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Parishioners reflect on priest removed from Avondale church

Bishop Mark Bartosic led Mass at Resurrection Catholic Church in the Avondale neighborhood of Chicago on Sept. 23, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Parishioners at a Catholic church in Avondale where a priest who burned a gay pride flag was removed by Cardinal Blase Cupich shared a range of feelings Sunday about the absence of their pastor.

“If he’s not going to be here, I’m not going to be here either,” one elderly woman said brusquely as she walked into Mass at Resurrection Catholic Church, offering unwavering support for the Rev. Paul Kalchik and adding no further comment.

Cupich sent two of his top deputies to the church on Friday to notify Kalchik he was being removed as pastor, according to two sources close to the priest.

The 56-year-old priest first announced in a Sept. 2 church bulletin that he planned to burn the LGBTQ-friendly flag — which featured a cross superimposed over a rainbow — after he found it in storage where it apparently sat for more than a decade.

Cupich, who has shared Pope Francis’ more welcoming attitude toward gays in the church, told Kalchik not to burn the flag, but the priest said he did it anyway “in a quiet way” during a closed ceremony on Sept. 14 with seven parishioners, featuring a prayer of exorcism over the torched banner.

Kalchik — who has said he was sexually abused by a neighbor as a child and again by a priest when he began working for the church at 19 — previously said the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is “definitely a gay thing.”

Longtime parishioner Ricardo Vargas said he hopes the church gets its pastor back, but that he finds Kalchik’s views on the connection between child sex abuse and homosexuality to be misguided.

“He doesn’t realize that the people who hurt him who may have had gay tendencies were not loving gay people,” Vargas said.

“I support Father Kalchik, but I don’t support his statements that it was gayness that caused the problems or it was gayness that hurt these people. It was the people themselves and the evil that they were doing,” he said.

Video by Colin Boyle | Ricardo Vargas, long-time parishioner, talks about the removal of Fr. Kalchik from Resurrection Catholic

In an interview three days before that visit, Kalchik told the Sun-Times: “What have we done wrong other than destroy a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about?”

In a letter to parishioners and staff released Saturday evening by the Archdiocese of Chicago and read in church Sunday, Cupich wrote he has “become increasingly concerned about a number of issues at Resurrection Parish. It has become clear to me that Fr. Kalchik must take time away from the parish to receive pastoral support so his needs can be assessed.”

Cupich wrote that he removed Kalchik “out of concern for Fr. Kalchik’s welfare and that of the people of Resurrection Parish. I have a responsibility to be supportive of our priests when they have difficulties, but I also have a duty to ensure that those who serve our faithful are fully able to minister to them in the way the Church expects.”

The Rev. James Kaczorowski, pastor of Queen of Angels parish, was appointed administrator of Resurrection.

The Rev. Mark Bartosic, a bishop who oversees about 50 churches, of which Resurrection is one, presided over Mass Sunday.

“I’m here today simply to invite you to trust in the power of the word,” Bartosic told parishioners.

“The word is much more powerful than any chaos, interior or exterior, that we can come up with as a race, as human beings,” he said.

Rev. Paul Kalchik | Resurrection Parish photo
Rev. Paul Kalchik | Resurrection Parish photo

In a brief chat Sunday, Bartosic, who’s friends with Kalchick and belongs to the same book club, said the priest left Saturday voluntarily.

“We talked about what was best for the people and best for Paul, and he decided to step away,” he said. “I know that the cardinal would like him to take some time off. I don’t know exactly where that will be or for how long.”

Paul Bovyn, 88, a longtime parishioner and deacon, said Kalchik is a good leader.

“He did his job – he is doing it right now. He’s a preacher, he’s giving his opinion on what he feels. He’s not against anybody, I’m not against anybody.”

Parishioner Bea Zimmerman said one must view Kalchik’s behavior through the prism of abuse that shaped him. “You know how it could distort your emotions,” she said. “I’m not saying it was right.”

But that’s just one part of Kalchik, she said.

When Zimmerman was laid off, the priest gave her grocery store gift cards, and to others, he’s provided temporary work, she noted.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Anne Maselli said the decision to remove Kalchik had “been in motion for some time and is not directly due to the flag-burning.”

A gay pride flag hangs from a home near Resurrection Catholic Church in Avondale on Sept. 23, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times
A gay pride flag hangs from a home near Resurrection Catholic Church in Avondale on Sept. 23, 2018. | Colin Boyle/Sun-Times

Hung on the patio of a home across the street from the church Sunday was a gay pride rainbow flag.

“We couldn’t paint the entire exterior of the house rainbow colors because we rent,” said Barbara Grigsby, 31, a legal assistant who was raised Catholic in West Rogers Park and has gay roommates. “It was the biggest flag we could find on Amazon.”

“I went to Catholic grade school and high school, and everyone was always welcoming to the gay community. And I realize he does have abuse in his past,” but that doesn’t give him the right to do what he did, she said.

Peter Espenson, 29, an eighth grade teacher who is one of Grigsby’s gay roommates, said of the flag: “It makes our presence heard, felt, seen … hopefully, it sparks some sort of thought.”

Video by Colin Boyle | Avondale residents hang a gay pride flag on their building in light of Resurrection priest who burned a r