Cardinal Francis George has apologised for suggesting the organisers of Chicago’s Pride parade were similar to white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan, calling it an “inflammatory analogy”.

He said he was sorry for the “the hurt [his] remarks have brought to the hearts of gays and lesbians and their families”.

But the Archbishop of Chicago said his comments had come as a result of “fear for the Church’s liberty” and added that fear is a “larger topic” to be discussed outside of the apology.

Cardinal George had been speaking to Fox Chicago before Christmas when he made the original comments.

He was concerned the city’s gay pride parade would interrupt a Sunday morning mass after its planned start time was moved to accommodate the rising crowd numbers in recent years.

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.”

After Christmas, a statement was issued saying that when parade organisers “ignored” requests to move the time back, they had “invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church”.

A further comment appeared on the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago this weekend, saying: “During a recent TV interview, speaking about this year’s Gay Pride Parade, I used an analogy that is inflammatory.

“I am personally distressed that what I said has been taken to mean that I believe all gays and lesbians are like members of the Klan. I do not believe that; it is obviously not true.

“Many people have friends and family members who are gay or lesbian, as have I. We love them; they are part of our lives, part of who we are. I am deeply sorry for the hurt that my remarks have brought to the hearts of gays and lesbians and their families.

“I can only say that my remarks were motivated by fear for the Church’s liberty. This is a larger topic that cannot be explored in this expression of personal sorrow and sympathy for those who were wounded by what I said.”

The Gay Liberation Network had planned to protest outside the Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday 8 January at the cardinal’s statement, but officially cancelled the rally at the last minute.

The direct action group said: “Even though the Gay Liberation Network finds the “apology” of Francis George woefully inadequate, we nevertheless agree to call off the protest […]

“Francis George said in his “apology” that he never meant to smear “all gays and lesbians” with the KKK analogy. So, by implication, and by earlier statements, we take it that George did intend to liken some gays to the Klan, particularly some gay activists.”

The Chicago Tribune reports that a handful of protesters did appear on Sunday at the cathedral after all, and records Andy Thayer, co-founder of the group as saying the cardinal’s statement was “totally inadequate”.

“When it came time to issue an apology he chose the most passive manner to do it. […] I would say it to his face.”