The following comes from a Nov. 16 article by John L. Allen, Jr. on Crux.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago will turn over the reins to his successor, Archbishop Blase Cupich, on Tuesday. George has long been seen as a leading intellectual light among America’s Catholic bishops, and even now, as he fights for his life, his mind remains remarkably nimble.
As it turns out, one thing occupying his mind these days is Pope Francis.
Now 77, George is currently undergoing experimental treatment intended to stimulate his immune system to fight off the cancer spreading from his bladder, liver, and kidneys through the rest of his body. If it fails, he’ll likely be looking at palliative care ahead of the inevitable.
I’ve described George before as the “American Ratzinger” for his blend of intellectual chops and tenacious commitment to Catholic tradition, in the spirit of the former Joseph Ratzinger, the man who became Pope Benedict XVI. (For the record, George shuns the label, insisting he’s not of Benedict’s intellectual caliber. He is, in any event, the closest thing to it on these shores.)
George sat down for an exclusive interview on Friday. A fuller account will appear Monday on Crux, but for now, one fascinating element is this: If time and health allow, George would really, really like to have a heart-to-heart with Francis.
Aside from the sheer fun of knowing what one of America’s best Catholic minds wants to ask the pope, George’s dream Q&A has political relevance because he remains a point of reference to the Church’s conservative wing. These aren’t just his questions, in other words, but what a large and influential Catholic constituency would like to know.
So, what’s on his mind?
To begin, George said he’d like to ask Francis if he fully grasps that in some quarters, he’s created the impression Catholic doctrine is up for grabs.
Does Francis realize, for example, “what has happened just by that phrase, ‘Who am I to judge?’ ”
Francis’ signature sound-bite, George said, “has been very misused … because he was talking about someone who has already asked for mercy and been given absolution, whom he knows well,” George said.
(Francis uttered the line in 2013, in response to a question about a Vatican cleric accused of gay relationships earlier in his career.)
“That’s entirely different than talking to somebody who demands acceptance rather than asking for forgiveness,” George said.
“Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t,” George said. “I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds.”
“The question is why he doesn’t he clarify” these ambiguous statements, George said. “Why is it necessary that apologists have to bear the burden of trying to put the best possible face on it?”
He said he also wonders if Francis realizes how his rhetoric has created expectations “he can’t possibly meet.”
I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds.”
“That’s what worries me,” George said. “At a certain moment, people who have painted him as a player in their own scenarios about changes in the Church will discover that’s not who he is.”
At that stage, George warned, “He’ll get not only disillusionment, but opposition, which could be harmful to his effectiveness.”
Second, George said he’d like to ask Francis who is providing him advice — which, he said, has become the “big question” about this pope.
“Obviously he’s getting input from somewhere,” George said. “Much of it he collects himself, but I’d love to know who’s truly shaping his thinking.”
Third, George noted that Francis often makes references to the Devil and the biblical notion of the end-times, but said it’s not clear how that shapes his vision and agenda.
Among other things, George recalled that one of Francis’ favorite books is The Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson, a converted Catholic priest and son of a former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s an apocalyptic fantasy, written in 1907, culminating in a showdown between the Church and a charismatic anti-Christ figure.
George said he’d like to ask Francis a simple question: “Do you really believe that?”
“I hope before I die I’ll have the chance to ask him how you want us to understand what you’re doing, when you put [the end-times] before us as a key to it all,” he said.
Perhaps, George said, the sense that the end is near explains why Francis “seems to be in a hurry….”
To read the original story, click here.