A Catholic cardinal and Archbishop of Chicago has drawn condemnation for suggesting the gay rights movement could “morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan”.

Former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Francis George, made the comments to Fox Chicago this week regarding concerns that a church in the city may have to cancel its morning mass because of a gay pride march.

He said: “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.”

When the analogy was questioned, he replied: “The rhetoric of the KKK and the rhetoric of some of the gay liberation people – Who is the enemy? The Catholic Church.”

Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholics which promotes equal rights for gays, said the cardinal’s comments were “crude”.

“Cardinal George’s offensive comments are further evidence of just how insensitive and out of touch the hierarchy is, and why opposition to its views is necessary,” the group said in a statement.

“Whether it was the best choice of analogy I don’t know. Taken out of context the meaning can be misinterpreted,” an archdiocesan spokeswoman said. “I would suggest people read the whole interview.”

Andy Thayer, of the Gay Liberation Network, said: “In comparing LGBT rights advocates to the KKK, the Cardinal shows he is not honest man of faith trying to better the world, but rather, a mendacious one trying to deflect criticism of church policies that promote discrimination.

“It is ironic that George chooses to mention the KKK, as they are but one of the most extreme examples of organizations which have used religion to shield themselves from criticism of their hateful policies.

“While an overwhelming majority of lay Catholics support equality for women and LGBTs, the Catholic leadership has a history and present practice of discrimination which they apparently will go to quite extreme lengths to defend.”