Card. George: Comparing 'gay-liberation movement' with KKK is A-OK. (UPDATED)

Just before Christmas, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago decided to eat one of his feet on local television. When a Fox News Chicago reporter asked George for his thoughts about the new route and schedule of the city's gay-pride parade, which will run past a Catholic church not long before a Sunday Mass in June, the cardinal said, You know, you dont want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism. No, you certainly wouldn't want that. Nor would members of the gay-rights community want to be compared to a group most people associate with homicidal racists.(Asothers have noted, George is referring to one iteration of the Klan, the nativist strain that emerged in the 1920s. Whether that Klan really "paraded through American cities" "well into the 1940s," as George later claimed, remains dubious. Its membership had fallen from 4-5 million to about thirty thousand by the 1930s.)After last year's parade got a bit too rowdy, the start time of the event was changed to cut down on drinking, and the route was moved to ease crowding. Once the pastor of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel realized the parade would pass by the church's front doors before and during the 11 a.m. Mass, he petitioned the city and the event planners to change the time of the parade to make it easier for parishioners to get in the church, and to pray in relative peace and quiet. (The Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach program holds its weekly liturgies at Mt. Carmel.) The planners agreed to push the start of the parade to 12 noon -- a decision that came just hours after George's provocative comments were aired.

The story has been picked up nationally, but over the holidays it dominated local news in Chicago, in part because it's seen as an extension of George's public spat with Illinois Governor Pat Quinn over the governor's support for abortion rights and gay couples' right to adopt children. No one expected George and Quinn to come to an agreement on those issues, of course. But when reports surfaced that George had tried to walk back the KKK comparison, some critics wondered whether he'd apologize. No such luck.Obviously, its absurd to say the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Klux Klan," George told a TV reporter on Christmas Day, "but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that weve had in our past because it stops us from worshipping God, well then thats the comparison, but its not with people and people -- its parade-parade." Never mind that, notunlike Soylant Green, parades are made of people. And try not to focus on the fact that the parade George thinks "looks like" an anti-Catholic KKK parade will not happen until June, and that previous gay-pride parades have not resulted in the curtailing of Catholics' religious freedom. Cardinal George has no intention of backing down. In fact, in a December 27 statement posted to the archdiocese's website, he doubled down, accusing the parade planners of inviting such a comparison.The statement begins:

The Chicago Gay Pride Parade has been organized and attended for many years without interfering with the worship of God in a Catholic church. 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.

Hang on. The organizers of the parade did not ignore the pastor's concerns. They changed its start time.After George compared them -- sorry, their parade -- to the KKK -- sorry, to KKK parades. Obviously, if the parade planners, even those who consider themselves part of the "gay liberation movement," had wanted to emulate the nativist KKK, they would not have agreed to the pastor's request. (Strangely, later in the statement George acknowledges the new time. Perhaps he believes his inflammatory remarks were responsible for the change.) And obviously, U.S. Catholics find themselves in a significantly more advantageous position today than they did in the 1920s and '30s. Especially in Chicago, where it's nearly impossible to plan a parade route that doesn't pass by a church.So what's going on here? It sounds as though the Catholic bishops' religious-freedom concerns (and, as we've editorialized, at least one of them is legitimate) have leaked into the cardinal's analysis of the controversy he created. Perhaps Cardinal George believes he is playing the role of the prophet, speaking hard truths in an ambient culture that's unfriendly to them. But after refusing to apologize to members of the gay community, after accusing them of inviting comparison with the Ku Klux Klan, it seems more likely that the only prophesying the cardinal has engaged in is of the self-fulfilling kind.Update: Cardinal George has apologized:

"I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused," George said in an interview with the Tribune. "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."

"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," George said. "I didn't realize the impact of what I was saying. Sometimes fear is a bad motivation."

As a stubborn (mostly) Irishman, I'm all too aware of how difficult it can be to admit fault. Good for him. (Full statement here.)

Grant Gallicho joined Commonweal as an intern and was an associate editor for the magazine until 2015. 

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