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Cardinal George's Unenthusiastic Take on the Pope's Interview

Last week, I suggested that conservatives were adopting a fairly blase stance towards the Pope's interview, emphasizing the Pope's affirmation of existing doctrine.  In today's Chicago Tribune, Cardinal George offers a clinic in how to water down the significance of the Pope's remarks:

"I think it's a good examination of conscience," George said outside Holy Name Cathedral, where he had just celebrated a Mass honoring couples married for 50 years. "I also think that he's coming from the viewpoint of a pastor who is close to the Lord and close to the people."

But George, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, warned that some had gone too far in seeing Pope Francis' interview as a move away from long-held church teachings on homosexuality, abortion and contraception.  "Everybody is welcome," George said, "but not everything we do can be acceptable. Not everything I do, and not everything anybody else does."

Pope Francis said in the interview that the church "cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently."  When asked Sunday whether Catholics had become obsessed with the moral issues the pope named, George said the church was addressing society's concerns.

"If the society is obsessed with those issues," George said, "then the church will respond. If the society doesn't bring them up, the church won't respond."  Pope Francis, George said, differentiated between people and their actions. George said the pope's most important point was to "accept people and then work with them."

"His position was, 'Don't judge a person,'" the cardinal said. "It wasn't anything about saying, 'Don't judge an action as moral or immoral.' It was taken to say we shouldn't judge the activity." The pope's interview, George said, wasn't about changing policy but about rethinking the way Catholics frame their message.

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.



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Mr. Penaler,


I don't mean to put you down or single you out, but isn't it time for Commonweal and NCR to stop beating this dead horse of how chastened and crestfallen Catholic conservatives are licking their wounds over Pope Francis' interview?  Some commenters are spiking the ball in glee because they think that "orthotoxic" Catholics have gotten their comeuppance.  I don't think Pope Francis would approve of this obsessive gloating.

Many of our brother and sisters in Christ were killed yesterday simply becasue they believed in Him. Couldn't we spend a little ink talking about this and encouraging one another to pray for them?


These are hard words to take from Cardinal George.

Francis George is probably among those hierarchs who are most distrubed by the humility and mercy that have characterized so much of Francesco's papacy so far.  

I don't believe that we are seeing "buyers remorse" from Geoge because I doubt if George was among those cardinals who made-up the majority who selected Bergoglio in the first place - he had that Jesuit/South American ordor about him.  Just my speculation, but it is more likely he was in the Dolan camp - Thank you, Holy Spirit for no small favors!

Especially considering George's performance during the priest sex abuse scandal, George has demonstrated a decidedly defensive and self-referential posture - the very thing that Francesco has cautioned his brother hierarchs and priests against.  

George first attacked survivors and their supporters as being anti-Catholic - No accepting responsibility for being complicit in the rape and sodomy of children by priest from George.  No moral relativism there. 

Then George whined publicly that the media was obsessed with sex scandals in the church very condescendingly pointing out that the he could never recall the media or public schools applying the same standards to themselves.  This was about at the time that the church first had district attorneys and prosecutors breathing down their necks.

And all this public posturing was going on while George disregarded the consultation of his own review board and maintained Rev. Daniel McCormack in parish ministry despite credible reports that McCormack was actively abusing children - one of McCormack victims reached a $3.25 million settlement with the archdiocese:  $3 million for a "canard"?  

This case is especially galling because George was one of the most prominent bishops who advocated for a "zero tolerance" policy.  George also chided critics for having no Christian "mercy" for perpetrator priests.  Direct quote from George:

"We don't wait for the review board [referring to a group of lay people and clergy who investigate cases of  sexual abuse].  We don't wait for anyone.  When an allegation come in, the interim action is taken to ask the priest to step aside while we do an investigation."

Does this sound like hypocrisy to anyone?  Maybe Papa Francesco will soon but George out of his misery by accepting his long over-due retirement?  Perhaps there is a spare room next to Ratzinger at that Vatican convent?

I don't see what the problem is with Cardinal George's remarks.  What is the problem?

Let's see now:

Cardinals O'Malley, Dolan and George have weighed in.  When will the archbishop of the archdiocese where I reside, Archbishop Chaput, speak up?

Cardinal Francis George share our new pope's baptismal and papal names. Probably means  nothing, but I just find it ineresting.

My guess is that Francis's first major archepiscopal appointment in the U.S., the first that will really bear his stamp, will be Chicago.  Given the potential contrasts that have been established here, I'm more and more curious to see what that appointment will look like.

