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Brown: Judge Pope Francis and Cardinal George by their remarks on gays

Updated: September 1, 2013 6:41AM

In theory, you’d think Pope Francis and Cardinal Francis George are working off the same playbook.

But you sure wouldn’t be able to tell by comparing the pope’s widely reported conciliatory comments about gays this week to two new missives from the cardinal.

On the same day Pope Francis was quoted saying “Who am I to judge?” in reference to gay priests, Cardinal George chose to take a decidedly different tone.

In one public statement, he summarized the pope’s comments as an affirmation that “homosexual genital relations are morally wrong.”

In the second, the cardinal responded edgily to a group of Catholics who published a letter urging him to reconsider the threatened cutoff of church funding to community organizations that are part of an immigrant rights coalition over that group’s endorsement of same-sex marriage legislation.

“Because the signers of the letters are Catholic, they know that in a few years, like each of us, they will stand before this same Christ to give an account of their stewardship,” the Cardinal wrote. “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.”

Can anybody say: eternal damnation?

The cardinal accused the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights of bringing the problem upon itself and betraying its members through its support of same-sex marriage, which he called a “matter extraneous to its own purpose.”

He suggested the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which makes grants to anti-poverty groups on the condition they respect teachings of the Catholic faith, had no choice but to cease funding for members in the coalition because of its gay marriage stance.

The coalition continued Tuesday to withhold comment on the dispute, no doubt trying to preserve what until now has been a very successful alliance with the Catholic Church on immigration issues.

As I’ve said from the start, I think it’s a mistake for the church to use the grants to punish organizations that it knows to be doing good work in the community, groups such as the United African Organization.

Alie Kabba, the UAO’s executive director, told me his group was among those informed earlier this month that it could continue to receive a CCHD grant — if it agreed drop its association with the immigrant coalition.

Kabba said his board politely declined.

“We did not think it was for them to decide,” Kabba said. “We were not attacking the church. We cannot allow marginalization of any group in society.”

Kabba quoted an African proverb that seemed very appropriate: “The elephants are fighting, and the grass suffers.”

It’s not as if these groups were using the church’s money to promote same-sex marriage. These are groups that help new immigrants get on their feet, provide legal and health services to their families and help put them on the path to citizenship. It was the cardinal who politicized this in an effort to punish the coalition, which before this had listed Catholic Charities among its partners.

As difficult as it is to reconcile the cardinal’s prepare-to-meet-your-maker approach to the measured, albeit political, letter that prompted his response, I find his summation of the pope’s comments on gays even more dumbfounding.

“Homosexual genital relations.” Really?

I’ve read as many accounts of the pope’s comments as I could find, and he didn’t say anything like that.

In fact, it was reported that he seemed to make a point of using the word “gay” instead of “homosexual”— as if to indicate a more respectful attitude.

The pope also certainly didn’t reduce gay and lesbian relationships to “genital relations.”

I have no doubt that the pope believes that “homosexual genital relations are morally wrong,” just as the cardinal says, only I’d like to think the pope would have found a better way of expressing that thought.

Some of the elected officials who signed the letter to the cardinal were taken aback by his response, especially coming on the heels of what have been called the most welcoming comments ever made by a pope toward gays.

Cook County Commissioner Lawrence Suffredin said he thought the letter was “beneath the office of the cardinal.”

On the cardinal’s not so subtle suggestion that signers of the letter prepare to account for their actions in the afterlife, Suffredin said he’s ready.

“I think theologically a clear conscience is important for all of us. I have a clear conscience,” Suffredin said.

Why is it that I think Cardinal George has never said: “Who am I to judge?”

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