Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cardinal Francis George reflects on issues
Archbishop talks about health care, sexual abuse crisis
January 22, 2011|By Manya A. Brachear, Tribune reporterAfter wrapping up a three-year term as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in November and celebrating his 74th birthday earlier this month, Cardinal Francis George sat down with Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear to share his perspective on politics, recent news in the sexual abuse crisis and even the NFC Championship. The following are excerpts from that conversation.

Q: As president of the bishops conference, you were quite outspoken about health care reform. Did this week's symbolic repeal of the measure please or dismay you?

A: [The repeal] is a platform for discussing, how do we go forward? If it serves that purpose of perfecting the bill, good. Two moral points we're concerned about remain: Everybody should be taken care of, and nobody should be killed.

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Q: Explain the letter that surfaced this week from the Vatican to the Irish bishops in 1997 instructing them to avoid involving civil authorities in sex abuse cases. Did you ever receive that kind of letter or did the Chicago archdiocese?

A: I never saw a letter like that.

That was the opinion, I know, of the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy at that time. They protected priests to a great extent. It's why the cases were switched ... to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When we went over to argue our case [for zero tolerance in 2002], they had already lost authority over the cases. (George later added that American bishops lobbied then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to take over the cases. He, of course, later became pope.)

Q: You spent the last three years leading America's bishops. Do you feel they should be held accountable for mishandling the sexual abuse crisis or were their hands tied by canon law?

A: I think they were concerned about being sure that the priest had the rights that are given him in canon law. … But it made it so difficult at times to move in on a priest, remove him, or even to punish him.

They should've recognized immediately, first, right away: How do we protect victims? How do we take care of victims? And that didn't seem to be uppermost in their decision-making. Maybe it was also because they didn't recognize how deep the hurt is. It makes a big difference when you talk to victims and you see what happens and you see the concern they have for others that this will never happen again. Had they talked to everybody in these situations, I think they would have found a different way to try to address it.

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