Just days after Chicago's Catholic Cardinal Francis George apologized for comparing the Pride Parade to a Ku Klux Klan gathering, Pope Benedict XVI refueled the battle between some Catholic leaders and LGBT activists.
Multiple reports quote the pope as saying that same-sex marriage is a threat to humanity.
Such comments from both Chicago's cardinal and the pope may signal the start of a new kind of fight with the Catholic hierarchy, said activists.
According to the U.S. Catholic website the pope said, that "in addition to a clear goal, that of leading young people to a full knowledge of reality and thus of truth, education needs settings. Among these, pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman. This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself."
Other news sources published the same comments.
The pope's comments have struck a particularly delicate nerve in Chicago, which is still recovering from a fight with George over his remarks to Fox News that the Pride Parade was at risk of morphing "into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism."
In his apology, George said his remarks were made out of fear for the Church's liberty, after the parade was initially planned to march past Our Lady of Mount Carmel church during Mass.
That "fear" for religious liberty is likely to be the next battle with the church hierarchy in Chicago and beyond, according local LGBT activists, who noted that such arguments against gay rights increasingly follow this trend.
"They're sort of backed into a corner now," said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda.
In the past, said Martinez, some Catholic leaders argued that the continuation of society depended on heterosexual nuclear families. Now he said, the Vatican is claiming that LGBT rights threaten religious freedom.
Joe Murray, executive director of the local LGBT Catholic organization the Rainbow Sash Movement (RSM), attributes part of the change in rhetoric to a change in sentiments among straight Catholics who support marriage equality.
"It's overwhelming that Catholic voices do not agree with Catholic leadership on this matter," Murray said. "The recent statements are an indication of the pope and his bishops hitting the panic button."
Last June, Murray sat down with RSM's board of directors to strategize on what they felt was an increase in hostile language from the Catholic hierarchy.
"We felt that we were being called on to get into the public arena on this," Murray said.
Taking into account the number of LGBT youth suicides that were being reported, the decision was made that RSM would go "from respectful dialogue to aggressive engagement," he said.
RSM currently releases a press statement almost daily, many of them directed at combating anti-gay rhetoric from the Catholic hierarchy.
On Jan. 12, the organization issued a statement against 40 religious leaders, including Archbishop Timothy Dolan, cardinal elect of New York, for publishing a letter in favor of marriage "in its true definition."
Murray has issued a challenge to other progressive Catholic organizations to get out and protest such comments. RSM is co-sponsoring a Feb. 12 protest outside of Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral in support of marriage equality.
Murray has also challenged George to engage with the LGBT faith community in light of his recent comments.
Wayne Besen, the executive director Truth Wins Out, an organization that combats anti-gay religious extremism, said that the "religious liberty" argument is being rolled out nationally by Catholic leaders.
"That's the whole ball of wax right now," Besen said. Besen believes it will be the primary fight for LGBT faith-based activists in 2012.
However Besen said that new rhetoric signals desperation on the part of leaders who are out of touch with Catholics sitting in the pews who increasingly support LGBT rights.
"I think they know that if they don't throw everything but the kitchen sink at us, it's over, so the kitchen sink is coming," he said.
Besen believes that homophobia is a top-down measure from Vatican, fueling anti-gay comments among bishops and cardinals.
The fight has been especially tense in Illinois, which saw the start of civil unions last June and consequently the end of state foster care contracts with Catholic charities that refused to place children with same-sex civil union spouses.