Chicago Priest Defies Archbishop, Leads Parish in Burning of Rainbow Flag

Rainbow flag over Resurrection Church’s altar in the 1990s; Fr. Paul Kalchik; the fire used to burn the rainbow flag

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 outNBC 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

10 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    Ah-ha! Here at last we find the smoking gun, as revealed in the text of this article: “Kalchik, himself a survivor of clergy sexual abuse….” I don’t recall seeing this information elsewhere, although I might have overlooked it in the original coverage. But it now becomes obvious that Kalchik has been emotionally traumatized by his own sexual abuse as a child, and is frankly not in any fit condition to be serving as a priest, until and unless he can overcome his understandable bitterness. This adds a whole new dimension to an already complicated narrative. But the fact remains that his bishop should not allow him to continue functioning as a priest, until and unless Kalchik can undertake a successful course of emotional and psychological healing.

    Reply
  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    I think the flag burning says more about this priest than anything else. He is afraid, angry and hurt. He admits he was abused sexually by a member of the clergy. This is an over reaction. Maybe he fears being seen as “gay friendly”. Maybe he was goaded into this by equally angry parishioners. What is alarming here is the scapegoating of all gay people for the crimes of some religious who prey on children. So much for his vow of obedience to his bishop. I hope his ego is not in play here because this has all the earmarks of someone trying to make a name for themselves.

    Reply
  3. Kris
    Kris says:

    I’m interested more in personal motivation than in personal conduct, whether it be conscious or sub-conscious. It is here that the opportunity for self-awareness, repentance, and reconciliation lie.

    If this isn’t addressed in the here-and-now, it will have to be expurgated in the hereafter, before full and pernanent communion with God and his (especially) human creation.

    Destructive hatred is the alarm bell of personal behaviour. And Fr Kalchik’s conduct, along with that of his supporters, was destructive not just of this flag, not just of good community relations, but of others’ sense of personal worth. Kalchik et alii have torn down rather than, like Paul the Apostle, built up.

    Sadly, they will currently have no mind for reconciliation through restorative justice. But that route, through (preferably) face-to-face conversation with those they have hurt, (including themselves, by the )way) is really the only way to go.

    Remember if this route isn’t taken now, it will have to be taken Purgatorially. And that’s a fact of salvation: a painful dying to the destruction of oneself and others.

    Reply
  4. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    Right on Robert Shine! Your analysis of this terrible flag burning draws us back to prayer and reflection. We can do little to change hearts but we CAN pray and not let our hearts be troubled.

    Reply
  5. Brother Gabriel Monarch,O.H.
    Brother Gabriel Monarch,O.H. says:

    As a religious brother I deplore what this priest did and glad he was disciplined in the manner the church did.

    Reply
  6. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Rainbow Flag Burning
    In the lyrics of the song Same Love there are these lines:

    “When I was in church, they taught me something else
    If you preach hate at the service Those words aren’t anointed
    And that Holy Water, that you soak in is then poisoned…”

    That Easter Vigil brazier has been viciously desecrated. I like Fr. Martin’s comparison of that fire more closely related the fire where Peter warmed his hands.

    Bob, I have difficulty with some of your thoughts, “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.” I would accept there should be no retribution; still, disobeying the archbishop should have some consequences in accord with diocesan policies.

    Reply
  7. Erma Durkin
    Erma Durkin says:

    I am so sorry to hear this. Was Pastor K. motivated to burn the rinbow flag, and disobey the order of the Archdiocese, because of his own abuse by a priest? Shame.

    Reply

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