Paul Kalchik, a priest at the Resurrection Catholic Church in Chicago, says he has twice been sexually assaulted in his life.
A neighbor first sexually assaulted him as a child, Kalchik said, and it happened again with a Catholic priest when he was just 19, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. For Kalchik, the answer seems clear: Sexual abuse in the Catholic church is “definitely a gay thing.”
Now, the Catholic priest is facing controversy after he burned a rainbow flag at his church on September 14 in what he described as a “prayer of exorcism,” according to NBC News. Kalchik originally planned to burn the flag on September 29, the outlet reported, but the Archdiocese of Chicago told him he couldn’t when it heard about the idea.
Despite being warned against it, Kalchik cut the flag into seven pieces on Friday and then burned it “in the same fire pit that we used for the Easter vigil mass,” NBC News wrote.
“In a quiet way we took matters into our own hands,” he told NBC News, “and said a prayer of exorcism over this thing.”
The flag featured a cross on top of a rainbow, and it used to fly at the Chicago church years ago, according to The Chicago Tribune. Two signs currently on the rectory steps of the church read “Anti-Predator, not Anti-Gay.”
As reported by the Chicago Sun-Times, Kalchik is upset with Cardinal Blase Cupich, who reportedly has a more tolerant attitude to the LGBT community and recently said the Catholic Church shouldn’t get “distracted” by the sex abuse scandals plaguing the institution.
“I can’t sit well with people like Cardinal Cupich, who minimizes all of this,” Kalchik said, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. “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.”
“Scripture is crystal-clear,” he said to the newspaper, referencing homosexuality. “It’s against God’s law.”
In a statement to WLS, the Archdiocese of Chicago decried the flag burning and said it doesn’t reflect the church’s opinion of LGBT people.
“Archdiocese leadership previously contacted the pastor to notify him he could not move forward with that planned activity,” the statement read, according to WLS. “We are following up on the situation. As Catholics, we affirm the dignity of all persons.”
According to WLS, a reporter went to the church to speak with Kalchik — but instead was greeted by a member of the church who only identified himself as “Patrick.” The man said that Kalchik is a “big supporter” of LGBT people and the flag is “not a symbol” of the gay community.
But in his interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, Kalchik called the rainbow flag “a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about.” Kalchik said the priests that came before him at the church were “big in promoting the gay lifestyle.”
Others were offended by the priest’s actions. Rev. Emily Heitzman, from the Ebenezer Lutheran Church, told WLS that “this is wrong, absolutely wrong,” WLS reported. And 33rd Ward Alderman Deb Mell said “it is not OK demonize a whole community ... to make (Kalchik) feel better.”
“To think that this hatred is being spread in our neighborhood is not acceptable,” she said, according to WLS.
But don’t expect a hate crime charge for the flag burning. Julie Justicz — who heads the hate crime project at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights — told The Chicago Tribune that she has “a hard time calling this a hate crime.”
“There isn’t an underlying crime that would make it a hate crime under Illinois law,” she told the newspaper.
About two dozen people gathered outside of the Chicago church on Wednesday to protest the flag burning. Laura Bomkamp, who brought her daughter to the scene, said this latest incident comes at a troubling time for people in the church, The Chicago Tribune reported.
“It’s not a good time to be a Catholic,” she told the newspaper.
But Kalchik said he should have burned the flag sooner. The priest explained he destroyed rainbow-themed vestments when he first started at the church in 2007 — and that he would have destroyed the flag then, too, if he had found it, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
“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,” he reportedly told the newspaper.