Cardinal Francis George dies after cancer battle

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CHICAGO – Cardinal Francis George, a vigorous defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy who played a key role in the church’s response to the clergy sex abuse scandal, has died. He was 78. The Chicago archdiocese says George died Friday after a long fight with cancer.

Appointed to lead the archdiocese in 1997, George became a leading figure of his era in the American church.

He oversaw the contentious new English-language translation of the Roman Missal, one of the biggest changes in Catholic worship in generations. In 2002, at the height of the sex-abuse crisis, he led a group of U.S. bishops who persuaded Vatican officials to more quickly oust guilty priests.

George also spearheaded the fight among bishops against President Barack Obama’s health insurance plan, arguing it allow taxpayer money for abortion.

Civic and political leaders are reacting to news of the death. Catholic Charities CEO Monsignor Michael Boland says George had a compassion for all, which could be seen in his eyes as he visited with the poor and “most vulnerable in our communities.”

Boland said George, who he called a loyal friend, always supported the work of Catholic Charities. He added the cardinal served as an inspiration to him.

In a statement, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said George left behind a strong community of faith that has a positive impact on the state.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city’s first native-born archbishop “lent his counsel to those in distress,” and inspired everyone with his courage in his final days.