Sermon at Holy Name Cathedral,
Archdiocese of Chicago
9:30 a.m. Mass, August 3, 2003

Dear Friends in Christ:

I stand before you not as the celebrant of the Mass but as the Archbishop of Chicago, the pastor of this local Church, to use this pulpit of the Cathedral in a way that I have not used it in the six years that I have been Archbishop here. For those of you who are visitors, I ask your indulgence.

I stand here to defend our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, against a false accusation made on the front page of the Chicago Sun-Times last Friday. The headline reads: “Pope Launches Global Campaign against Gays.” The Pope, of course, did no such thing.

First, what did the Pope do to invite this false accusation against him? The Holy Father, through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, approved a statement about the nature of marriage, a statement which repeats what every Pope has taught for two thousand years: marriage is the life-long union of a man and a woman who enter into a total sharing of themselves for the sake of family. This is not first of all a religious teaching, although Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament. This is an understanding of marriage from nature itself. Marriage predates our present government or any other and predates, as well, the founding of the Church. Marriage is not the creature of state or church, and neither a government nor the church has authority to change its nature. A government that claims such authority becomes totalitarian. What the Holy See concluded from the fact that there is neither biological nor moral equivalence between heterosexual marriage and homosexual unions is that there should be no legal equivalence either, in a well-ordered and wholesome society.

It is this conclusion, evidently, which was represented falsely as a “global campaign against gays.” Because of a concerted campaign in movies and TV shows in recent years to shape public imagination and opinion into accepting same sex relations as normal and morally unexceptional, obvious truths now are considered evidence of homophobia. Because a morality based upon desires has largely supplanted a morality based upon the truth of things, a teaching which limits sexual self-expression of any sort becomes oppressive. In this context, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that people of homosexual orientation should be treated with every respect and with compassion; but the Catechism also teaches the truth about the nature of God’s gift of human sexuality, a truth our bodies themselves proclaim and the lives of married couples attest to.

Secondly, who is the Pope and why should Catholics take to heart false accusations against him? The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, and therefore the successor of the apostle who heard Jesus tell him:

You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt. 16: 18-19).

The Holy Spirit invisibly anchors the Church in the truth of Christ. Truths of faith can be more adequately understood from age to age, but the Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. The Holy See, because of the personal office of the Successor of Peter, is a privileged and secure visible expression of the Spirit’s guidance of the Church. Catholics therefore reverence the Petrine office as a gift from Christ himself and have a deep respect for the person holding that office. Divulging disinformation about the Pope, engaging in anti-papal propaganda, attacks all Catholics and is usually, in history, a preparation for active persecution of the Church. The Holy Father makes up nothing that he teaches. His is not the “opinion of the Vatican.” His is the teaching of Jesus Christ, because he is the primary witness to the faith that unites us to Christ. In matters that are received over the ages and proclaimed by the Pope in ours, no person who disagrees to the point of denial can claim to hold the Catholic faith. Disdain for and hatred of the Pope are sure signs of anti-Catholicism.

Thirdly, then, what does the printing of a false accusation against the Pope in a major Chicago daily say about anti-Catholicism here? This is a question I never believed I would have to ask. The Catholic Church was here before any newspaper, before the incorporation of the city of Chicago or the establishment of the State of Illinois. The Church has been the instrument used by Christ to make thousands of Chicagoans holy. She has preached the Gospel and made the sacraments available, she has educated and healed, served the poor and raised a voice for justice. We Catholics are sinners and, at this moment, we are especially shamed by the terrible sins of some priests and bishops; but the Church remains holy in her gifts from her Lord. If her moral teaching were honored in our conduct, there would be no sexual abuse of anyone, no rape or betrayal of marriage, no sexual promiscuity parading as freedom, no fraud in business or government, no false accusations or lies, published or unpublished. What the Church, which condemns all these sins, offers constantly is Christ’s forgiveness of sinners.

The Pope is attacked for many reasons. In some Protestant circles, he is still regarded as the anti-Christ. Among secularists, his teaching office is a threat to human freedom. Among disaffected Catholics, the Pope must be discredited so that Catholics will be forced to change their faith. And the headline writers of the Sun-Times? I do not know their motivation. A bishop likes to presuppose good will, and what they did would find an echo in many places; but what I must say today is that a line has been crossed, and Chicago Catholics cannot ignore what has happened.

I have written a letter of apology to Pope John Paul II. He has visited this city many times and always asks of it fondly. He does not think of it as a center of anti-Catholicism. For the first time in my life, I hesitated as I signed my title. I’m ashamed that this false accusation against the Pope was made in our city. At the very least, it is unfair; and we pride ourselves on fairness. I ask you to pray for the Holy Father; pray as well for the enemies of the Church; and let us pray for one another, for strength in the present and perseverance in the difficulties to come.

Francis Cardinal George, OMI

Archbishop of Chicago

Reproduced with Permission

Version: 11th August 2003