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Updated 12/28/11 – 9:38 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Amid new calls for an apology for comparing the gay rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan, Francis Cardinal George has defended his statements, saying organizers of the Gay Pride Parade “invited” the comparison.
The controversy began with the cardinal’s comments about a dispute over the a new route and start time for next year’s Pride Parade, which could have interrupted services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. The parade is held on the last Sunday in June, and its new route takes floats and marchers directly past the church for the first time.
Initially, parade organizers planned a 10 a.m. start time for the parade, which the church complained would have prevented parishioners from attending Sunday services. Although parade organizers later agreed to move the start of the parade back to noon, they initially resisted changing their plans to accommodate a single church, when other churches along the parade route were not making similar complaints.
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In the face of that initial resistance, Cardinal George told Fox Chicago News that the “gay liberation movement” should not “morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”
Although the dispute has been resolved, the controversy over the cardinal’s comparison has not gone away, as he has resisted demands for an apology. Some have even said he should step down because of the comments.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the cardinal said, “the organizers invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church” by initially refusing to change the start time of the parade.
“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,” the cardinal added. “It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate.”
Brian Richardson, spokesman for the Center on Halsted, a community center for the LGBT community, said the cardinal should just apologize for comparing the gay rights movement to the KKK.
“To stand by those statements is the wrong direction. He should stand up and apologize for those statements,” Richardson said.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), an openly gay state lawmaker whose district includes the Lakeview community, told CBS 2′s Kristyn Hartman, “we should be at a time we’re trying to bring people together, not say divisive things and pull people apart.”
Parade organizers have since reversed the plans for a 10 a.m. start time and will begin the parade at noon. With the start time now back at noon, the parade will no longer interfere with the Mass.
The cardinal seemed to backtrack from his comments on Sunday, when he said he never meant to compare gay rights activists to members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“What I was comparing was a parade to a parade. Obviously it’s absurd to say that the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Kluxers, but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that we’ve had in our past, because it stops us from worshipping God; well then, that’s the comparison,” the cardinal said. “But it’s not with people and people, it’s parade-parade.”
The cardinal said his only concern was making sure the Pride Parade did not interfere with Catholics being able to worship at their church.
“Which is ironic, because that is the church that every week welcomes the gay community, which I’m very glad of,” the cardinal said. “But we’ve just been singing ‘O Come, Let Us Adore Him,’ that’s what it’s all about and if you interfere with the worship of God, then that’s an absolute for us and it brings up a lot of memories of people who marched in other occasions to interfere with our worship, to show that Catholics are outside of the mainstream of American society.”
Anthony Martinez is Catholic and he is gay. He wrote a blog post about the cardinal’s initial comparison and said the cardinal’s explanations aren’t good enough.
“Take responsibility for your words and apologize wholeheartedly,” Martinez said.
Martinez said society often degrades the gay community and he doesn’t expect that from a man of faith.
In his statement, the cardinal said it’s wrong that the gay community has been harassed, but he said they can address that issue without disturbing worship.
“It is terribly wrong and sinful that gays and lesbians have been harassed and subjected to psychological and even physical harm,” the cardinal said. “These tragedies can be addressed, however, without disturbing the organized and orderly public worship of God in a country that claims to be free.”
George also said in Tuesday’s statement that he was “grateful” that the issue had been settled by moving the parade start time back to noon.