Cardinal George Elected to Head U.S. Bishops
George Disputes Sun-Times Report on Issue of Sex Abuse Cases

November 13, 2007

BALTIMORE — Francis Cardinal George has been elected president of the U.S. Conference of Bishops, winning about 85 percent of his colleagues' votes.

George received 188 of 222 votes for the presidency at the bishops' conference in Baltimore on Tuesday.

George succeeds Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., who is ending his term. Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., was elected as the new vice president.

George and Kicanas had worked well together when Kicanas was an auxiliary bishop in Chicago.

"I find it a challenging experience because he is so quick and thoughtful and his analysis are always interesting and quite different from other people," Kicanas said.

Francis Cardinal George (far right) at the Vatican during the election of Pope Bendict.

Another Chicagoan elected included canon lawyer Bishop Thomas Paprocki to head the bishops' canonical affairs committee. A recent statement he made had him on the hot seat.

"Let's give just compensation to people who have been harmed, to victims I'm not opposed to that in any way, but let's do it in a reasonable way that continues to preserve our charitable work," Paprocki said.

Limiting compensation for victims didn't sit well with victims' groups.

"There is no amount of money that will restore the innocence of the children and usually it's the church that initiates saying that they'll pay money in order to keep them quiet" Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said.

Cardinal George stopped well short of endorsing Paprocki's suggestion or Blaine's charge.

"I think we handle it better in Chicago by taking it case by case and negotiating it each time and I think we've done it responsibly and we'll continue to do that," George said.

Protecting children is now the priority of all bishops, he said. The cardinal also said he can't predict what his biggest challenge will be, reminding everyone that another Chicagoan, Wilton Gregory, had the Boston sex scandal explode right after he took office.

The cardinal's approval as bishop's conference president came despite the protest Monday by groups unhappy with his handling of the case of Daniel McCormack, the Chicago priest allowed to remain in contact with children despite charges of sexual abuse.

That issue did not affect his election, but a letter he wrote about state legislation regarding sexual abuse cases overshadowed the conference.

In the letter, George apologized to the family of an alleged abuse victim of two now-dead priests, Ken Ruge and Robert Becker, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The letter included a line calling a proposed state law that would allow victims of clergy abuse to sue after the statute of limitations has run out is "not about the safety of children as the sponsor claims, but about money," the Sun-Times reported.

The cardinal Tuesday disputed the Sun-Times reporting, telling CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine that the archdiocese will "settle all cases" regarding sexual abuse no matter the amount or time involved. He added that the Sun-Times took his letter out of context.

George will be the host when Pope Benedict XVI comes to the United States next April, even though the pope is not coming to Chicago. He is only coming to Washington and New York.

Many colleagues have considered George a leader for some time.

"He works a room like he was a Chicago precinct captain genial, clever, astute, Chicago politician and coming from me that's a compliment," said Fr. Andrew Greeley of Chicago.

The conference president does not set policy, but he acts as a national spokesman for the bishops and represents the U.S. church in meetings at the Vatican.


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