Another Side to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George on LGBT Issues

About 16 months before he died on April 17, 2015, Chicago’s conservative Cardinal Francis George made some surprisingly positive remarks in a private letter to a gay friend about his friend’s relationship, life, and the possibility of doctrinal change.  The following is the account of that letter, dated December 12, 2013, by its recipient, Maurice Monette, who is now making its contents public. A PDF image of the letter is available here.

 

by Maurice Monette

Cardinal Francis George

I was a long-time friend and confrere of Cardinal George before I left the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and married my husband, Jeff Jackson . I had sent the cardinal a copy of my book, Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey (Amazon, 2013), and his positive written reaction to that memoir which explores my integration of sexuality, spirituality, and relationship has given me hope for the Catholic Church.

“It was very kind of you to think of me and send a copy of your autobiographical memoir,” he began in a full-page letter on Archdiocese letterhead. “It has been a long time since we have had a conversation, but I felt as if I were talking to you through your book. The turn of phrases, the method of presentation and of argument, leaves you very alive in your pages.”

In that letter Cardinal George sent me, he was following up on our last conversation in 1988 at a sidewalk cafe in Rome. He and I knew each other as professors and priests from the same religious congregation. We shared dinner that evening with another priest who put Francis George in his place after he waxed very-informed-Roman about the evil of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. During the same evening, Francis argued that seminaries should be purged of gay men. That night I decided that there was little space in the church for me.

The rest of Francis’s letter surprised me: “It was good to hear the tone of happiness that underlies the presentation of your life. It was good also to get the sense that you have resolved things without bitterness and are free to continue the journey. All this I deeply appreciate.”

Maurice Monette receives a kiss from Jeff Jackson, his husband.

Francis caught my tone and spirit, a by-product of 26 years of happy marriage to a wonderful man. But my tone belied my sadness and regret that the doctrinaire rigidity of the 1980’s church had never left space for genuine dialogue about the oppression of sexual minorities (my oppression), or that of so many others.

“As you yourself said in your note to me, my perspective on the path taken is different from yours.” That is an understatement! Cardinal George was an outspoken opponent of marriage equality; he called same-sex marriage “something that nature itself tells us is impossible”; and he protested LGBT Pride parades near places of worship, claiming gays abuse the freedom of speech like the Ku-Klux-Klan  (he later apologized).

So, it was even more surprising to me that on the night that he died, I found hope in the next words of his letter: “Nonetheless, with you, I agree that we need to keep listening to each other rather than speaking at cross-purposes. The categories of explanation of human experience are many and, as I’m sure you know, I can’t fit all your actions into the sense of things that I believe we have been given through Divine Revelation, even as I know that there is development in interpretation of events and of doctrine.”

As more courts, legislatures, electorates and religious groups around the world affirm the civil rights of marriage equality and religious freedom can thrive together, the words of the Cardinal offer me hope that leadership in the Catholic Church is also moving in the direction of justice and love.

I pray that Francis George died in peace knowing that his studied perspective is appreciated and his willingness to listen and grow is treasured and needed in today’s Catholic church and in other powerful institutions — and that he died confident in a just and loving God.

*     *     *

Maurice L. Monette’s Confessions of a Gay Married Priest won the 2013 Global Ebook Award for best LGBT non-fiction and a 2014 Nautilus Award as a “Better Book for a Better World”.   When a priest, Monette also published seven books on church leadership. Monette can be reached at GayMarriedPriest.com or on Facebook at Confessions of a Gay Married Priest.

4 Responses to Another Side to Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George on LGBT Issues

  1. Paula Ruddy says:

    Francis George’s letter to Maurice Monette was surely a contrast to the last conversation Monette had with him in 1988, but for a communication in 2013, it is still quite a short step toward acceptance. I wonder what George believed “we have been given through Divine Revelation” about sexual orientation. Could he have believed that what the Roman Catholic official magisterium says about sexual orientation IS “Divine Revelation”? In other words, the official magisterium is God speaking? All this while I have been thinking that what IS is divine revelation, including differences in sexual orientation, and the whole of humankind is being addressed in it. Thanks to Maurice for sharing.

  2. Jerry Baumeister, PhD says:

    First of all, I would like to thank Maurice for sharing his letter. I also knew Cardinal George, but in a much different way. He may have written some tripe in a private letter but in public he was a mean spirited man who alienated more people from the church than he attracted.His predecessor, Cardinal Bernardin was a saint who built bridges of understanding between. George blew up those bridges like he was at war with certain people in the church. This letter is nice but belies the reality of this fraud of a cardinal. May he rest in eternal peace. AMEN.

    • Rick Garcia says:

      Thank you for this reflection. It is exactly mine. I have a couple of notes from His Eminence which demonstrated a tad of humanity. He was a mean, heartless, and vicious cleric who alienated countless Catholics and others and worse he hurt so many people and their families. Thanks be to G-d, faithful Sisters, priests, brothers and Catholic laity worked hard to undo the damage he did. Indeed Cardinal Bernardin is a saint and we are blessed to have Archbishop Cupich to replace this mean prelate. By the way, lest one think I am over the top calling George’s positions ‘vicious’ a number of years ago 26 of his pastors leveled the same charge against him in a public letter criticizing his opposition to basic civil rights protections for sexual minorities.

  3. Larry says:

    It has become not so unusual to see a “death bed” revelation by some hierarchical prelate that he had been wrong all along on the gay issue and now he sees the light. I always suspect that as the end comes near, they try to get on the right side of Justice and Truth so that have some argument when they face the Lord. This one takes the cake for being 18 months after the Cardinal’s death but still trying to show that there was another, wonderful and warm-hearted side to the Cardinal. I recall a line from the movie, The Producers, when the pro-Nazi writer of the play says “Very few people know that Hitler was a very good dancer.”

    As Jerry B. notes above, the damage that George did in his life was extensive yet he made no moves to try to correct that damage before he died or even try to make a public statement that he was wrong, instructing his fellow clerics of the errors of an anti-gay agenda. It is nice that George sent a private letter to a personal friend but if he really felt all along that his public stands were wrong then he must add hypocrite to his sins.

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