At awards event, Cardinal George says he's receiving palliative care

Cardinal Francis George, retired archbishop of Chicago, speaks to media Jan. 30 in Chicago after receiving the Gaudium et Spes Award. (CNS/Catholic News World/Karen Callaway)

Chicago — Doctors have exhausted all options in Cardinal Francis George's cancer treatment and have moved on to palliative care.

The cardinal shared that information with news media during a Jan. 30 news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago, following a luncheon where he received the Knights of Columbus' highest honor, the Gaudium et Spes Award.

"They've run out of tricks in the bag, if you like," said George, 78, Chicago's retired archbishop.

He's doing physical therapy because his muscles atrophied during chemotherapy, when he was exhausted and unable to get around much, he said. That situation is typical when undergoing chemotherapy, and especially with polio survivors, such as himself, because their muscles are overworked, he said.

"But basically, I'm in the hands of God, as we all are in some fashion," he said, adding that he hopes to eventually get off the crutches he's been using since October.

"In some ways, this particular disease, in my case, has not been following the usual pattern in the past. It probably won't follow the usual pattern in the future," the cardinal told reporters.

Like anyone with a terminal illness, he has good days and bad days. If he has enough stamina, the cardinal said, he plans to attend the consistory of cardinals in mid-February, but hasn't yet made up his mind.

"Rome is not an easy city for people who are disabled in the best of times," George said.

Since his retirement in November, he has been keeping regular appointments and hearing confessions at Holy Name Cathedral on Thursdays when he's available. Hearing confessions was one of the things he said he looked forward to most in retirement.

Prior to the news conference, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson presented George with the Gaudium et Spes Award. The award was established in 1992 and is named for the Second Vatican Council's "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," or Gaudium et Spes.

Blessed Teresa of Kolkata was its first recipient. Others include Cardinal John O'Connor of New York and L'Arche founder Jean Vanier.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who is supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, read the award's citation, which said in part: "Both in his brilliant speeches, homilies, letters and books, and in the brave witness to the faith that he has shown to the world -- in sickness and in health -- Cardinal George has proven over and over again one of the leading voices in the Catholic Church in the United States."

The award comes with a $100,000 gift. George said he was giving $60,000 of it to the archdiocese's "To Teach Who Christ Is" campaign scholarship fund, which benefits children in Catholic schools. The remaining $40,000 will be divided and donated to various charities of the Chicago archdiocese.

George has been a member of the Knights since 1991 and has twice delivered the keynote at the order's national convention.

In his remarks upon receiving the award, George told those gathered: "This award is for you as well as it is for me because you share the joys and the hopes, the anxieties and the griefs of all of the people whom you know and all of the people whom you don't know but you know you are called to love because God is love," he said. "And we are made in his image and likeness."

[Joyce Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago archdiocese.]

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here