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Archbishop Cardinal George.
After three weeks in the midst of a firestorm stemming from his comparison of the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan, Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, has apologized. "I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused," George said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on January 6, 2012. "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."
A fuller statement appears on the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago. There the Cardinal writes: "During a recent TV interview, speaking about this year's Gay Pride Parade, I used an analogy that is inflammatory. I am personally distressed that what I said has been taken to mean that I believe all gays and lesbians are like members of the Klan. I do not believe that; it is obviously not true. Many people have friends and family members who are gay or lesbian, as have I. We love them; they are part of our lives, part of who we are.
"I am deeply sorry for the hurt that my remarks have brought to the hearts of gays and lesbians and their families. I can only say that my remarks were motivated by fear for the Church's liberty. This is a larger topic that cannot be explored in this expression of personal sorrow and sympathy for those who were wounded by what I said."
The apology comes after widespread criticism of the Cardinal for comparing the annual gay liberation movement to the Ku Klux Klan when he said, "You don't want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism."
In response to the first wave of criticism of his remarks, the Cardinal at first seemed to be conciliatory. He appeared on television and softened the original statement, saying that he did not mean to compare gay people with the KKK, only the gay parade and the KKK parade. Then, however, on the official archdiocesan website, he posted a statement that seemed to double-down on his original comparison and adopted the familiar stance of conservative Christians that they are being victimized and bullied by the equal rights movement.
This pretense of being a victim is a standard ploy among the religious right these days. But in this case, it only inflamed the criticism, which came not only from glbtq organizations but also from several politicians and both major newspapers in Chicago, which editorialized against the Cardinal's intemperate language and pointed out the absurdity of the comparison.
The backlash against the Cardinal's remarks included a petition on Change.org and Truth Wins Out's full page ad in the January 1, 2012 Chicago Tribune calling on the Cardinal to resign. The ad was headlined, "Hey, Cardinal Francis George, Gay is not like the KKK."
In addition, leaders of glbtq Catholic groups, such as the Rainbow Sash Movement and Dignity, called upon the Cardinal to apologize. Rainbow Sash Movement leader Joe Murray said in reference to the KKK comparison, "The Cardinal only trivializes the history of Catholics being discriminated against in the past by making such an unreasonable association."
Students at St. Norbert College, a Wisconsin-based Catholic college, where Cardinal George is to deliver a commencement speech, launched a petition asking school administrators to choose a more tolerant speaker.
A demonstration in front of Holy Name Cathedral to protest the Cardinal's remarks was planned for noon on Sunday, January 8, 2012. (It has since been cancelled in light of the Cardinal's apology.)
Most of the glbtq groups involved in denouncing the Cardinal's remarks have commended his decision to apologize. Truth Wins Out executive director Wayne Besen said, "It is gratifying to see the Cardinal take personal responsibility for the hurt he has caused and we hope this incident leads to improving relations with the LGBT community."
Bernard Cherkasov, chief executive officer of Equality Illinois, welcomed the Cardinal's apology, saying that it "is important and will go some way toward healing the pain he has caused." But added, "his actions will speak louder than words, and we will be paying attention to see if his words translate into acts of dignity and respect towards LGBT people."
The Rainbow Sash Movement's Murray released a statement thanking the Cardinal for his apology and calling upon the glbtq community "to receive this apology as a sincere attempt at reconciliation."
The Gay Liberation Network's spokesperson Andy Thayer called George's statement "pathetically inadequate." He added, "When the church leadership ceases doing everything it can to oppose our equal participation in society, then we might believe that George truly cares about our feelings."
For more information on the Cardinal's apology and the reaction to it in Chicago, see Windy City Times.
Francis DiBernardo of New Ways Ministry, which attempts to build bridges between the glbtq community and the Catholic Church, had perhaps the most eloquent response to the Cardinal's apology. Writing at Bondings 2.0, he observes, "The significance of this action is immense. For the first time that I can remember, a prelate has acknowledged that words and ideas he has used in regard to the LGBT community were harmful, and he has apologized for the hurt they caused.
"Significant, too, is the fact that he acknowledges that he has family members who are gay/lesbian, and that he loves them. It is rare that a prelate speaks personally, let alone personally and positively about LGBT people.
"I hope that one lesson he has learned is that the level of the hierarchy's rhetoric is way too high, and that there is a need for reconciliation, understanding, and healing. The apology is a good first step, but more steps need to be taken to heal the great chasm that exists between the hierarchy and LGBT people, especially LGBT Catholics.
"The cardinal also needs to learn that LGBT people are not out to endanger religious liberty. If he would enter into dialogue with LGBT Catholics, he would learn that more clearly. Dialogue leads to better understanding and better relationships."