[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George, an outspoken opponent of LGBT rights, on Monday issued a statement in response to Pope Francis’s recent — and surprisingly conciliatory — remarks regarding LGBTs, particularly gay priests.
George, who has fiercely battled against marriage equality legislation in Illinois and even seemingly compared the LGBT rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan in late 2011, said the Pope was simply speaking the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Pope Francis, on his way back to Rome from the World Youth Day celebration in Rio, reaffirmed the teaching of the Catholic faith and other religions that homosexual genital relations are morally wrong,” George said in a statement posted to the Archdiocese of Chicago website. “The Pope also reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that every man and woman should be accepted with love, including those with same sex orientation.”
During an 80-minute conversation with journalists Sunday night, Pope Francis said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about an alleged “gay lobby” infiltrating Vatican politics, and suggested LGBTs should not be singled out in society — marking the most significant statement on equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by a recent pontiff.
“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” the Pope said, according to a report by Reuters. “The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worst problem.”
In the most basic sense, Catholic teaching says LGBTs are not sinful, but rather participating in the act of gay sex is sinful.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well,” Francis said. “It says they should not be marginalized because of this [orientation] but that they must be integrated into society.”
In addition, Cardinal George pointed out programs the Archdiocese of Chicago supports in an effort to reach out to local LGBTs.
“The Archdiocese of Chicago sponsors the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach (AGLO) for openly gay people. It also sponsors Courage for those who are quietly homosexual,” George said. “Both ministries make available the sacraments of the Church for those who want to live chastely as followers of Christ in the Church. Judgments about individual guilt are settled in the sacrament of reconciliation, according to Catholic pastoral practice.”
But the leader of a local LGBT Catholic group contends George’s statement and existing outreach to the community is not enough.
“Cardinal George’s recent response to the Pope in our opinion continues the judgmentalism, and finger pointing the Pope is obviously critical of,” said Joe Murray, executive director at the Rainbow Sash Movement. “We call on Cardinal George to enter with us and the Chicago Parishes who are ministering to LGBT Community in a wholesome way to enter into a place of mature dialogue. It is not enough to say that the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach Ministry and Courage are adequate to the needs of the diverse LGBT Catholic Community, more must be done.
“It is time for Cardinal George to listen to the Pope about both the inclusion of LGBT Catholics in the Church and humble service in bringing the Gospel Message of hope and love to a messy world,” Murray added.
And Rick Garcia, a longtime Catholic and storied LGBT rights activist at The Civil Rights Agenda, said he’s not surprised by George’s statements, which only go as far as agreeing with the Pope’s general message — because the Pope is his boss.
“If the Pope said jump off a bridge, Cardinal George would say, ‘What bridge and what should I wear?’” Garcia said. “We have very few bishops who are independent and think. They do what Rome tells them. And what has Rome said? If someone is seeking God, who am I to judge? The Pope reiterated what Jesus said.”
However, Garcia pointed out that the Pope’s comments have set the stage for how the Catholic Church may address the LGBT community moving forward, and could even have an effect on the local Catholic Church’s lobbying efforts in Springfield against Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
“What the Holy Father said does not change Church teaching in one state or fashion, but it does set the tone and it’s a tone that is very different from Pope Benedict and very different from the tone of Cardinal George,” he said. “This absolutely changes the conversation. When Cardinal George sends his henchman to Springfield to fight against us, we can look at them and say, ‘Who are you to judge? The Holy Father doesn’t judge. Our Holy Father doesn’t judge. Who are you to judge?’”