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Process starts to find Cardinal George’s replacement

Cardinal Francis George celebrates his 50th anniversary as priest during public mass Holy Name Cathedral Sunday | Chandler West~For Sun-Times

Cardinal Francis George celebrates his 50th anniversary as a priest during a public mass in Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday | Chandler West~For Sun-Times Media

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Who’s In the running?

Four church leaders whose names have been mentioned as possible successors to Cardinal Francis George:

Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton GregoryArchbishop of Louisville Joseph
KurtzBishop of
St. Petersburg Robert LynchArchbishop of Seattle
J. Peter Sartain

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Updated: June 24, 2014 7:58AM

The process to choose a successor to Cardinal Francis George has begun.

The Chicago Archdiocese announced Thursday that George was informed by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, papal nuncio to the United States, that the process of consulting to identify the next archbishop of Chicago has started. It is expected to be completed in late fall.

“It’s well known that the cardinal has had conversations with the nuncio and asked him to move on it,” Archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Dolan said.

“He’s pleased it’s now moving forward.”

She declined to specify exactly when the cardinal was notified by the Vatican.

George, who is battling cancer, last told reporters at an April 10 media briefing that although he had urged the Vatican to start, it had not yet launched the process. Developments in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest diocese, are watched closely; observers say the next archbishop here will play a major role in helping Pope Francis shape the direction of the U.S. Catholic church.

“It will be the first major appointment in the U.S. for Pope Francis, so this is a particularly significant appointment,” said Susan Ross, chairwoman of Loyola University’s Theology Department. “Everyone is looking to see who it’s going to be.”

“My guess is that they waited until now to announce it so it would not be a distraction from all the ordinations,” she added.

Dolan said the process is expected to take about six months, with George’s replacement identified between November and January 2015.

George spoke of the stalled process at the April 10 briefing in which he discussed his inability — due to his medical condition — to travel to Rome to attend the April 27 canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. That also meant missing an opportunity to meet with Pope Francis.

It was in 2012 that George submitted his resignation letter, as all bishops are required to do at age 75; that August, he was diagnosed with cancer in his right kidney. A new round of chemotherapy this year was interrupted by an infection that left the 77-year-old hospitalized in March. He resumed chemotherapy in April.

Last weekend, a frail-looking George presided over the ordination of 12 priests and seven permanent deacons at Holy Name Cathedral.

At the April 10 briefing, George said he did not believe his death imminent. But with his health uncertain, he said, “it’s just not fair to the archdiocese to have someone who may not be able to do the job as well as I believe it should be done.”

Beginning with the official notification to George, the selection process will involve months-long formal and informal communications initiated by Vagano to solicit recommendations from priests, bishops, cardinals and laity in the U.S., as well as from officials of the Vatican Curia.

Vagano will submit those names to the Congregation of Bishops, who will send three names on to the pope, Ross said.

“The pope will make his decision with a lot of advice from the Congregation of Bishops and from his newly established eight-member Advisory Council,” Ross said.

Ultimately, Francis’ choice to lead Chicago will signal his plans and direction for a U.S. Catholic church that is home to more than 75 million followers, church observers say.

And when his replacement is selected, the cardinal will be among the first to know.

“The cardinal will be notified that a choice has been made, and told when the announcement is to be made that the Holy Father has accepted his letter of resignation and appointed ‘Father xyz’ to fill the role of the new archbishop of Chicago,” Dolan said.

Twitter: @Maudlynei

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