George's birthday raises questions of retirement

January 15, 2012 8:15:21 PM PST
The Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago turns 75 years old Monday. That means Francis Cardinal George must submit his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict.

However, it doesn't mean he's going anywhere anytime soon.

Signs are being sent from Rome, where his recent appointments to Vatican commissions and assignments seem to indicate the pope has no plans to accept Cardinal George's resignation anytime soon.

Cardinal George got a surprise from the congregation of Saint Linus Parish Sunday as they helped him celebrate by singing Happy Birthday.

"You are now looking at the oldest man ever to have been archbishop of Chicago and the secret is pure stubbornness" Cardinal Goerge said with a laugh He is now required by church law to hand in his resignation, one which the pope is not obligated to accept.

After 15 years as the archbishop of Chicago, its obvious George and many Chicagoland Catholics are not ready to see him leave his ministry.

"I just think he's a beautiful man," said parishioner Nancy Campbell. "It comes out of him in so many ways. When you are around him, you can tell, you can feel it. He's very special."

"He is an amazing man," said Susan Scardina. "Hopefully he wont retire soon."

Cardinal George succeeded the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as archbishop in 1997 after previously serving as bishop of Yakima, Wash., and Portland, Ore.

His time in Chicago has not been without controversy.

Most recently, he faced criticism for comments he made comparing the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan following word of a proposed change in the route of the city's annual gay pride parade would block access to Sunday mass.

The cardinal apologized, but Joe Murray of the gay rights group The Rainbow Sash Movement said it appears George is backing away from that with comments made in a diocesean newspaper.

"He wants to talk about his fears but he wants talk about them in an unproductive way that challenges the civil rights of gay and lesbian people," Murray said.

Should Pope Benedict accept his letter, George said he would stay in Chicago and do what is asked of him by his successor. He plans to see the pope in February.

"I would hope that I could return to some of the things that I really wanted to do as a priest: hearing confessions, helping in parishes, giving some conferences, perhaps, work with the poor," he said. "I've always done direct work with poor people in places I've been, except in Chicago. I would like to be able to do that again, serving in soup kitchens and things of that nature."