CHICAGO – Cardinal Francis George, the archbishop of Chicago who is being treated for cancer, said Friday that the search process is underway for his successor as leader of the nation's third-largest archdiocese.
George spoke about his most recent bout with cancer while meeting with reporters to share his thoughts on the canonizations later this month of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. George had been scheduled to travel to Rome for the April 27 canonizations, but canceled his plans on the advice of his doctors. A recent infection forced him to be hospitalized for a week, delaying the start of his second round of chemotherapy, and doctors were worried that he could be vulnerable to another infection during the trip, George said.
"I can't do that, it would be very foolish," he said of traveling against that advice. "I'm not going to do something dangerous. ... But I'll be there in prayer."
George spoke admiringly of both popes and said of John Paul that he was down to earth and had an ironic sense of humor even while being "a monumental figure."
"He was a genius and a poet and a philosopher and a very, very kind bishop and a saint," he said. "When you talked to him you had the sense that he was also having a conversation with the Lord, that there were three people in that conversation."
The 77-year-old said it was time to begin the search for his successor as the spiritual leader of Chicago's more than 2 million Roman Catholics. He said he has spoken with the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican's U.S. ambassador, who agreed to formally begin a process that George said has already been taking place on an informal basis.
"The fact that my health is uncertain — it isn't a question of imminent death; I'm not going to be dying, I don't think, in the next few months — but it's a question of being able to spend your entire energy on what is my responsibility as archbishop of Chicago," he said. "... Now, it looks as if I'm going to have to be spending a little more attention on my health. And so it's just not fair to the archdiocese."
George said the formal succession process is lengthy and will begin soon, although he had no precise timeframe.
He has resumed his chemotherapy after being hospitalized for an infection that left him dehydrated and with flu-like symptoms. The cancer is near his right kidney.
George survived bladder cancer eight years ago and was diagnosed with urothelial cancer in 2012.
He had planned to meet with Pope Francis during the visit to Rome and said he still hopes to do so on another occasion.
George still intends to participate in the Holy Week services and Easter Sunday Mass at Holy Name Cathedral.