White House (CNSNews.com) - White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told CNSNews.com Tuesday that President Barack Obama is comfortable with the membership of his faith-based advisory council, despite calls from conservative Catholics to remove a member who has repeatedly made offensive statements about Pope Benedict XVI and the Catholic Church.
Gibbs’ response comes nearly a month after House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) signed a letter, along with 20 other prominent conservative Catholics, asking Obama to remove Harry Knox, director of the faith and religion program at the homosexual activist group Human Rights Campaign, from the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. (L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center, the parent organization of CNSNews.com, also signed the letter.)
The advisory council advises the White House faith-based office on which religious organizations may receive federal dollars.
Among the comments the letter’s signatories found offensive was a statement Knox made in March when he called the pope a “discredited leader” and that the Knights of Columbus were a “discredited army of oppression,” and another comment where Knox said the pope was “harming people in the name of Jesus.”
Knox, in 2007, also referred to a Catholic bishop’s directive to refuse Holy Communion to a lesbian couple in Wyoming as “immoral and insulting to Jesus.”
CNSNews.com asked Tuesday if the president disagreed with Knox’s characterization of the pope or if the president would take any action regarding the letter’s request.
“I haven’t seen that letter, but the president is comfortable with the makeup of his faith advisory council,” Gibbs said.
This is the first response from the White House on the controversial matter. CNSNews.com first asked the White House via e-mail about Knox's comment that the pope is a “discredited leader” on April 9, referencing a request by House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) that Knox be removed from the council. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNSNews.com at that time that the White House would not comment on the matter.
On May 13, the day the letter from Boehner, McCotter and other Catholics was publicized, CNSNews.com asked the White House in writing for a response to the letter, and included in the e-mail an entire list of comments that Knox had made about the Catholic church. The White House never responded to the request.
The May 13 letter to Obama that was signed by House Republican Leader Boehner said, “We do not know if you or members of your Administration were aware of Knox’s deplorable, abusive attitude towards the Church and Pope Benedict XVI when you named him to the Council. We assume you were not.
“But since then, there have been numerous press reports on Knox’s loathsome and clearly bigoted rhetoric, so there no longer is any excuse for your failure to act. We can remain silent no longer,” the letter added.
In response to the letter, Knox told Newsmax, "I love the Catholic Church and love my Catholic sisters and brothers very much. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Roman Catholic Church and for all the good that it does. I do think that we have a real disagreement about the role of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, both in the role of the church and in the role of public service."
Just two weeks before he was appointed to the White House council, Knox, a member of the United Church of Christ, criticized the pope regarding the pope’s statement on condoms and AIDS prevention.
“The Pope’s statement that condoms don’t help control the spread of HIV, but rather condoms increase infection rates, is hurting people in the name of Jesus,” Knox said on the Human Rights Campaign Web site. “On a continent where millions of people are infected with HIV, it is morally reprehensible to spread such blatant falsehoods.
“The pope’s rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community. Jesus was about helping the marginalized and downtrodden, not harming them further.”
Also, in a March 19 article in the San Francisco-based Bay Area Reporter, Knox said, “The Knights of Columbus do a great deal of good in the name of Jesus Christ, but in this particular case [Proposition 8 that amended the California constitution to ban gay marriage], they were foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression.”
The newspaper further said that the Knights of Columbus have “followed discredited leaders,” including bishops and Pope Benedict XVI, who Knox called, “A pope who literally today said condoms don’t help in control of AIDS.”
In an interview with CNSNews.com the day his appointment to the council was announced, Knox said he “absolutely” stood by his comment that the pope was a discredited leader.
“The Pope needs to start telling the truth about condom use,” Knox said. “We are eager to help him do that. Until he is willing to do that and able, he’s doing a great deal more harm than good – not just in Africa but around the world. It is endangering people’s lives.”