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Cardinal still under fire for KKK comments
News updated Jan. 2, 2011
by Kate Sosin and Tracy Baim, Windy City Times

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Note: See bottom of this article for information on a protest planned for Sunday, Jan. 8.

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George ignited a firestorm recently when, for the third time in recent days, he compared the gay-rights movement to a Ku Klux Klan ( KKK ) protest, this time in an official statement published on the Archdiocese of Chicago Website.

George's recent string of comments has incensed LGBT activists, Catholics and allies, many of whom have called on the archbishop to apologize. Some have also asked him to resign.

The Catholic cardinal told Fox News Chicago Dec. 22 ( during a taped interview that aired Dec. 25 ) that he worried that changes to the Pride Parade that threatened to interfere with Sunday services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Lakeview, mirrored protest against Catholicism by the KKK. Organizers have since reached an agreement with the church and moved the parade start time to noon to accommodate services.

However, while the cardinal seemed to soften his remarks Dec. 25, stating that he was speaking about the parade and not the people in it, George released a strongly worded statement on the Archdiocese of Chicago Website two days later.

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

"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. I am grateful that all parties concerned resolved this problem by moving the Parade's start time so as not to conflict with the celebration of Mass that Sunday."

The cardinal's initial comments incited outrage among many LGBT people and ignited calls for his resignation.

Mount Carmel's request

The controversy began when organizers of Chicago's annual LGBT Pride Parade made the decision to reroute the 2012 parade and push the start time up from noon to 10 a.m. According to organizers, the decision was made in response to public safety concerns, after an unprecedented 750,000-800,000 people flooded Lakeview to attend the 2011 parade. The change in the route aimed to pull crowds over a larger distance and straighten out a dangerous bottleneck turn at Halsted and Broadway, while the change in time attempted to curb early public drinking. Many disapproved of the changes and argued they had been made without public consult.

Among them was Father Thomas Srenn of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 708 W. Belmont, who said the new route and time would prevent parishioners from attending mass that Sunday. He asked organizers to reconsider the plans, and encouraged parishioners to voice their concerns.

"The Sunday morning for us is sacred," he told Windy City Times.

According to Srenn, he notified Cardinal George's press team of the mounting controversy, but did not consult directly with George on the matter.

Organizers reached an agreement with Srenn in late December, when they offered to move the parade time back to its original noon start time. Srenn said he considered the problem solved.

Cardinal weighs in

Just days before 44th Ward Alderman Tom Tunney announced an agreement with Mount Carmel, George weighed in on the issue on Fox News Chicago.

"You don't want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism," he said.

Asked by reporters if he felt the analogy might be strong, George indicated that it was strong intentionally.

George, who appeared to backpedal slightly over the holidays by stating that he was talking about the parade and not the people in it, then reiterated his controversial sentiments in the official statement Dec. 27.

That statement was removed from Archdiocese Website less than 48 hours after it was issued, but the cardinal has not apologized or softened his remarks since.

George is expected to submit his resignation in January, in accordance with a Catholic mandate that clergy to offer to step down when they turn 75. The pope will make the final call on whether or not George will remain in his post.

Backlash against the cardinal grows

The cardinal has been confronted with a wave of fury since his most recent comments.

LGBT-rights organization Truth Wins Out took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune, condemning the cardinal's remarks.

A Catholic LGBT leader also challenged Chicago Cardinal Francis George to a debate. Joe Murray, the executive director of the Rainbow Sash Movement ( RSM ) , invited the archbishop to face off at the LGBT Center on Halsted on a day and time of his choosing.

"We want to encourage the Cardinal to now apologize for using an ill-advised metaphor of comparing the gay liberation movement to the KKK," RSM said in a statement. "The Cardinal only trivializes the history of Catholics being discriminated against in the past by making such an unreasonable association."

Direct-action group Gay Liberation Network ( GLN ) voiced opposition to the Cardinal in a letter sent to Windy City Times. The organization has protested George in the past on Valentine's Day as part of National Freedom to Marry Day actions.

"We know that the Catholic laity are often supportive of LGBTs and our rights while the church leaders are not, and this is both threatening to the latter and a challenge," GLN wrote. "Their attacks against us are just as much an effort to win support from their parishioners as they are to score points against our movement."

As in past years, GLN will protest outside of Holy Name Cathedral on Feb. 14.

