Catholic Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has gotten himself into a bigger controversy than whether or not you should say holiday tree or Christmas tree. Last week on Fox News Sunday, Cardinal George compared the gay pride movement to the Ku Klux Klan, in response to a change in the start time and the route of the Pride Parade that would take it past Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Lakeview for the first time. Saying that such would interfere with worshippers attending Sunday mass, Cardinal George said:
“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.”
Joe Murrary, Executive Director of the Rainbow Sash Movement, said that the Cardinal’s words were “inappropriate” and called on him to apologize. As the Cardinal turns 75 in January and must offer to step down, he has said that he will be sending a letter to Pope Benedict offering to resign. On Fox News Sunday, Murrary said that, while his group is “not promoting the idea of his resignation,” they “would certainly welcome it.”
On Christmas day, Cardinal George sought to explain his controversial remarks.
“Obviously, it’s absurd to say the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Klux Klan, but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that we’ve had in our past because it stops us from worshipping God, well then that’s the comparison, but it’s not with people and people – it’s parade-parade.”
The Pride Parade is held the last Sunday in June and drew a crowd of hundreds of thousands last year; the parade’s organizers said they would move back the starting time until noon. As Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and Chicago LGBT Pride Parade organizer Richard Pfeiffer said in a written statement on Thursday quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times, they wished to “help accommodate Sunday services along the parade route . . . We believe this is an agreeable compromise to help keep the parade safe and manageable while respecting the diversity of our neighborhood.”
However, a statement from Cardinal George issued on December 27 was not so accommodating. The Windy City Media Group quoted his statement:
When the 2012 Parade organizers announced a time and route change this year, it was apparent that the Parade would interfere with divine worship in a Catholic parish on the new route. When the pastor’s request for reconsideration of the plans was ignored, the organizers invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church. One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan which, well into the 1940′s, paraded through American cities not only to interfere with Catholic worship but also to demonstrate that Catholics stand outside of the American consensus. It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate. [my emphasis]
“It is terribly wrong and sinful that gays and lesbians have been harassed and subjected to psychological and even physical harm. These tragedies can be addressed, however, without disturbing the organized and orderly public worship of God in a country that claims to be free.”
While the Cardinal might say that he is simply comparing one act of parading with another, this statement suggests that he is making some unfortunate presumptions about the Pride Parade, claiming that the parade and its organizers were somehow seeking “to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church” by marching past Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. In leaping to conclusions about how the parade will interfere with worshippers attending services, the Cardinal reveals a disturbing intolerance towards the parade and towards gay rights, masked by claims of the church’s religious freedom being stifled.
Cardinal George’s remarks are certainly regrettable. They are also indicative of the Catholic church’s lack of tolerance for gay rights, an attitude also seen in a recent decision by Illinois’ Roman Catholic bishops to shut down most of the state’s Catholic Charities affiliates, rather than comply with new state regulations under which, in order to receive state money, they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents. Bishops in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., have also chosen to shutter adoption services rather than follow nondiscrimination laws. As the New York Times says, the bishops are claiming that the rules are part of an “escalating campaign by the government to trample on their religious freedom while expanding the rights of gay people.”
Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Ill., a civil and canon lawyer, went so far as to say that “‘In the name of tolerance, we’re not being tolerated.’” But statements like Cardinal George’s comparing the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan rather suggest just how intolerant the Catholic church is of those whose views do not accord with its own. It is unfortunate that the church is hiding behind claims of its “religious freedom” being trampled upon while suppressing the freedom of expression of others.
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Photo of Pride Parade by spin_melissa