CN August 29, 2013

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George isn’t happy about the way the press has covered the pope’s “who am I to judge” comment about same-gender marriage. And the Sun-Times’ Mark Brown got an earful on the topic when the Cardinal invited him to the mansion for a little talk.

Brown tells us he never thought the pope was being a theological revolutionary. “Clearly the pope wasn’t changing church doctrine, he was just setting a nice new tone. The Cardinal didn’t like that. He likes the old tone,” he says.

But the Cardinal feels that the press, and presumably Brown, just got the remark all wrong.  “The pope wasn’t really saying you can’t judge whether homosexuality is right or wrong or gay sex is right or wrong,” he explains. “It’s sinful and it’s morally wrong, the Cardinal says, and the pope wasn’t saying anything about that.”

But Brown, who was invited for a chat after some critical columns, says George explained to him that his objection to gay marriage isn’t a theological, faith-based argument. “it’s a matter of reason. That nature tells us that only men and women should get married. (Men and women) have roles. And as I pointed out in today’s column, in your and my lifetimes those roles have changed a lot.”

What upset the Cardinal was Brown’s column about how the Catholic Campaign for Human Development  (which is a part of theCatholic Bishops’ Association) stopped funding some Chicago community groups.

“This isn’t just direct charity, they fund community organizations to do community work. And a lot of this money goes to immigration groups. Well, a lot of these immigration groups, in turn, are part of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights,” he explained.

“This immigraton group decided to endorse the same-sex marriage legislation that’s pending in Illinois. So the church cut off funding to all these little community groups  that are part of this coalition…Some politicians jumped on my story and published a letter in the Tribune that scolded the Cardinal and that really made him mad.”

But Brown said his hour-long meeting with the Cardinal was very cordial, despite their differences of opinion, and the Cardinal was a gracious host.

Matt Farmer, the activist lawyer, writer, musician and blogger, joined us to talk about why hundreds of parents protested yesterday in front of the CPS offices. “Their schools are getting cut to the bone,” he says. “Their programs, particularly in light of this new ‘full day’, in art, music, etc., are disappearing. They realize they were sold a raw deal.”

The first few days of school have, so far, been uneventful along the “Safe Passage” routes, where workers in brightly-colored jackets monitor the nearby streets. “The kids all know that the yellow-jackets can only do so much for you,” says Brown. “If there’s a problem, the yellow-jacket is not gonna step in. They’re supposed to get on their walk-talkie and get somebody who’s equipped to deal with the problem…the kids know this. And in places where they’ve had Safe Passage, they can’t always get there in time.”

As we’ve all seen, it’s been an “all-hands-on-deck” approach as the school year began. “We’ve had everybody short of the Bears offensive line out protecting these kids in the first couple of days of school,” says Farmer. “And if J’Marcus Webb keeps performing at the level he is, he’s soon gonna be out there. So the question is sustainability, and also that’s gonna dovetail with whether there’s continued media interest in this in October or November.”

But the program could have political benefits for the administration, Brown adds. “Where do these Safe Passage workers come from? Well they come from community groups.  So it’s a way for the Mayor to get the community groups or the churches or whatever, to buy in – because they put people on the payroll.  It’s smarter than Daley’s ‘give the churches the vacant lots’ program.”

There’s been so much discussion in the past few weeks about the safety of children traveling to the so-called “welcoming schools”.  And some have claimed that there might be gang violence in the schools as rival populations are merged. But Brown has some confidence. “From what I’ve seen of the Chicago Public Schools, the school buildings themselves are the safest part of these kids’ day. Even in the worst schools, there are so many good people trying to look out for the kids.  It’s the coming and going from the schools where you have issues, and those are real,” he explains.

We also spend some time discussing the recent demolition of the field-house adjacent to  Whittier School in Pilsen. It had for three years been the site of a community center that was once occupied by a group of parents protesting the lack of a library in their school. “They’ve been trying in one form or another to demolish this building since at least 2010 and I believe it goes back before that,” says Farmer.

But the demolition was unexpected and pretty dramatic.

“It was under the cover of darkness, all very expedited, and the after-the-fact explanation, the mayor was out of town that weekend, was this needed to be done because kids were in danger, kids’ lives were in danger,” he tells us. “Now the credibility of the folks who were spinning that tale can be evaluated by what we heard this week for Channel 5 news. They found that, in terms of child safety, eleven of these so-called welcoming schools have not had fire inspections. One of them for the last four years, several for the past three years. They found that none of these schools across the city have filed Emergency Preparedness Plans with the State Board of Education for the past seven years.  So when we’re talking about child safety issues, we’ve gotta take this with a grain of salt, particularly when the City said they had an inspection last spring (at the Whittier field-house) that found essentially the same kind of conditions. Well, why did you allow kids and parents to occupy that building for the last few months?

We wind up the show with a brief discussion about teacher pensions.

“Everybody’s gonna have to give a little,” says Brown. “The unions are gonna have to take a hit, and the taxpayers are gonna have to take a hit. A lot of people are trying to make this solely on the backs of the workers, and they might get away with it, I don’t know.”

And Farmer declares himself perplexed by a Democratic super-majority that doesn’t stand up for the teachers. “The inability to use that legislative bloc to really accomplish much of anything – I don’t know what the point of accumulating this power, this majority is – unless you’re actually gonna wield it. And to sit an wait and say, well, we need a bunch of Republicans to sign off on this just seems like a cowardly way to lead.”

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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