Retiring? Cardinal George Weighs in on the Synod, Celibacy and Politics

Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, who is due to retire next month, may be battling cancer, but he still has much to say about the Synod debate, church-state hostilities, and celibacy for priests, among other topics. You can check out the entire interview here.

Asked if "the bishops have been more politically active in recent years...?"  George replied:

Since the common good is expressed in this country by law, the bishops have always addressed changes in our legal system that would undermine the biblical anthropology that our doctrines presuppose. In other words, we are no longer a biblical people, and the law sees only individuals and their rights instead of persons and their relationships. I don’t believe the bishops have been more politically active in recent years, but it is true that our political activity is more adversarial as the law no long permits the “exceptions” that used to safeguard believers whose conscience will not permit them to approve of what has become lawful. The “price of citizenship” is high when it means one must approve as human rights the killing of the unborn, the creation of false marriages between two men or two women, the universal availability of free contraceptives, especially for women from a very young age. The Gospel is a message of freedom, and the Catholic way of life trains people in habits that protect that freedom from slavery to various addictions, etc. My own conviction is that we must be completely clear about the Gospel and how it is to change us, and then we work respectfully with individuals and groups who cannot agree with us. I do not know that we will be permitted to have that pastoral approach in the immediate future. We will not be permitted to enter into the public conversation unless we approve of what our faith knows to be morally wrong.

Cardinal George offered equally incisive comments on the recent Synod debate over possible modifications of Church discipline for Catholics who have divorced and remarried:

The process of judging the sacramentality of a marriage is one that should be thoroughly re-thought; but it has to remain a process outside of the forum of conscience alone. No one is a judge in his own case, as the proverb has it. Self-delusion is a danger that has to be addressed in the forum of courts or their equivalent. I have heard many good suggestions about how to improve the present system of granting annulments. I hope they will be acted on. Pastoral practice, of course, must also reflect doctrinal conviction. It is not “merciful” to tell people lies, as if the church had authority to give anyone permission to ignore God’s law. If the parties to a sacramental marriage are both alive, then what Christ did in uniting them cannot be undone, unless a bishop thinks he is Lord of the universe. The difficulty of giving communion to parties in a non-sacramental marriage doesn’t stem from their having sinned by entering into a non-sacramental union. Like any sin, that can be forgiven. The difficulty comes from avoiding the consequences of living in such a union. It is foolish to believe that a publicly approved although “restricted” exception to the “discipline” around the sacrament will remain “restricted” very long. When speaking of acting “pastorally,” a bishop has to ask what is good for the entire church, not just what might be helpful to an individual couple. How the entire pastoral conversation around marriage will change with a change of “discipline” is a question that must be answered before making any other decision.

Lots more to this interview conducted by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, who recently left her post at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to take up her  new duties as the Washington correspondent for America.