"I am truly sorry for the hurt my remarks have caused," George said in an interview with the Tribune. "Particularly because we all have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian. This has evidently wounded a good number of people. I have family members myself who are gay and lesbian, so it's part of our lives. So I'm sorry for the hurt."
George's initial comments came in response to questions about whether the new route assigned to next summer's gay pride parade would interrupt morning services at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Lakeview neighborhood. That dispute was resolved before Christmas, when parade organizers agreed to change the start time of the event.
"When I was talking, I was speaking out of fear that I have for the church's liberty and I was reaching for an analogy which was very inappropriate, for which I'm sorry," George said. "I didn't realize the impact of what I was saying. ... Sometimes fear is a bad motivation."
In his comments, broadcast on Fox Chicago television on Christmas, George addressed what he perceives to be religious discrimination in the name of gay rights. While discussing the pride parade, he cited the anti-Catholicism of the KKK in the early 1940s.
"You know, you don't want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism." George told the Fox Chicago reporters. "So I think if that's what's happening, and I don't know that it is, but I would respect the local pastor's, you know, position on that."
George said he didn't expect the public uproar over the comments.
Chris Pett, president of Dignity Chicago, an independent ministry for gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, welcomed the cardinal's apology.
"This is not about power. This is not about control. This is about a church and its ministry and its shepherd," he said. "We believe in reconciliation. It's not a time to continue to draw battle lines and go back to prior history. It's time to say we're grateful for that gift for someone realizing that he or she misspoke in a way that caused some harm and seek forgiveness."
George said although church teaching does not judge same-sex relationships as morally acceptable, it does encourage the faithful to "respect everyone."
"The question is, 'Does respect mean that we have to change our teaching?' That's an ongoing discussion, of course. ... I still go back to the fact that these are people we know and love and are part of our families. That's the most important point right now."
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the apology was a start.
"It appears that the Cardinal has had a chance to reflect on the deeply hurtful and destructive statement he had made on Christmas day in comparing the movement for LGBT equality to the Ku Klux Klan. His apology is important and will go some way toward healing the pain he has caused," Cherkasov said.
"However, his actions will speak louder than words, and we will be paying attention to see if his words translate into acts of dignity and respect towards LGBT people," Cherkasov said.
The executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda said he was "incredibly pleased that Cardinal George has taken responsibility for his actions and has issued an apology."
“A true leader can admit when they are wrong, and the Cardinal has set a good example of leadership today with his statement," said Anthony Martinez, TCRA executive director. "Now, with this apology, the LGBT community and the Catholic community can begin to heal the divides that this has caused.”