A North Side priest who says he “can’t sit well” with Cardinal Blase Cupich burned a gay-friendly flag outside his Avondale church last week — against the wishes of the cardinal he claims is trying to minimize the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Rev. Paul Kalchik says the banner, featuring a cross superimposed over a rainbow, had been featured prominently in the sanctuary at Resurrection Catholic Church but had been taken down and was forgotten in storage at the parish at 3043 N. Francisco for more than a decade.

Kalchik led seven parishioners in a prayer of exorcism Friday, and the flag was burned inside a portable fire pit placed the schoolyard next to the church. The ashes of the flag now rest in a church compost heap.

“That banner and what it stood for doesn’t belong to the Archdiocese or Cardinal Cupich. It belongs to the people of this parish who paid for it,” Kalchik said. “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?”

Cupich, who has joined Pope Francis in exuding a more welcoming tone to gays in the Catholic Church, had attempted to stop Kalchik from burning the flag, instructing Kalchik he “could not move forward with that planned activity,” Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Anne Maselli said Tuesday.

Maselli said that the archdiocese was “unaware” that the flag-burning occurred, “and we are following up on the situation. As Catholics we affirm the dignity of all persons.”

Chris Pett, president of Dignity USA, a Catholic LGBTQ-acceptance organization, called Kalchik a “renegade priest pushing an extreme agenda.”

“He’s hijacking the parish and trampling on core Catholic values,” Pett said. “The archdiocese needs to denounce this in the strongest possible terms.”

Flag installed in 1991

Kalchik, 56, claims he was preceded by three “bad priests” who were “big in promoting the gay lifestyle” before he was ordained as pastor of Resurrection by Cardinal Francis George in 2007.

The flag was first displayed prominently at the church’s altar in 1991 to welcome LGBTQ worshippers to the faith, according to Kalchik, but it was later taken down and put into storage — along with priestly vestments and candles emblazoned with rainbow colors.

Kalchik said he found the vestments and destroyed them when he arrived in 2007, but somehow missed the flag until another cleaning session last month.

“The people of this parish have been pretty resilient and put up with a lot of B.S.” Kalchik said in an interview in his office Tuesday night. “And it was just by accident that this banner that was made to celebrate all things gay … did not get destroyed when I first got here.”

 

The interior of the Resurrection Catholic Church on September 18, 2018. I Maria de la Guardia/Sun-Times

In a church bulletin dated Sept. 2, Kalchik announced that he planned to burn the flag Sept. 29 for “the Feast of Saint Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.” But a few days later, the archdiocese told him to scrap the burning after officials were notified of his plans by a reporter for the Windy City Times.

The priest says the archdiocese threatened him with “canonical penalties” if he went through with the flag burning, and that Cupich has since blocked Kalchik’s request to transfer to a diocese in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where Kalchik has family.

Despite the orders from the archdiocese, Kalchik admits he went ahead and destroyed the flag “in a quiet way” on Friday.

Kalchik — who says he was sexually abused by a neighbor as a child, and again by a priest when he began working for the church at 19 — says the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is “definitely a gay thing.” Cupich has rejected a connection between the scandal and gay priests but has drawn criticism in recent weeks for comments claiming the church should focus on other priorities instead of being “distracted” by the sex-abuse crisis.

“I can’t sit well with people like Cardinal Cupich, who minimizes all of this,” Kalchik said. “Excuse me, but almost all of the [abuse] cases are, with respect to priests, bishops and whatnot, taking and using other young men sexually. It’s definitely a gay thing.”

Of gays in the church, Kalchik says “scripture is crystal-clear. It’s against God’s law.”

As of Tuesday night, Kalchik said the archdiocese had not contacted him since the flag was torched.