Francis Cardinal George’s Swan Song

Chicago's Francis Cardinal George

Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George

Late in 1997 I was at a public breakfast of some political import and was privileged to chat over coffee after it ended with Cardinal George (then still merely Archbishop George). I was running a statewide campaign at the time, but I knew the Cardinal and I had a mutual friend. My first spiritual director, then the delegate vicar of Opus Dei for the Midwest, was a towering intellectual – and not bashful at all about offering his advice (which, fortunately, was usually very good advice, indeed). We chatted about my political work and about our mutual friend.

Now the Chicago Archdiocese is a rollicking place, plenty of public controversies rise on the matter of faith – and there were plenty of priests ever ready to foment rebellion, both against Rome and their Bishop. Cardinal George was acting the diplomat when he first came, openly seeking the counsel of many of some public stature to learn his way around and ease his way into a rhythm that could successfully herd all these Catholic cats that prowl the Windy City.

As we finished, he asked that I call him whenever I had any serious advice to offer. I looked at him and said, “Your excellency, you seem to have quite enough people telling you what you should do. If you don’t mind, I would prefer to just follow your lead.” Obviously pleased, he leaned in and, with a merry twinkle in his eye, said, “Including the prelate.”

When I told my director this, he howled with laughter.

My favorite quote from Cardinal George’s early days came when he was asked whether he was conservative or liberal and responded that he stood on the truth of Christ; that truth is neither conservative nor liberal. It is simply true.

His most stark, and perhaps prescient comment came in 2010 and was related to the trajectory of our culture and its growing intolerance for people of faith. He said that if we did not change the direction society was traveling in, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

In the following column from the Archdiocesan Newspaper, Cardinal George acts both as diplomat and prophet, neither mincing words nor fomenting malice as his tenure as Archbishop of Chicago enters its last days. Here then, Cardinal George:

“Once upon a time there was a church founded on God’s entering into human history in order to give humanity a path to eternal life and happiness with him. The Savior that God sent, his only-begotten Son, did not write a book but founded a community, a church, upon the witness and ministry of twelve apostles. He sent this church the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love between Father and Son, the Spirit of the truth that God had revealed about himself and humanity by breaking into the history of human sinfulness.

This church, a hierarchical communion, continued through history, living among different peoples and cultures, filled with sinners, but always guided in the essentials of her life and teaching by the Holy Spirit. She called herself “Catholic” because her purpose was to preach a universal faith and a universal morality, encompassing all peoples and cultures. This claim often invited conflict with the ruling classes of many countries. About 1,800 years into her often stormy history, this church found herself as a very small group in a new country in Eastern North America that promised to respect all religions because the State would not be confessional; it would not try to play the role of a religion.

This church knew that it was far from socially acceptable in this new country. One of the reasons the country was established was to protest the king of England’s permitting the public celebration of the Catholic Mass on the soil of the British Empire in the newly conquered Catholic territories of Canada. He had betrayed his coronation oath to combat Catholicism, defined as “America’s greatest enemy,” and protect Protestantism, bringing the pure religion of the colonists into danger and giving them the moral right to revolt and reject his rule.

Nonetheless, many Catholics in the American colonies thought their life might be better in the new country than under a regime whose ruling class had penalized and persecuted them since the mid-16th century. They made this new country their own and served her loyally. The social history was often contentious, but the State basically kept its promise to protect all religions and not become a rival to them, a fake church. Until recent years.

There was always a quasi-religious element in the public creed of the country. It lived off the myth of human progress, which had little place for dependence on divine providence. It tended to exploit the religiosity of the ordinary people by using religious language to co-opt them into the purposes of the ruling class. Forms of anti-Catholicism were part of its social DNA. It had encouraged its citizens to think of themselves as the creators of world history and the managers of nature, so that no source of truth outside of themselves needed to be consulted to check their collective purposes and desires. But it had never explicitly taken upon itself the mantle of a religion and officially told its citizens what they must personally think or what “values” they must personalize in order to deserve to be part of the country. Until recent years.

In recent years, society has brought social and legislative approval to all types of sexual relationships that used to be considered “sinful.” Since the biblical vision of what it means to be human tells us that not every friendship or love can be expressed in sexual relations, the church’s teaching on these issues is now evidence of intolerance for what the civil law upholds and even imposes. What was once a request to live and let live has now become a demand for approval. The “ruling class,” those who shape public opinion in politics, in education, in communications, in entertainment, is using the civil law to impose its own form of morality on everyone. We are told that, even in marriage itself, there is no difference between men and women, although nature and our very bodies clearly evidence that men and women are not interchangeable at will in forming a family. Nevertheless, those who do not conform to the official religion, we are warned, place their citizenship in danger.

