Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Hear from Cardinal George: It Is Sinful That Gays Are Harassed

My email inbox today contains an email from Francis Cardinal George of Chicago, the past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.*  It reads:

Statement from Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago
December 27, 2011 
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. 
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. 

It is certainly good that Cardinal George recognizes that "it is terribly wrong and sinful that gays and lesbians have been harassed and subjected to psychological and even physical harm."  I'm surprised, however, that the cardinal still doesn't appear to recognize that making a false and invidious comparison between a marginalized group of human beings and the Ku Klux Klan contributes to the harassment of and even physical attacks on members of that community.  The false and invidious comparison constitutes harassment and attack of the gay community, in and of itself.

There is no resemblance at all between the gay community and the Klan.  It is inflammatory and false to try to craft such a comparison.  Even a newscaster on the Fox program on which Cardinal George made the comparison questioned it--and Fox is not conspicuous for its progressive values and love of the gay community.

Cardinal George's comparison is premised on the suggestion that, by initially having chosen to parade in front of a Catholic church, the organizers of a gay pride parade sought to infringe the religious freedom of that church (and, implicitly, of Catholics in general).  This is absurd.  I live in a neighborhood in which, once a year, a marathon race is held on Sunday morning.

That race runs past a number of large churches in my neighborhood.  It requires that the avenue in front of these churches be shut down during the race.

I have never heard a single one of these churches or their pastors claim that joggers are akin to the Ku Klux Klan and are seeking to infringe their religious liberty.  Several of the churches, in fact, choose to move their services on that Sunday morning outside the church, where the congregation members gather in the street and on the sidewalk, set up stands to hand out cold water to the racers as they pass by, and  cheer the runners on.

Not a single one of these churches speaks of joggers as Klanlike enemies of Christianity.  The word "enemy" does not enter the picture, as these Christians interact with their fellow human beings jogging past their churches on Sunday morning (and interfering with the traffic patterns during worship, and distracting their congregations from worship).

I would encourage Cardinal George and other members of the Catholic hierarchy to ask themselves why the word "enemy" so frequently leaps to their lips when they talk about their brothers and sisters who are gay--as it did to Cardinal George's lips when a gay pride parade had chosen a route passing by a Catholic church in a heavily Catholic city full of Catholic churches (and Catholic hospitals, monasteries, convents, etc.) where one can hardly avoid passing a Catholic church or institution for any parade.

Who treats whom as an enemy, I wonder?  Who has made whom an enemy by bearing false witness against whom, and by shoving whom from the table?

Has it ever been necessary, or pastoral, or loving, or Christlike for the Catholic hierarchy to treat a group of marginalized human beings (in many cases, fellow Catholics) already susceptible to discrimination and violence as the enemy?  What lies behind this eminently unpastoral and unChristlike approach to a group of human beings who deserve love, inclusion, and respect, I wonder?

And what can be done--beyond words easy to speak--to alter this pattern of unChristian attack on a vulnerable minority community through actions that actually cost something?  Citing Isaiah, the gospels inform us that today is the day of salvation.  It is never too late for us to hear the word of God and to change the course of our lives and our actions.

*Though the email may suggest this, I am not in email (or mail) contact with Cardinal George, and find it fascinating that he would have my email address and send this email directly to me--and perhaps to others who have spoken out about his recent statements?

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