Additionally, students at St. Norbert College ( SNC ) , a Wisconsin-based Catholic college started a petition asking school administrators to cancel George's scheduled commencement address at the school in favor of a more LGBT-tolerant speaker. The petition had picked up more than 1,100 signatures and appears to be growing rapidly, adding hundreds of signatures daily.

Megan Rousseau, a recent graduate said that she signed the petition because she does not want her peers to have to listen to someone who "hates" a portion of the study body at commencement. Rousseau entered with this year's graduating class and would have graduated this year from SNC had she not finished her studies early. She said that friends of hers who were LGBT did not talk about the school being intolerant during her time there.

"There are quite a few students at SNC that I know who are deeply hurt that SNC would impose this on them. … I have taken multiple theology/religious courses at SNC and have never heard a teacher speak out against a specific group of people at all," she said. "Just because this school is Catholic and they want to keep in communication with Catholic leaders, does not mean that they have to have this one speak at graduation."

SNC media relations did not respond to a request to comment on the petition.

Mt. Carmel takes the heat

Thus far, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church has not responded publicly to George's remarks. Srenn declined to comment initially when questioned by Windy City Times about George's KKK comparison. He did not respond to a more recent request to comment, but had said previously that the change in the parade start time back to noon satisfied his concerns.

Srenn had also said in past conversations with Windy City Times that his concern was for Sunday services at the church, and not with the content of the Pride Parade. Mount Carmel is home to Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach ( AGLO ) , which hosts its services on Sunday evenings.

Many have questioned why a parade of 750,000 was forced to change times for a single congregation.

Amy Rosenquist, a cantor with AGLO and with Mt. Carmel, said that she felt the request was simply for consideration and dialogue, not for a face-off with parade organizers.

"When Father Srenn brought it up, it was really just practical," she said. "It wasn't the vocabulary of protest."

Rosenquist, who travels from the suburbs to Sunday services, said that parade traffic already complicates her commute. Despite the disruption of access to the church and the noise, she said, the church has never made any attempt to stifle parade-goers.

This time around, she said, "it was really just about [ access to ] the parking lots."

AGLO and Dignity

In the wake of such controversy, two Chicago LGBT Catholic groups continued with their Sunday services, both impacted by the storm.

It was a tale of two very different Catholic gay services Sunday night, Jan. 1, in Chicago. Both weekly masses were held in Lakeview and celebrated Mary, mother of Jesus, but that is where the similarities ended.

A woman gave the homily at Dignity/Chicago, while a male priest did so at the Archdiocesan-sanctioned mass at AGLO Chicago, held at Mount Carmel—the same church under scrutiny after Cardinal George criticized plans for the Pride Parade to pass by it in June.

Barbara Zeman presided at the independent Dignity/Chicago weekly services, held at Broadway United Methodist Church, 3338 N. Broadway. Approximately three dozen people attended, which is slightly more than usual, and the services appeared to be mixed-gender and welcoming. Zeman, in her homily, said that in the face of exclusivity, poverty, war and other injustices, "even inappropriate, derisive slurs in our own mother church," people can envision it in a new light that speaks to the truth.

Dignity/Chicago will be celebrating its 40th anniversary May 19. They are also continuing to meet about the Cardinal's remarks. Board President Chris Pett said the Cardinal said the Pride Parade was "disruptive," but that his comments are what has been disruptive to the church and Dignity's ability to do its work.

LGBT activists are planning a demonstration in front of Holy Name Cathedral, 730 N. Wabash Ave., in the wake of Cardinal Francis George's comments that compared the gay liberation movement to the Ku Klux Klan.

The protest, to be held at noon on Sunday, Jan. 8, is the first scheduled demonstration against George after he told Fox News Chicago that the gay-right movement was at risk of morphing "into something like the Ku Klux Klan, protesting in the streets against Catholicism." George has reiterated his controversial marks twice since the initial comment.

Leading the charge are LGBT groups Rainbow Sash Movement ( RSM ) and Gay Liberation Network.

"The RSM believes he seriously endangers the identity and unity of the Catholic Church by these bigoted actions," RSM said in a statement. "He brings a cloud of suspicion over the Archdiocese's commitment to the 10 pillars of Social Justice that the Church should be promoting."

The groups are asking that LGBT activists and allies turn out in solidarity.

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