Francis Cardinal George — perhaps the only true one-time “American Papabile” — R.I.P.

The Statement from the Archdiocese of Chicago:

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I had the privilege and honor of being received into the Church along with my wife by Cardinal George at the Easter Vigil in 2000. He generously made time to visit our RCIA group when we were both candidates and later, as sponsors, and I was able to meet him and chat with him briefly several times. I was impressed by his brilliance, and humility. This is sad news.

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 12.37.14 PMA lot of good Chicago Catholics noticed his appearance on the Loggia of St. Peter’s after the election of Benedict XVI in 2005. His expression was described as pensive or anxious, and reporters later asked him what it was that he was feeling or thinking in the moment that he was caught on camera.

My recollection is that Cardinal George answered that looking out onto the square, he reflected how the various man-made institutions had come and faded into mere memory over the life of the Church — the Roman Empire, the various European kingdoms, and all the other great powers that at one point or another seemed virtually indestructible. “Where are they now?”, he asked. Only the Church survived when other forces appeared so much more unstoppable.

This answer never put an end to speculation that he had received some votes in the conclave, enough to pray for Benedict to have a long pontificate. By any stretch, it would have been amazing for an American cardinal to receive any votes, much less a block of them. If true, by the time of the 2013 conclave he most likely was more serene, aware that his cancer and age would save him from such a burden. But a number of Chicago Catholics, including myself, would not have been dismayed at all, but rather delighted (and confident in the Holy Spirit’s guidance) with a Pope George.

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