Wish we could edit our own posts:

meant interesting, not ineresting.

Keep in mind - back in the late 1990's when George was triumphant, he gave the infamous *liberal catholicism* is dead speech.

He is past retirement age - he needs to be retired.  He has had his day and his day is past.  He is a cultural warrior and Republican Party bishop.


@ Jim Pauwels:  The problem is that George, O'Malley, Dolan, Tobin among others, all owe their rise up the hierarchy ladder to an episcopal ideology that with the advent of Papa Francesco may no longer be rewarded and selected for in the church's feudal oligarchy.

What is significant in George's public statements is actually what he doesn't say:  Papa Francesco has already brought a welcome "freshness and fragrance of the Gospel" to the papacy.  

George knows how to be effusive in his praise when he wants to ... how do you think he got that far up the ladder?  Obviously, George doesn't care anymore becaue he is staring his on-coming retirement in the face.

Cardinal George has completely ignored the radically new assumption of Pope Francis which Fr. Martin and now otthers have pointed out:  that "thinking with the Church" is thinking with both the laity and the clergy, including the hierarchy.  Francis also emphasizes that the people of God (the combination of all the the elements of the Church) often have differing opinions, but, true, he doesn't even begin to talk about how to make up our minds when there are conflicting opinions.   

What Cardinal George says about Pope Francis' interview is true but only as far as it goes.  True, Pope Francis has not changed any of the Church's teachings, and he seems to think that they're all true.  But he also clearly allows for the possibility that in the future he too might change.  It seems clear to many of us that most of the laity in the West has changed their minds about contraception, and, truth be told, there have always been Catholics (both theologians and laity) who have held that abortion is legitimate in those cases when both the mother and child would die anyway.  So the former teaching is being rejected in toto and the latter one in part.

So YES!  Pope Francis has departed from an old teaching.  Now he thinks that  thinking with the Church must include thinking not only with the hierarchy but with the laity and lower clergy as well.  But *how* to do that when there is serious disagreement among the people of God, when the elements conflict,  is not even touched on.  Not yet.  I suspect that the topic might be on the agenda for the next synod of bishops, which is bound to be a blockbuster.

Ann and others - find the knee jerk - Francis has not changed any dogmas, etc.- to be a typical disclaimer.  In fact, if you listen to Francis, he talks about discernment, encounter, start with where people are at.

Thus, not quite ready yet to repeat that *mantra* about changing teachings, etc.  He is laying the groundwork (e.g. let's see what comes out of his G8 meeting about divorced and remarried and the reception of the eucharist?)

Jim P - would add one more thing that is negative, IMO, about George.  That is the role he played at the USCCB and the *shelving of the 1998 ICEL translations*; his collusion with curial threats to certain USCCB members; his role in Vox Clara and the new translation.  Talk about authoritarianism, about hang ups on rules, etc. 

George is about power and control - it is in his psychological make up and that will not change. (you can cite the example of Father Plueger but even in that case, George could read the tea leaves and didn't want a power struggle in which he might come out on the losing side)

Cardinal George's comments, which presumably were given extemporaneously when approached by reporters on the steps of the cathedral (quite possibly, he was still vested for mass), read to me as though he's supporting what the pope said.  

I do think that these allegedly hot topics like contraception et al don't interest Pope Francis nearly as much as some other aspects of the church's life which he seems to view as more urgent and important to preach at the moment.  If folks want to latch onto that shift in emphasis and trumpet it as an important change, I'm not going to argue.  Having said that, I do think the possibilities for change have some limits.  I don't expect any changes, or really any "loosening", on what is taught in Humanae Vitae or Evangelium Vitae.  But what can, should and must change if the church wants to continue to fulfill its mission, is how it approaches people who aren't connected (or are no longer connected) to the church, how it talks, how it listens, and so on.  This is where Pope Francis is doing a wonderful job of pressing the reset button.

I get the opportunity to hear Cardinal George speak and preach from time to time - usually, several times each year, in a variety of settings.  My impression is that he has a pretty broad and comprehensive view of the church's life and its role in society.  I'd think he's quite sympathetic to Pope Francis' call to keep church teaching in the proper relationships and perspectives, and that some things (like accepting Christ) are more fundamental than opposing abortion or same sex marriage.  Granted, the Chicago Tribune may not write a news story when the Cardinal speaks about topics that aren't perceived to be of general, secular interest.

