Cardinal George heading to Rome for final meeting with Pope Benedict

February 18, 2013 10:27:08 AM PST
Chicago's Francis Cardinal George will head to Rome on February 26th to prepare for the conclave that will choose the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church. By Ross Weidner

After mass at Chicago's St. Bride church Sunday, Cardinal George told reporters that he'll join Pope Benedict XVI and other cardinals at the Vatican for a final meeting with the aging pontiff on the morning of Pope Benedict XVI's last day as Pope.

Cardinal George wouldn't pick a favorite to replace Pope Benedict XVI, saying factors like a cardinal's home country should have little influence on the process to choose the next Pope.

Cardinal George outlined his papal selection criteria, saying, "I think the most important thing is who is the person? Is he able to do the ministry of the successor of Peter? Is he anchored in the faith, does he have a heart for the poor, does he speak the languages necessary to communicate with the contemporary world? Can he govern?"

Traditionally, a fifteen day waiting period coincides with a period of "sede vacante" or vacant seat. Without a Pope in charge, church business is governed by the College of Cardinals. However, Vatican officials say that the fifteen day waiting period may be waived this time because cardinals will already be in Rome for Pope Benedict's final days as Pope.

Cardinal George says a specific date for the start of the conclave will not be available until after Pope Benedict steps down. But, he expects a period of time for the world's cardinals to meet and discuss viable Papal candidates before the conclave begins.

"If you don't do the work of discernment beforehand, the conclave could be very long because during the conclave, you don't talk to one another. It's prayer and it's voting which takes a very long time," said Cardinal George.

He continued, "You don't have the time to talk except in the evening at supper or if you're together after that, if you want to choose to be together. So, the conversations that have to take place if you're going to act responsibly really should take place before the conclave begins. How much time that will take? I don't know."