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Cardinal George, Catholic bishops — again — clash with Gov. Quinn

Gov. PQuinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

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Updated: January 19, 2012 11:09AM

Gov. Pat Quinn apparently did not understand that when he met with Illinois’ Catholic bishops Friday, they were taking him out to the woodshed.

Quinn said Saturday morning that the two-hour talk between him and Cardinal Francis George and 9 other bishops was “only a little bit” about his positions the bishops say are at odds with Catholic teachings on abortion and gay couples’ right to adopt — a clash that has made headlines recently — and more about the need to help the poor.

“A lot of the discussion was how we could work together to fight poverty, help the people who are less fortunate and need a helping hand,” Quinn told the Sun-Times as he left a Christmas toy give-away on the Far South Side. “Getting people jobs, helping people who don’t have enough food to eat — that’s what the church’s social mission is all about.”

But after reading Quinn’s comments posted on the Sun-Times website Saturday, the bishops that met with Quinn issued a written statement saying Quinn characterized the meeting wrong: The primary purpose of the sit-down, they said, was to admonish the governor for using his Catholic up-bringing to justify views that they say aren’t supported by the church. It was the second time in the past two months the bishops have issued a statement blasting the Catholic governor.

“We share the Governor’s concern for the poor,” they wrote. “From our point of view, however, this was a meeting between pastors and a member of the Church to discuss the principles of faith, not the works of faith. On several occasions, the Governor has referred to his Catholic conscience and faith as the justification for certain political decisions.”

The letter continued: “As Catholic pastors, we wanted to remind the Governor that conscience, while always free, is properly formed in harmony with the tradition of the Church, as defined by Scripture and authentic teaching authority. A personal conscience that is not consistent with authentic Catholic teaching is not a Catholic conscience. The Catholic faith cannot be used to justify positions contrary to the faith itself.It is a matter of personal integrity for people who call themselves Catholic to act in a manner that is consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

The bishops said they were particularly concerned about Quinn’s influence on others “since he holds a highly visible and influential position.”

The letter concluded: “This concern on our part, as pastors of the Church, was the fundamental and primary topic of our conversation with Governor Quinn.”

A Quinn spokeswoman declined to respond to the letter.

Friday’s meeting at the Union League Club came after the bishops had criticized Quinn for agreeing to give an award at an abortion rights event. George toned down the criticism after learning the award was going to a rape victim, and then requested the meeting.

Saturday morning, Quinn emphasized there was just “a little bit” of discussion on abortion Friday.

And he said there was only “brief” discussion of the state’s new gay rights law despite the fact the state ended contracts with Catholic Charities over the summer after the organization refused to place foster and adoptive children in the homes of gay couples and in those in civil unions.

“We have a law. We have to uphold that law. We can’t allow anyone not complying with the law to continue to hold a contract,” he said.

Quinn said the church should partner with agencies that will work with gay couples.

“The Peoria model, the diocese down there partners with a non-profit group to work on foster care — that is really what every other diocese are considering or doing,” Quinn said.

Quinn touted the passage last week of expanding the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. He said he’d like the church’s help getting the word out to eligible families to apply.

Quinn and George did agree on one thing: the meeting was “pastoral” in nature. Quinn, in fact, said he even quoted the biblical verse Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

Quinn’s appearance Saturday was at the “Christmas in the 8th and 34th Ward” event at the new Finkl & Sons steel plant, which was put together by Riteway-Huggins Construction; Finkl; The Ricketts Family, which owns the Cubs; Ald. Michelle Harris (8th) and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th).

Quinn was one of many elected officials and candidates at the event, including Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

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