John M. Becker

Cardinal George Apologizes for Comparing Gays to KKK

Filed By John M. Becker | January 08, 2012 6:15 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living
Tags: anti-gay bullying, Cardinal Francis George, Chicago, gay pride, inflammatory comments, KKK

After Chicago Cardinal Francis George's statements comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan (in an interview airing on Christmas Day, no less) caused a widespread outcry and prompted calls for his resignation, George issued an apology Friday in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Thumbnail image for gay-black-jewish-klan.jpegSaid the cardinal:

"I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused, particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it's part of our lives. So I'm sorry for the hurt."

The brouhaha started when organizers of Chicago's annual gay pride parade drew up plans that would route the parade past Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, located on Belmont Avenue in the heart of Boystown, the city's gay district. The decision was absolutely not an adversarial one -- the parade had grown so large (in 2011, for example, it drew over 700,000 people) that its previous route was no longer able to address safety concerns including access for emergency vehicles. City officials and parade organizers worked together to set the new route.

The pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Rev. Thomas Srenn, was concerned that the new route would impede parishoners' access to morning Mass. Rather than contacting pride organizers, though, he instead encouraged his congregants to lobby their local alderperson. When the organizers found out about Rev. Srenn's concerns, they agreed to adjust the parade's start time. The issue appeared to be resolved until Cardinal George made his ill-advised and inflammatory remarks:

"[The pastor is] telling us that they won't be able to have Church services on Sunday, if that's the case. You know, you don't want the Gay Liberation Movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism. So, I think if that's what's happening, and I don't know that it is, but I would respect the local pastor's, you know, position on that. Then I think that's a matter of concern for all of us."

George initially tried to defend the unfounded analogy in the days after his remarks were made public, saying on December 27 that parade organizers' actions "invited" the "obvious comparison." By the looks of Friday's apology, it would appear that the cardinal has changed his tune.

Reaction to George's apology was swift.

Anthony Martinez, director of the Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicago-based LGBT rights group, said he was pleased with the apology. Martinez told the Tribune,

"A true leader can admit when they are wrong, and the Cardinal has set a good example of leadership today with his statement. Now, with this apology, the LGBT community and the Catholic community can begin to heal the divides that this has caused."

Said Chris Pett, president of Dignity Chicago, an advocacy organization for LGBT Catholics:

"We welcome this apology from Cardinal George. As we know him as our bishop, we know that it is sincere and that he will work to avoid making such damaging and hurtful remarks in the future. We also invite a dialogue with the Cardinal, so that he might better understand and love the LGBT community in all its facets, especially those in his own Catholic Church who continue to be alienated by Church teaching that regards LGBT people as less than 'wonderfully made' children of God." "We encourage the Cardinal to open his arms to our community and listen to the truth in our lives and the joy we take in our faith."

As for what prompted George to make the inflammatory comparison between the LGBT rights movement and the KKK in the first place, the cardinal remarked in his apology that "When I was talking, I was speaking out of fear that I have for the church's liberty and I was reaching for an analogy which was very inappropriate, for which I'm sorry, I didn't realize the impact of what I was saying. ... Sometimes fear is a bad motivation."

While this former Catholic is heartened by Cardinal George's apology and hopes that the firestorm of criticism he faced for his reckless remarks teaches him to think twice before making similar statements in the future, the comment above troubles me. Even in what was ostensibly an apology, George made a point to reinforce the false dichotomy between LGBT equality and religious freedom being pushed by the anti-gay lobby (including America's Catholic bishops and presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich), as though advances in the former come at the expense of the latter. Effectively and consistently pushing back against this straw man needs to be a major focus of the LGBT movement in 2012.

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