Chicago Catholic

A profile of Cardinal Francis George

He’s decidedly not charismatic. His style is cerebral, low-key, and unlike other prominent church leaders, he is a bit awkward at obligatory small talk. When Cardinal Francis George, OMI, walked through a television studio in Chicago last summer, he was barely noticed, eliciting little buzz. When he greeted a group of visiting Northwestern journalism students, few of them knew who he is. He is far from being a celebrity, even in that most Catholic of cities where he was born and is now archbishop.

Yet George may be emerging, albeit in a quiet way, as the central figure in the American church hierarchy. He is “the most respected and sought-after American cardinal in Rome these days,” says John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. And, while it is considered almost impossible that the next pope will emerge from the world’s sole superpower, George would be a serious candidate if the College of Cardinals were to look to American leadership.

The crisis of the past five years has diminished the competition. Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law-a mentor to George-was forced to resign because of the sexual-abuse scandal. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles was at the center of a public squabble with Frank Keating, the then leader of the U.S. bishops’ committee on sexual abuse. The other American cardinals either are new to the scene or maintain much lower profiles. When it comes to the...

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About the Author

Peter Feuerherd is a freelance writer in New York.