When the recent case about religious objection to one provision of the Health Care Act was decided against the State religion, the Huffington Post (June 30, 2014) raised “concerns about the compatibility between being a Catholic and being a good citizen.” This is not the voice of the nativists who first fought against Catholic immigration in the 1830s. Nor is it the voice of those who burned convents and churches in Boston and Philadelphia a decade later. Neither is it the voice of the Know-Nothing Party of the 1840s and 1850s, nor of the Ku Klux Klan, which burned crosses before Catholic churches in the Midwest after the civil war. It is a voice more sophisticated than that of the American Protective Association, whose members promised never to vote for a Catholic for public office. This is, rather, the selfrighteous voice of some members of the American establishment today who regard themselves as “progressive” and “enlightened.”

The inevitable result is a crisis of belief for many Catholics. Throughout history, when Catholics and other believers in revealed religion have been forced to choose between being taught by God or instructed by politicians, professors, editors of major newspapers and entertainers, many have opted to go along with the powers that be. This reduces a great tension in their lives, although it also brings with it the worship of a false god. It takes no moral courage to conform to government and social pressure. It takes a deep faith to “swim against the tide,” as Pope Francis recently encouraged young people to do at last summer’s World Youth Day.

Swimming against the tide means limiting one’s access to positions of prestige and power in society. It means that those who choose to live by the Catholic faith will not be welcomed as political candidates to national office, will not sit on editorial boards of major newspapers, will not be at home on most university faculties, will not have successful careers as actors and entertainers. Nor will their children, who will also be suspect. Since all public institutions, no matter who owns or operates them, will be agents of the government and conform their activities to the demands of the official religion, the practice of medicine and law will become more difficult for faithful Catholics. It already means in some States that those who run businesses must conform their activities to the official religion or be fined, as Christians and Jews are fined for their religion in countries governed by Sharia law.

A reader of the tale of two churches, an outside observer, might note that American civil law has done much to weaken and destroy what is the basic unit of every human society, the family. With the weakening of the internal restraints that healthy family life teaches, the State will need to impose more and more external restraints on everyone’s activities. An outside observer might also note that the official religion’s imposing whatever its proponents currently desire on all citizens and even on the world at large inevitably generates resentment. An outside observer might point out that class plays a large role in determining the tenets of the official State religion. “Same-sex marriage,” as a case in point, is not an issue for the poor or those on the margins of society.

How does the tale end? We don’t know. The actual situation is, of course, far more complex than a story plot, and there are many actors and characters, even among the ruling class, who do not want their beloved country to transform itself into a fake church. It would be wrong to lose hope, since there are so many good and faithful people.

Catholics do know, with the certainty of faith, that, when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, the church, in some recognizable shape or form that is both Catholic and Apostolic, will be there to meet him. There is no such divine guarantee for any country, culture or society of this or any age.” – Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.


About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
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13 Responses to Francis Cardinal George’s Swan Song

  1. MM Bev says:

    How does the tale end? We don’t know.
    And that is what each of our lives is about–that choosing of how the tale will end….for us.
    We pray for ourselves, families, friends and for all others, that all will choose Jesus Christ and His Love and Mercy….and keep on until the end of the tale for us here, and then beyond.
    Cardinal George has written so eloquently, and so truly. Until the day the tale ends, may his words echo down the mist of time until the final resolution. May his words which you have so wisely placed before us, remind us that every day, every choice, we are bringing about the resolution to the end of the tale–and to the end of our own story.
    Thank you, Charlie. There are moments in life when we all need to realize full force that each, yes, each one of us, is important and will be contributors to these years ahead of us. And to know that in all likely- hood many we don’t know, will never meet here, are interceding for us to make the only choice, the wisest choice, even at the cost of following in the faithful, grace-filled footsteps of our Lord and Master. His comment with regard to his successor, spoken in 2010, may be condensed. With such a man going ahead of us, how can we not swim against the tide, with hearts exploding with love and hope. For certain, each of us here will have to make the choice–as you said: Choose or Perish. And only those who choose against Christ perish. This Cardinal holds up a banner of HOPE, as does our POPE FRANCIS. Stand strong, in the armor our faith tells us to wear, embracing joy and love, gathering and leading as many souls with us as possible. Keep to your position. Our COMMANDER AND CONQUEROR expects no less from us and will give to us both the desire and the will….. and the way, if we but ask Him.


