AVONDALE — Standing in front of more than a dozen neighbors holding “Hate Has No Home Here” signs Wednesday evening, Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) condemned an Avondale priest for burning a gay flag on church grounds earlier this week.
“We’ve come so far, and we have so many things to celebrate,” Mell, who is openly lesbian, told a gaggle of reporters at a press conference outside of Resurrection Catholic Church at 3043 N. Francisco Ave. “To think this hatred is being spread in our neighborhood is not acceptable.”
Mell said she was stunned to find out the priest who committed the “hateful” act was Rev. Paul Kalchik, who she’s worked with on both big and small neighborhood issues in the past, ranging from parking permits to homelessness in the ward.
“It’s so bizarre for me, because last week we were out here together, Father Paul and I, standing next to each other. ‘Good Morning America’ was here giving out backpacks and we were together,” Mell said. “So I just don’t understand how he can have this attitude.”
According to the Sun-Times, Kalchik burned the flag, which depicted a cross superimposed over a rainbow, inside a fire pit next to the church Friday as he led seven parishioners in a prayer of exorcism. Kalchik didn’t respond to requests for comment and was not present at Wednesday’s press conference.
The priest told the Sun-Times he burned the flag because he doesn’t “sit well” with Cardinal Blase Cupich, who he claims is trying to minimize the Catholic church’s sex abuse crisis. Kalchik also told the newspaper that he himself was sexually abused — first by a neighbor as a child and then by a priest when he was 19.
“I can’t sit well with people like Cardinal Cupich, who minimizes all of this,” Kalchik told the 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.”
Mell said she grew up in the Catholic church and had friends who were sexually abused by priests. She said she sympathizes with Kalchik, but takes issue with how he’s handling his grief.
“We understand Father Paul is dealing with his own wounds and his own abuse, but it’s not OK to demonize a whole community to make himself feel better,” the alderman said.
“I really wish he would look inside himself. When people talk like this, it has a lot more to do with what’s going on with them.”
Twice during Mell’s remarks a man standing across the street, closer to the church, shouted interjections. First he said, “Know your facts!” and then, later, he said: “You changed, not him!” Mell didn’t respond to either interjection.
Toward the end of her remarks, the alderman called for Kalchik to be removed from the church, adding, “I think he needs to go somewhere and he needs to get help.”
It was an emotional press conference for Caitlin Lipinski, one of the neighbors holding a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign behind Mell.
The 34-year-old, who shed tears during Mell’s remarks, said she grew up Catholic but only recently started going to church again. Over the last couple of years, Lipinski said she’s attended Resurrection Catholic Church — her neighborhood church — on about five separate occasions.
Lipinski said she was saddened to learn what Kalchik — a man she had prayed alongside — had done.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, did I make a mistake by opening myself up to the Catholic church again?’ And I was feeling really, really, really disappointed,” Lipinski said, choking up.
Lipinski described herself as an LGBTQ ally.
“Even with someone who didn’t have [LGBTQ] friends and family, I don’t understand how you can treat another human in such a hateful, ugly way. I really don’t,” she said.
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