Cardinal Fran­cis Ge­orge, key Catholic or­tho­doxy voice, dies


Cardinal Fran­cis Ge­orge, a vig­or­ous de­fender of Ro­man Catholic or­tho­doxy who played a key role in the church’s re­sponse to the clergy sex abuse scan­dal and led the U.S. bish­ops’ fight against Oba­macare, has died af­ter a long fight with can­cer. He was 78.

Ge­orge, who re­tired as Chicago arch­bishop in the au­tumn 2014, a few months be­fore an­nounc­ing his treat­ment for kid­ney can­cer had failed, died late Fri­day morn­ing, ac­cord­ing to the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago, one of Amer­ica’s largest.

“Let us heed his ex­am­ple and be a lit­tle more brave, a lit­tle more stead­fast and a lot more lov­ing,” Chicago Arch­bishop Blase Cupich said dur­ing a news con­fer­ence, de­scrib­ing his pre­de­ces­sor as “a man of great courage.”

Ap­pointed to Chicago in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, the Chicago na­tive be­came a lead­ing fig­ure of his era in many of the most im­por­tant events in the Amer­i­can church.

At the height of the abuse cri­sis in 2002, Ge­orge led a group of U.S. bish­ops who per­suaded re­sis­tant Vat­i­can of­fi­cials to more quickly oust guilty priests — a pol­icy at the core of re­forms meant to re­store trust in church lead­ers. He also over­saw the con­tentious new English-lan­guage trans­la­tion of the Ro­man Missal, one of the big­gest changes in Catholic wor­ship in gen­er­a­tions.

And in his three years as pres­i­dent of the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, Ge­orge spear­headed op­po­si­tion to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Af­ford­able Care Act, ar­gu­ing that the pres­i­dent’ at­tempt to pro­vide uni­ver­sal health care would al­low tax­payer money to fund abor­tion. The Chicago arch­dio­cese’s char­i­ta­ble arm helped sue the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2012, over the re­quire­ment that em­ploy­ers pro­vide health in­sur­ance cov­er­ing con­tra­cep­tion.

He earned two doc­tor­ates, spoke Ital­ian, Span­ish, French and other lan­guages, and wrote sev­eral books. A mem­ber of the Mis­sion­ary Oblates of Mary Im­mac­u­late, he even­tu­ally helped lead the re­li­gious or­der as vicar gen­eral based in Rome.

In 1990, he was ap­pointed bishop of Yakima, Wash­ing­ton, then arch­bishop of Port­land, Ore­gon, be­fore be­ing as­signed to Chicago.

Ge­orge’s ap­point­ment to the Arch­dio­cese of Chicago — the na­tion’s third-largest with 2.2 mil­lion parish­ioners — un­der­scored the shift un­der John Paul to­ward drawing a more de­fin­i­tive line about what could be con­sid­ered truly Catholic.

The first Chicago na­tive to be­come the city’s arch­bishop, Ge­orge suc­ceeded Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, a beloved fig­ure of na­tional stand­ing who ad­vo­cated a “seam­less gar­ment” of life giv­ing equal weight to so­cial jus­tice teach­ings and op­po­si­tion to abor­tion.

‘Fran­cis the cor­rec­tor’

By con­trast, Ge­orge pri­or­i­tized up­hold­ing doc­trine and pre­serv­ing tra­di­tion, lead­ing dis­grun­tled priests to ini­tially dub him “Fran­cis the Cor­rec­tor.” Ge­orge de­clared lib­eral Catholi­cism an “ex­hausted project,” ar­gu­ing it failed to pass on “the faith in its in­tegrity” on mar­riage, the priest­hood and other is­sues.

“It no longer gives life,” Ge­orge wrote in 2004, in the Catholic mag­a­zine Com­mon­weal. He said fight­ing abor­tion should be the pri­mary con­cern of all Catholics.

The pen­du­lum seemed to swing back in Septem­ber 2014, when Pope Fran­cis was elected and said the church should be less fo­cused on di­vi­sive so­cial is­sues and more on mercy. Ge­orge said he strug­gled to un­der­stand the new pope’s ap- proach, call­ing the pon­tiff’s mes­sages “a bit jum­bled at times.”

“It’s con­fus­ing for a lot of peo­ple in­clud­ing my­self at times. For some­one who ap­pre­ci­ates clar­ity, I would like to get a few things clear so I can co­op­er­ate,” Ge­orge told The Chicago Tri­bune in Oc­to­ber 2014, two months be­fore he stepped down.

As cardinal, Ge­orge could be star­tling blunt.

When a pro­posed route had the Chicago Gay Pride Pa­rade pass­ing a parish around Sun­day Mass, Ge­orge warned the pro­ces­sion could “morph into the Ku Klux Klan, demon­strat­ing in the streets against Catholi­cism.” He later apol­o­gized.

Separately, when ad­dress­ing what he con­sid­ered in­creas­ing hos­til­ity to­ward Chris­tian­ity, he said: “I ex­pect to die in bed, my suc­ces­sor will die in pri­son and his suc­ces­sor will die a martyr in the public square.” He later said he was de­scrib­ing a worst-case sce­nario and be­lieved the church would sur­vive de­spite tra­vails.

“I don’t want to hurt any­body,” Ge­orge told the Tri­bune. “But if you say, ‘Un­less you agree with me I’ll be hurt,’ well, that’s not a

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