From wide-ranging interview with Cardinal Francis George, given to John Allen, Jr.:
What’s the central difference between the conclave of 2005 and this one?
The central difference is that the names out there, I’ve found, are all reasonable candidates. Last time there were a lot of names, and it seemed to me [the press] was searching for names. While there was truly more than one candidate going into the conclave, a lot of the names that had been discussed beforehand in the press were not serious candidates, and we all knew that. This time the names that are before us in the public media are, in fact, serious candidates. That’s not to say they’ll all stay that way, but for right now there are good reasons their names are out there. I mean a reason in terms of the church, and not just somebody wishing for something he or she would like to see happen. …
What’s your sense of the most important challenges the next pope has to face?
To some extent, it depends on what part of the world we’re talking about. The first challenge he has to face is how to become a universal pastor, so he can appreciate the different challenges from all parts of the world and try to respond as best he can.
Usually the popes have tried to respond through the local hierarchy. John Paul II trusted the local hierarchies to figure out what to do in a crisis, in a particular situation. The one where he had a very direct role was in Poland, in resolving the illegitimate government that had been imposed upon the country, but that was his country. Otherwise he was very respectful of local hierarchies, and Benedict has been as well.
Primarily what Benedict wanted to do was to see to it that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council was recast in ways that would make it vital, but would also be faithful to the whole tradition, which he possessed so magnificently, and which he could synthesize around the concept of love. For instance, charity and love … it used to be said that there was some kind of distinction between the two, as if charity were somehow second best, lady bountiful helping the poor rather than having them fight for their rights. …
Is there anything else?
I always ask for prayers. As it gets closer and closer, it gets more and more intense. It takes over your mind and your spirit, in a way that’s good, but it can also be troubling.
Because you know this is among the most momentous choices you’ll ever make?
It’s the last time I’ll be in something like this. I kind of rode it out last time, and I was happy with it, but I have a sense that this time will be different. The church is differently positioned, and the enemies of the church are clearer. Therefore the demands on the next pope are going to be intense, so the choice is important.