Magazine article The Christian Century

Bernardin's Successor Named

Magazine article The Christian Century

Bernardin's Successor Named

Article excerpt

The Vatican, acting nearly five months after the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, April 8 named Archbishop Francis George of Portland, Oregon, as the new head of the powerful and important archdiocese of Chicago. George, 60, a member of the Oblate Fathers religious order and frequently described as an intellectual conservative, is the first native Chicagoan appointed to the post.

George returns to his childhood home after serving for just ten months in Portland. Before that he headed the diocese of Yakima, Washington, from 1990 to 1996. George also served as the vicar general for the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in Rome from 1974 to 1986. With the Chicago appointment, he is almost certain to be named a cardinal.

At a news conference in Chicago April 8, George sought to draw both continuities and distinctions with the immensely popular Bernardin, who was widely regarded as a mediating figure within an ideologically divided church. But he shied away from specific questions about policies and politics on which he might differ from the late cardinal, saying that he, like Bernardin, practiced traditional Roman Catholic faith. "The faith isn't liberal or conservative," George said. "The faith is truth. There's no difference [with Bernardin] in substance. There may be difference in style." George stressed his commitment to dialogue but acknowledged that he may not possess Bernardin's gift to speak in such a way that listeners who might not fully agree could still find "wiggle room."

Among the issues George said he hopes to address while in Chicago are questions involving the Latino community in the life of the church and the concerns of people with disabilities. George overcame a childhood bout with polio and still wears a brace on his leg. He also wants to work with and listen to those whose perspectives are different from his own, he noted. "I would like to understand how they understand the teaching," George said of those who support the ordination of women.

Acknowledging equal capabilities an the parts of men and women, George said: "It's not as much a question of function as it is of symbolism. Symbols are more important than function. The church makes invisible realities visible." But interpretation of those realities is not a settled question for many Catholics, especially women, who reacted to George's appointment with caution. Rosemary Radford Ruether, a feminist theologian at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, said George's comments simply reflect current Catholic policy, which argues that since Jesus was a man he can be represented in the priesthood only by men.

For Sister Donna Quinn, director of Chicago Catholic Women, an independent feminist group within the archdiocese, the symbolism evident during George's first visit to Chicago after his appointment was that of all-male representation in a majority-female institution. "Symbolism is quite important if we are to have a church for our daughters," Quinn said. "It's just crucial. We hope his number-one priority would be to stop the gender discrimination and bring needed healing."

In areas outside of doctrine, George has shown a progressive streak, publicly opposing in 1994 and 1995 antigay ballot initiatives in Washington state, as well as fighting for migrant-worker rights, low-income housing and other causes concerning minorities. On the ecumenical front, George's appointment was welcomed by the Chicago chapter of the American Jewish Committee. "Archbishop George has already demonstrated an excellent track record on Catholic-Jewish relations, interfaith cooperation and human relations," declared Richard Weinberg, president of the Chicago AJC.--RNS

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