It is true that Cardinal George is past retirement age.  He submitted his request for retirement when he turned 75.  I've never spoken with him about this, but I suspect he'd like to retire.  He's a two-time cancer survivor, and things that most of us take for granted, like climbing steps (unavoidable for any bishop as they say masses at churches all over the diocese), are laborious and difficult for him.  Like Steven Millies, I'm intensely curious as to who will succeed him. :-).  One thought on that score: the Chicago archdiocese may not be primarily an English-as-first-language diocese these days.  An archbishop who speaks Spanish as well as he speaks English would be a tremendous pastoral advantage.

@ Jim Pauwels:  I'm concerned that your spinning the story out of Rome these days so much trying desperately to convince yourself that Papa Francesco does not in fact represent a new day is that you've become somewhat dizzy.

I actually agree that "the possibilities for change have some limits."  How could Bergoglio rise to rank of cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, then get elected pope, without the support of the most reactionary elements of hierarchy?  How could Francesco now embrace ideas and policies that until now have been considered subversive from within the Vatican and hierarchy? How could Francesco now turn his back on his brother hierarchs so easily? 

The radical change, reform, and renewal that is required if the church is to even survive till the end of this century will not come from the hierarchs.  I don't think even the humble, generous, Jesuit pope is capable of that magic.

I think, if I sense correctly the spirit behind Francesco's words and actions so far, he is hoping that the impetus for reform and renewal will come from the People.  

We must demand more democracy from the church.  We must insist on the equality of all, especially the respect for women.  We must insist on the primary role for calling men and women to ministry.  We must separate the money from the ministry.  We must define the inclusiveness of our faith communities.



[BTW:  I certainly don't have as sanguine a view of George's pastoral abilities as you do.  In my dealings with him, he was more interested in marginalizing and labelling his critics as anti-Catholic. I think that Papa Francesco is as committed as George is to the church.  I just sense that like Angelo Roncalli, Papa Francesco having become pope is listening to new voices.]

Steven - that is big news out of Newark.  It appears the new coadjutor, Hebda, was part of Dolan's delegation that conducted a visitaiton of the Irish national seminary in the wake of the Ireland scandals.


Jim P- don't you think that Barron has already appointed himself as hier apparent (in his mind)?  He wants it so bad he can taste it.

Bill - I don't know what Fr. Barron's hopes and dreams are, but I think it's not usual for a candidate to make the leap from the presbyterate all the way to a major seat like Chicago - more typically, if he is to be a bishop, he will start in Sioux Falls or Kalamazoo or some such for a while, right?  Also, does it ever happen that an archbishop is appointed to the seat where he spent his ministerial career as a priest?  It seems like they tend to bring bishops in from outside the diocese.


I think Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile was raised from the local presbyterate to the archepiscopacy. But it's unusual to be sure. I think all we can say about +George's successor is that we can't know now. And, it's worth looking forward to.

@frank Gibbons,

We libs are not spiking the ball ... we throw the ball up to the fans and pay, I think,. a hundred bucks..

One of the tighty-righties has started to see the light:  Salvatore Cordileone.  This past week he visited my parish in SF .... a move that NO ONE ever expected to see because it is greatly inhabited by "those people" ... in the role of humble servant sans bling.  No press; no photos; no publicity.  That was part of the deal.  He visited and served the homeless at our Wednesday Night Suppers and actually did some of the work.

Six months ago I can gar-on-tee that this would not have happened!

I for one do not believe that this represents a conversion experience for him, but it just might be a beginning of said conversion.

@ Jim McCrea:  It is hard to believe that Cordileone would rub elbows with the folks at Most Holy Redeemer parish [I presume].  Not his style at all.

As Master Yoda said:  "The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is."  

Yet, the impulse for a hierarch to emulate the top dog runs very deep.  The hierarchs have been classically conditioned to kiss-up as they make their way up the ladder.  

Maybe Condileone has made the political calculation that a change in tone is in his own best self-interest now with the Jesuit pope firmly ensconced in the Vatican?

Or, maybe Cordileone, with the election of Francesco, has experienced true metanoia, has been rethinking his life, and has decided to embrace the Gospel?

Nah! ... never happen!   [If he has changed, I'd have to start believing in fairies:  "I do believe in fairies ...

Hebda is a graduate of Harvard and of Columbia Law School.  Maybe he didn't start out  as closed-minded as some of his fellow bishops.  

