Cardinal George celebrates 50 years in priesthood

December 18, 2013 ( CHICAGO)

Those are not merely words of humility for Francis Cardinal George but the reality.

VIDEO: Full interview with Cardinal George

Fifty years ago when he was ordained a priest at his home parish of St. Pascals on the Northwest Side, even that was unusual. He didn't go to seminary here. He belongs to a religious order - the Oblates of Mary Immaculate - dedicated to serving the poor. Even his father did not initially approve.

"My dad was a good Catholic, he appreciated the priesthood, but he didn't like priests, for whatever reason. He didn't want to ever be friends with a priest, but he appreciated the priesthood," George said.

His father's last words of advice: Well, at least be a good one. Now, half a century later and after nearly 17 years of leading one of the largest groups of Catholics in the nation - he has a moment to reflect on whether he accomplished that goal.

"I can't think of any place that I've deliberately done something that haunts me, but your mistakes haunt you sometimes," George said.

If he was granted a do-over, he says he would have been better prepared to handle the sexual abuse crisis. He's been criticized for his handling of the case of former priest Daniel McCormack, but most of the cases originated long before he was Chicago's archbishop.

"So I had to catch up on that, and I thought we had. And then I'm caught by surprise again. And so, you can never put your guard down, and you also have to try to heal as best you can," he said.

In the more recent past, he lost the battle over same-sex marriage in Illinois and now is concerned about how the new law will affect the church and its ministries.

"In the immediate thing now, to say that 'marriage is a man and a woman for the sake of family' is a discriminatory statement, and I think that if people want to bully us, using that law now, they will," George said.

The cardinal knows he's in the twilight of his calling after two bouts with cancer. He gets regular screenings and doesn't say he's "clear," believing it will return. His mandatory resignation letter still stands unacted upon, and he says no one at the Vatican has talked to him about leaving.

"The pope hasn't called me yet, but everyone else seems to know when I'm going to retire, except for me. But I would hope they'd move it along at some point. They haven't even started the consultation and that takes months after they start that," George said.

Multiple events were scheduled to honor the cardinal. But outside the Drake Hotel Wednesday night, he was met by protesters. At this event, protesters criticized the cardinal and the church for their positions on women and gays.

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