Cardinal George Elected President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

By Susan Hogan
Chicago Sun-Times
November 13, 2007,111307george.article

Cardinal Francis George, a staunch Vatican loyalist, was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops today.

This elevates George's profile in the American church. But the position is more symbolic than powerful since the Vatican approves all major decisions.

Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, left, president-elect of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, signals thumbs up after the conference's election Tuesday morning in Baltimore.

The conference is the organization by which U.S. bishops conduct business, such as implementing Vatican guidelines for liturgy or developing sexual abuse policies.

George, 70, was elected to a three-year term by bishops meeting in Baltimore for their fall assembly. He received 85 percent of the vote over nine other candidates.

A former Chicago priest, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Arizona, was elected vice president. He served as rector of Mundelein Seminary in the 1980s and as an auxiliary bishop of Chicago from 1995 to 2001.

As president, George takes on additional duties to his already busy schedule as head of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The position means more travel and meetings for a man who has fought his way back from bladder cancer surgery last year.

He told the Sun-Times earlier this year that if elected, he would add additional staff to help run the archdiocese. But today, he said he wouldn't add staff, particularly in the wake of massive cutbacks at the bishop conference's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

George worked in Rome from 1974 to 1986 in an administrative role for his religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

His election as USCCB president means that Pope Benedict XVI will have a strong supporter of his policies leading the American bishops, church experts say.

In the wake of the explosion of clergy abuse scandals in 2002, George often served as national spokesman for the bishops. But he initially argued for a less stringent policy than the "zero tolerance" measure eventually adopted by the bishops.

George is trained as a scholar and is known for cerebral sermons and a flat delivery style that affords little eye contact. Observers say his warmth and personality come across better in writing and in informal settings.

During the early 1980s, the bishops' conference garnered national attention with tough statements on nuclear arms. But the conference lost its clout in the 1990s after Pope John Paul II streamlined its decision-making authority.


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