  2. TC says:


    This is an excellent column by the good cardinal from Chicago. I know him from his days as bishop in Yakima, Washington, and had the privilege of attending his pallium ceremony in Rome in 1997. He has been one of the bright lights for the Church over the last two decades.

    You will be interested to know that his famous quote – as you have quoted it here, is incomplete. The complete quote is even more striking, and it stands as a sign of hope for our troubled times:

    “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”

    For the full story on the quote, here is the link:

    Keep up the good work, Charlie.

    Sincerely in Christ,



  3. June1 says:

    Cardinal George is right on the money. It’s chilling, the state of our world.

    Some days, I truly don’t know if I can keep going on like this (awful family life that worsens by the day, etc.) but then I think of 2017 and our coming rescue and think, just three more years. I’ve done six so far in this terrible state, maybe I can do three more… just three more…


    • charliej373 says:

      June, you can make it. I spent most of my life dreading these times – and particularly from about 1990 forward when the evidence began to grow overwhelming to me that what I was being shown was, in fact, true. Now, I think with no little excitement of how close we are to shore. And with so many of the horrible events and trials I see the signs of satan’s coming complete rout. In the meantime, I try to comport myself in a way that will make it easy for those who see after having been in rebellion to come back.


    • June1 – Know that you are not alone in your trials. I figure if we can keep our composure for a while longer, we may help to shine a light of hope to the lost and blind in the difficulties that lie ahead. Plus think how quenching a glass of water would taste after being desolate in a desert for a while. Be a tool to bring the mercy of God through your suffering and you will indeed be rewarded a hundred fold. Be assured of my prayers! God bless!


      • June1 says:

        Thank you both, David and Charlie, for your very kind words. They warmed my heart and gave me a bit more hope for tomorrow. I’m just in a weak spot right now but I think maybe it’s like the refiner’s fire: I have to be painfully purified to end up at my very best for God and others. If the end result is family and friends running to God and loving Him like never before, I know that every minute of agony has to be worth it.


  4. joanp62 says:

    Charlie, thank you for sharing this. God Bless Cardinal George.


  5. Audie says:

    Charlie, thank you for this from Cardinal George. It is uplifting to read. Although I feel a definite peace in coming back to the Church, there is tension all around. I try to focus on your words that these things must come, so I continue to do the dishes and other normal tasks, but keep my eyes on Jesus and Mary and pray, pray, pray. Again, thank you.


  6. Audie says:

    I’ve just read more about Cardinal George. Thank you for introducing him to me. He is inspirational, educational, and I am grateful for what he says to us. This is what I am yearning to hear from our Catholic leaders.


  7. jaykay says:

    Charlie: sincere thanks for this post and, of course, to Cdl. George. He truly knows why he wears the red. MM Bev: so true; God bless you for your insight.


  8. A couple of days ago, I woke up with a phrase running in my mind which did not leave me. I began to write it down and, sure enough, there was more. This is what I wrote:

    “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Where is their allegiance? Where is their heart? With God and country, or with the enemy of both? It is time now to make that choice. Think about what that means, and what will be the consequences of your choice.

    “I set before you life and death,” the Scripture says. “Choose life!” It is our Creator pleading with us. It is the Maker of all things, the Maker of men and the builder of societies, the first and foremost of which is the Church.

    But where IS the Church? What has happened to her? Men have forgotten their allegiance to her, and to God for that matter! They’ve forgotten their Creator, to whom they owe everything – everything they are and have and do. No one believes that anymore. So no one gives what they owe. So the society suffers. . .weakens. . .breaks down completely and finally dies. It’s not dead yet, but it is clearly singing death’s song.

    “I don’t need you, God. I can live without You. I can satisfy my every need, fulfill my every dream, and build a golden future designed for my happiness and containing every good thing.

    Of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, I choose LIBERTY as the highest good. If I only have full liberty, with no borders, no restrictions or restraints, ah! then I will obtain happiness as well.”
    Oh foolish soul ! You are blind, deaf and dumb to think, after looking around you, that you can create happiness in the prison of human freedom! Can’t you see how impossible that is? Can’t you see that operating by human “freedom” alone you have cut yourself off from the only Source of life, liberty AND happiness? No, you don’t see. . .your faith in Self has failed you. Your insatiable desire for Self-supremacy has led you to the brink of eternal death and you don’t even know it. What a sorrow.


  9. patrick says:

    Thank you Cardinal George. Your words are my thoughts but could never put them in writing like you. That is the Holy Spirit. Bless you and thanks for this blog.

    Liked by 1 person

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