File under: The pope was misunderstood only when I don’t agree with what everyone else heard.
By Mark Brown
Cardinal Francis George told me in an interview this week that he remains hopeful of blocking the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois and that we in the media misinterpreted Pope Francis’ recent remarks that were seen as more accepting of gays.
“If they had the votes, they would have passed it already,” the cardinal said of gay-marriage supporters in response to my assertion that it’s only a matter of time at this point before a law is passed.
“There’s nothing inevitable about social trends,” he said. “They do change. They reverse themselves.”
As to the pope’s widely publicized “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay priests in the Vatican, George said reporters misunderstood the context and therefore the import of the pope’s words.
“He wasn’t saying we can’t judge that homosexual relations are sinful or not. Objectively, they are,” George said.
The cardinal also remains “very angry” with a group of Catholic elected officials who published a letter asking him to reconsider stripping church funding from immigrant-support groups over their membership in a coalition that endorsed gay-marriage legislation.
And I’d say he’s none too pleased with me for a couple of columns I have written on this subject, although he treated me very cordially during a one-hour interview Monday at his residence on State Parkway.
That interview came after the cardinal sent a letter accusing me of being “both misleading and judgmental” in a column critical of his handling of the funding cutoff and his summation of the pope’s gentle remarks as primarily an affirmation that “homosexual genital relations are morally wrong.”
I’m not looking to get in a back-and-forth with the cardinal. We fundamentally disagree. But I thought you’d be interested in hearing more on what he has to say on these subjects.
Cardinal George defended his admittedly “caustic” earlier response to the public officials in which he reminded those who signed the letter that they will soon have to account for their actions in the hereafter.
“They claim to be Catholics, so I’m their bishop. It’s my job to remind them of certain eternal verities. One of them is judgment at death,” he said.
In that letter, the cardinal said: “Jesus is merciful, but he is not stupid; he knows the difference between right and wrong. Manipulating both immigrants and the church for political advantage is wrong.”
“That’s a somewhat angry response, because I’m very angry about this,” George told me when I mentioned that some of the public officials thought he was threatening them with eternal damnation, which he denied.
But he said he “felt betrayed” by the officials and found it “offensive” that they “thought they could make some points at the expense of the church.”
“When people vaunt their Catholicism and say ‘as Catholics,’ then all right, let me tell you what it is to be a Catholic,” he said.
He said he hasn’t gone so far as to seek to deny communion to those involved.
George expressed his opinion that the funding cutoff “wouldn’t have been an issue if we weren’t in a campaign for governor.”
That confused me a little, because I certainly would have raised the issue whether there was an election next year or not. The cardinal reiterated that his understanding is that some people want to use gay marriage as an issue in the governor’s race.
I suggested it was his decision to halt funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to the immigrant groups that made this an issue. He rejected that assertion, arguing that the leaders of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in effect cut off funding to their own member groups with the decision in May to endorse gay marriage.
“That made it impossible for the CCHD to continue to fund groups that are associated with ICIRR. It was a principled issue which is before us — without a choice in a sense. If we betray the donors or if we betrayed our own anthropology, our own way of looking at the human being, then we should not continue to have a public voice at all.”
The cardinal noted that groups that receive funding from CCHD sign a contract promising not to promote activities that contradict the moral and social teachings of the Catholic Church, including “capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, racism, war, discrimination or same-sex marriage.”
“What follows is an inevitable result of their decision,” he said.
“If they had endorsed a racist viewpoint, would we be here talking about this at all?” the cardinal asked.
I asked if he thought advocating same-sex marriage is equivalent to advocating racism.
“In the sense that both are inconsistent with Catholic social teaching,” he confirmed. “It’s not to say there is a moral equivalency.”
George also observed that “it’s interesting that they don’t attack the black Protestant churches” who have been his key allies in the fight against legalizing gay marriage in Illinois. He said the black churches are more influential on the gay-marriage issue than even he because their ministers have closer relationships with their legislators. I promised him I would write about it if black churches cut off financial support to any social-service agencies over gay marriage.
The cardinal acknowledged his own characterization of the pope’s comments on gays may have been “jarring,” as I put it, but he said he was frustrated by journalists missing the pope’s point.
“In our culture, ‘Who am I to judge’ means nobody has the right to distinguish right from wrong,” which wasn’t what the pope meant, the cardinal said.
“He was saying that a person who has given up their sinful ways, you don’t judge them. You accept them,” George said. “. . .He started out saying: gay sex is wrong.”
I told the cardinal I never believed for a moment that the pope was changing church policy toward gays, only setting a different tone that was missing from his own approach.
The cardinal expressed frustration that, in the current political climate, Catholics can’t express their opposition to same-sex marriage without being regarded as bigots.
“”When that becomes the criterion for accepting gay and lesbian people, then we’re in the bind we’re in now, which is a real bind,” he said.
Nobody really expects the Catholic Church to change, only to adapt.
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