Defying orders from his archbishop, a Chicago priest went ahead with plans to burn a rainbow flag and revealed he had taken more actions to erase his parish’s history of being LGBT-friendly.
Fr. Paul Kalchik, pastor of Resurrection Church, Chicago, joined parishioners for the flag burning last Friday, which the Archdiocese of Chicago had previously instructed him not to carry out. NBC News reported:
“‘We did so in a private way, a quiet way, so as not to bring the ire of the gay community down upon this parish,’ Kalchik said in a lengthy interview Monday with NBC News. ‘It’s our full right to destroy it, and we did so privately because the archdiocese was breathing on our back.’
“‘We put an end to a depiction of our Lord’s cross that was profane,’ he added, noting the flag had a cross and a rainbow intertwined. To use the image of the cross as anything other than a ‘reminder of our Lord’s passion and death,’ he said, ‘is what we consider a sacrilege.’
“Kalchik said that the archdiocese had told him not to burn the flag in front of the church, as planned.
“‘So in a quiet way we took matters into our own hands and said a prayer of exorcism over this thing,’ he said. ‘It was cut into seven pieces, so it was burned over stages in the same fire pit that we used for the Easter vigil mass.'”
Kalchik told NBC News that he interpreted biblical passages traditionally associated with homosexuality in a “quite literal” way.
The Chicago Sun/Times’s report also revealed Kalchik had taken steps beyond the flag burning to erase a history of what he described as “bad priests” who were “big in promoting the gay lifestyle.” Upon arriving at Resurrection Church, the priest destroyed rainbow liturgical items, including vestments. He said it was an “accident” that the flag, which first appeared on the parish’s altar in 1991, was not destroyed then. Kalchik, himself a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, also commented that the present abuse crisis is “definitely a gay thing.”
Responding to media inquiries, archdiocesan spokesperson Anne Maselli said church officials were “unaware that this occurred” but were now looking into the matter. Kalchik said the Archdiocese had threatened him with “canonical penalties” if he went ahead and burned the flag.
LGBT advocates decried the actions of Kalchik and his parishioners. Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge, a book about LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, posted on Facebook:
“I cannot imagine a more homophobic action by Catholics, short of beating up an LGBT person in the church parking lot. Note that the pastor defied the archdiocese and took part, with some of his parishioners, in the ‘exorcism.’ And connecting it in any way, as the pastor did, to the Easter Vigil is a scandal: Easter is about love; this is about hate. This malign act helps to shed light on the kind of homophobia that many good people doubt still occurs in the church, but that many LGBT Catholics experience. What the pastor and some of his parishioners did shows the kind of hatred that LGBT Catholics still face–in their own church.
“And the more appropriate image for the fire that burned the flag is *not* the Easter Vigil fire, but another fire in the Easter Triduum: the fire over which Peter warmed his hands before betraying his friend Jesus into the hands of those who would brutalize him. (John 18:18)”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said the flag burning was “disrespectful and destructive,” adding:
“‘Those involved in this desecration are violating the core values of the Catholic faith. . .They are hijacking the parish to further an extremist agenda, and damaging the community in doing so. . .When we see this symbol flying at our churches, we know this will be a place of welcome and affirmation and a place where God’s creativity is truly celebrated.”
DignityUSA’s President and Chicago-area resident Chris Pett said Kalchik was “a renegade priest pushing an extreme agenda.”
For many reasons, the burning of Resurrection Church’s rainbow flag is a painful and tragic event that both reveals old wounds and inflicts new wounds among the People of God. It is rightly condemned as homophobic and hateful. Kalchik and his parishioners who carried out this attack on what is not only a symbol of welcome but a scriptural sign of God’s promise, now will have to face the consequences. Archdiocesan officials should make every effort to protect Catholics from being further harmed by Kalchik and his supporters.
Yet, any consequences should not be punitive in nature, but should focus on restorative justice. The Christian response to such hate is to seek reconciliation. This approach entails neither allowing oneself to be further disrespected and harmed nor adopting a “forgive and forget” mentality. True reconciliation emerges from a difficult reckoning with the harm done, honest contrition by those perpetrators of hate, and the restoration of right relations between all involved through dialogue and God’s grace. In this incident, any reconciliation will likely be a long process, and, as in all reconciliatory processes, the outcome is uncertain. But the pursuit of reconciliation is still worthwhile. The Islamic poet Rumi wrote, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” May the wound of a burnt rainbow flag become a place where God enters so as to transform an act of hate into an opportunity for greater love.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 20, 2018