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Cardinal George Discusses Pope’s Health, Successor Ahead Of Bishops Conference

Jay Levine Jay Levine
Jay Levine is the chief correspondent for CBS 2 Chicago. He joined...
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NEW ORLEANS (CBS) What’s being called a minor illness has forced Pope Francis to cancel a second day of private audiences at the Vatican.

His health is a topic of concern, at the U.S. Conference of Bishops in New Orleans, as is that of Francis Cardinal George and his eventual replacement.

CBS 2 Chief Corresponded Jay Levine reports with all the attention being paid to the Cardinal’s health issues and impending retirement, it’s easy to forget he and Pope Francis are contemporaries.

The news of the pope being under the weather came as a surprise to him.

“This is news to me; hadn’t heard,” said Cardinal George. “Sometimes he’s talked about his health. He has one complete lung and part of another.”

Levine and Cardinal George spoke as he was to attend the twice yearly gathering of bishops, the Catholic Church of America’s past present and future leaders.

“I look around and say two thirds weren’t here when I was a bishop,” said Cardinal George.

Some will be candidates to replace him. The favorites including conference president Joseph Kurtz, Archbishop of Louisville; J. Peter Sartain, Archbishop of Seattle, who was once in Joliet; and Chicagoan Wilton Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta. Their names are undoubtedly on lists being submitted to the Papal Nuncio; the Pope’s man in America.

“I know the three … names I sent to the nuncio,” said George. “I said ‘Here’s my terna.’ That doesn’t mean he’ll pay any attention to it, necessarily, but he’s got three names from me. He’ll have three names from a lot of other people, too.”

The bishops will gather in a hotel ballroom which is being prepared for two days of talks on issues facing the bishops’ conference. Just one American bishop was there Tuesday night, Cardinal Justin Rigali, who is retired now, like Cardinal George will be after this conference or the next.

It’s almost as if he’s come full circle, back to New Orleans where he got his doctorate at Tulane and the conference he first attended as a young bishop from Yakima, Washington. Now he’s one of the group’s elder statesmen, a cardinal and past president, ready to hand the baton to the next generation having already weighed in on who that should be.

As for the Pope, while past popes have taken summers off to escape Rome’s heat, the 77-year-old Pope Francis has chosen to stay and work.