Another interesting appointment today:  Auxiliary Bishop Sheldon Fabre of New Orleans has been appointed as Bishop of Thibodeaux-Houma, a small nearby diocese.  He's an African-American native of Baton Rouge.  All reports say he was beloved in Baton Rouge which is quite a feat for a black man.  He's just 60 years old, a graduate of Louvain (which signals a rather open mind?), and is known far and wide as a humble man and a particularly fine preacher.  He has served in my parish as pastor, and everyone here says his sermons are fine.  If he's indicative of the sort of man whom Pope Francis is going to appoint, then Wow! This is a first-inning home run for Francis :-)


For those who have taken the (understandable) position, 'I like what I've heard from Pope Francis so far, but I'm going to wait and see what, if anything, he does about the sex abuse scandals' - this Newark coadjutor appointment seems to be a concrete thing.  I hope it turns out to be a good thing for victims and the archdiocese.


Jim: yes, that's good.

If Archbishop Myers was given a coadjutor principally because of his negligence with respect to priests who sexually abused minors, why instead was he not asked by the pope to resign now? Unless there is some secret provision at work, he can, according to canon law, remain Archbishop of Newark until 26 July 2016.

Jim Jenkins:  Cordileone did not "rub elbows" with the general run of MHR parishioners but, rather (and I'll give him props for this) came to and worked at our weekly feeding of the homeless.

Now whether or not he will come and worship with the parish is another question altogether.  If he does I hope that he first comes and sits in the pews and observes and participates with the rest of us.  Just showing up in all of his finery and dancing around "the issue" is not going to go over well.  And if he doesn't dance around but come out with what he is infamous for, then his first appearance there will be his last.

But, as William Cowper wrote:  The Lord moves in mysterious ways, Her wonders to perform. 

I agree, that's why I am not completely thrilled. However if he no longer has power to take decisions, and Bp Hebda now has authority, then the main practical goal is achieved, Abp Myers will retain the title but not the power, and I won't complain. It may be the Francis way: deal with problematic people in the most discrete way possible.



Former British foreign secretary, Lord Owen, a trained neurologist, described the hubris syndrome (HS), an acquired personality disorder whose characteristic pattern of exuberant overconfidence, recklessness and contempt for others can result in disastrous decision-making,  Lord Owen warned that those in positions of power in any area of society can be vulnerable to HS, not just politicians. Lord Owen defined HS as a "disorder of the possession of power, particularly power associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraints on the leader.”

Is this not the best description of those hierarchs who have wielded unquestioned local power under the aegis of the last two popes, silencing theologians, bullying politicians, imposing right-wing conservative curricula on seminaries, attacking nuns who are doing the real work of the gospel, refusing participation of the laity in decision making, covering-up wrong-doing, refurbishing episcopal palaces and building shrines to their ego while closing schools and neighborhood churches, living as "princes".


Didn't the new Pope say he wanted pastoral people for bishops?  Doesn't that mean they should have a lot of experience in parishes?   Does Bishop Hebda have that kind of background?  

If a coadjutor is given the authority to make decisions, that is usually specified in the appointment by naming him in addition "apostolic administrator." I believe that  Archbishop Myers has had some health problems. He may have agreed to continue in office for a limited  period, for example, six months to a year. But we don't know. Archbishop Myers has been a bishop for twenty-six years. Is there then a certain "ecclesiastical courtesy" operating here?

Irene Baldwin:

Archbishop Hebda, 54, was ordained a priest of Pittsburgh in 1989 by the then Bishop Wuerl.  Over the next twenty years he served for five years in parish ministry. The remaining years were spent in diocesan administration and working in the Roman Curia (thirteen years). He was named Bishop of Gaylord in 2009.

He is known to be very pastoral, kind, and approachable, though he has had to deal with some health difficulties.

IT IS up to us CATHOLICS on the direction of the Church. IN the VATICAN the hierarchy decides policy and direction. BUT, here in AMERICA, the Bishops have decided to ignore whatever   comes out of the VATICAN unless it fits their view.

 THIS HOLY FATHER is going to upset a lot of ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE CARDINALS with his actions and worries about the POOR instead of worrying about abortion and other issues that pertain to the rich class. THESE BISHOPS AND CARDINALS should be ENTHROLLED with the koch brothers billionaires.THEIR love of money equals the love that the bishops have.

 IN  PITTSBURGH,PA. BISHOP ZUBICK is willing to close down an entire parish in one city because the people are upset with the closing of their church on one end of the city and keep another church open on the other end.GREAT MOVE. TALK about retaliation.

John Page: Thanks!

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