Cardinal Francis George, key Catholic orthodoxy voice, dies

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

CHICAGO — Cardinal Francis George, a vigorous defender of Roman Catholic orthodoxy who fought tirelessly against legislation that eventually led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois, and who once compared LGBT people to the Ku Klux Klan, died Friday after a long fight with cancer. He was 78.

George, who retired as Chicago archbishop in the fall of 2014, a few months before announcing his treatment for kidney cancer had failed, died late Friday morning, according to the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“Let us heed his example and be a little more brave, a little more steadfast and a lot more loving,” Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich said during a news conference, describing his predecessor as “a man of great courage.”

Appointed to Chicago in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, the Chicago native became played a key role in the Church’s response to the clergy sex abuse scandal and led the U.S. bishops’ fight against Obamacare.

At the height of the abuse crisis in 2002, George led a group of U.S. bishops who persuaded resistant Vatican officials to more quickly oust guilty priests — a policy at the core of reforms meant to restore trust in church leaders.

And in his three years as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, George spearheaded opposition to the Affordable Care Act, arguing that President Barack Obama‘s health insurance law would allow taxpayer money to fund abortion. The Chicago archdiocese’s charitable arm helped sue the Obama administration in 2012, over the requirement that employers provide health insurance covering contraception.

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In 2013, George advocated against marriage equality in Illinois, saying that same-sex marriage “violates natural law.”

In 2011, he warned that the “gay liberation movement” would morph into “something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”

Funeral services will be Thursday at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, following visitation and prayer vigils that start Tuesday, the archdiocese said. George will be buried at his family’s plot in suburban Chicago.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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