Weigel on Cardinal George's golden anniversary

When Francis Eugene George first sought admission to the Chicago seminary in the 1950s, Chicago Catholicism imagined itself the future of the Catholic Church in the western world—and not without reason. A lot of the ferment in Catholic intellectual, liturgical and pastoral life that would eventually produce the Second Vatican Council had already passed through Cook and Lake Counties in the previous two decades. Thus “this confident Church” (as one historian of Chicago Catholicism dubbed it) readily imagined itself the cutting-edge of the Catholic future: where Chicago was, the rest of the Church would eventually be. It was a conceit, to be sure; but it was a conceit with some institutional and pastoral foundation.

Now, as he marks his golden anniversary of priestly ordination on Dec. 21, Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I., the first native Chicagoan to lead what many still regard as the flagship American diocese, is best known, in some circles at least, for proposing the possibility of a very different Catholic future. He sketched it starkly for a group of priests, to illustrate the implications of radical secularization for America: “I will die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die as a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”

There have likely been moments when my friend Cardinal George has rued the day he publicly engaged in that thought-exercise. Many 21st-century Catholics are reluctant to think outside their comfort-zones; the blogosphere can distort anything. Yet the arresting way he formulated that possible future, and especially its net result, gets us to the essence of Francis Eugene George, I suggest.
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