catholics including the sexual abuse crisis in the church and the recent controversy over Catholic Governor Pat Quinn's support of pro-choice groups.

"It's a question of - at times - he seemed to be saying: I'm doing this - which is against Catholic teaching - because I'm Catholic," said George.

There is also the case of popular South Side priest Father Michael Pfleger. Pfleger has fought to stay at St. Sabina Parish, but Pfleger has now submitted what apparently is some form of a transition plan.

"He did write what was in his heart and mind in a letter on December 1st - and I was very pleased to receive it, but we haven't had a chance to go back over it together," said George.

As we sat and talked in the ABC7 studios, I got the impression that the cardinal wouldn't mind living a less public life. When he does eventually step down, he will still be a bishop, but he hopes to be more of a priest.

"Bishops confirm, so I imagine I'd do some of that. I would like to spend more time hearing confessions and counseling people, and there's some reading and writing I'd like to do, maybe preach retreats - a lot of things," said George.

His current position, he says, enables him to do "a lot of wonderful things," but also things that "cause trouble sometimes," as he puts it. He laughs when asked if the pope might have another job for him in Rome.

"You do what the Holy Father would ask you to do, but I don't expect that to happen at all," said George. "I don't know what I would be asked to do."

There is not expected to be any immediate response from the Vatican when Cardinal George submits his resignation next month. When, eventually, he is no longer Archbishop of Chicago, he will still be a cardinal and among the exclusive group that would elect the next pope until the cardinal reaches the age of 80.


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