Cardinal George of Chicago, whom God has just brought to his eternal home, some years ago made a now famous observation about the future of the Christian community and its leaders in the modern world. In the oft- quoted form is all soundded a little dark – that he would die in his bed, that his successor would die in prison, but that the person who would follow his successor would die a martyr in the public square.
Thanks to a writer in the National Catholic Register we now have the Cardinal’s own authority for these remarks which were in danger of slipping into the realm of mythology. The authentication shows that an important nuance has been missing from the circulating account, showing that the Cardinal was in fact presenting us with a much more hopeful and truly Christian vision of the future of our society than we thought.
“Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests, entirely outside of the current political debate,” Cardinal George confirmed before his dath, “I was trying to express in overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization of our society could bring. I was responding to a question and I never wrote down what I said, but the words were captured on somebody’s smart phone and have now gone viral on Wikipedia and elsewhere in the electronic communications world. I am (correctly) quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. What is omitted from the reports is a final phrase I added about the bishop who follows a possibly martyred bishop: ‘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.’ What I said is not ‘prophetic’ but a way to force people to think outside of the usual categories that limit and sometimes poison both private and public discourse.”