Reporting Jay Levine
CHICAGO (CBS) – For the first time since being diagnosed with cancer and beginning a long and difficult course of treatment, Cardinal Francis George was speaking out about his fight for life, as well as his future.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine was invited to the cardinal’s Near North Side residence to speak with him.
The cardinal came down the stairs from his second floor study, apologizing for keeping us waiting. He fell asleep, he explained.
“That’s what happens these days. If you let me fall asleep, I do,” he said.
His fatigue, he explained, was the result of chemotherapy he’s been undergoing since being diagnosed with kidney cancer in August. But his spirit is good, and so is his sense of humor. He joked he had no fear of losing his hair, having been bald for years.
“I was hoping it might grow back. You know, chemo does odd things, but it hasn’t grown back, either,” he said.
The cardinal said his biggest regret has been the need to cut back on public appearances, especially during the holiday season.
“Your immune system is weakened, and so they don’t want you to catch a cold, because you can’t fight it,” he said. “This time of year, especially, and children apparently are a source of cold sometimes for others, so they restrict you in that week or so when the immune system is really down.”
He’s looking forward to the end of his treatment next month, hopeful that encouraging signs are a prediction of success.
“At the beginning of January they’ll do the scans again, and then we’ll have to make some decisions about what’s appropriate,” he said.
George has been archbishop of Chicago for just over 16 years, but at 76, his resignation already has been submitted, as required, and he could be replaced at any time. He said he’s already planning for it.
“I was the benefit of a strategic plan that Cardinal [Joseph] Bernardin did at end of his life, and I would like to leave something like that for my successor,” he said.
The fact that he’s not yet been asked for his views on who that should be could mean nothing is imminent, though here too, the Cardinal is thinking ahead.
“I think I’ve been a faithful bishop, as far as I can tell. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I can know more of them than you would even know, I suspect. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of inadvertence, but never deliberately so,” he said.
He said one of the things he’d like to spend more time on when he retires is hearing people’s confessions. It’s the one place in society where true forgiveness is given, he said, and he’d like to do it at Holy Name Cathedral, where he’s presided for nearly two decades.
“This is my home. I was born and raised here. My family is here,” he said.
If he does, he’ll have come full circle, and made history; not only as the first native Chicagoan to be named Archbishop here, but also the first Chicago archbishop to live to retire here.