Monday, September 24, 2018

Father Kalchik and the Rainbow Flag Burning: When Evil Work Is Dressed Up in Holy Clothes

I spent a good bit of time this weekend reading hither and yon about the rainbow flag-burning priest in Chicago, Father Paul Kalchik, who has now been turned into a holy icon by the homophobic Catholic hard right (they're pushing the same narrative about him that they pushed a few weeks ago about Viganò: has had to go into hiding as a martyr because of the evil homosexuals). I have a few thoughts I'd like to share about his story.

I should preface what I intend to say by pointing out that I certainly do not know Father Kalchik, and have no right to pass judgment on the state of his soul or of his mind. I am trying to understand him and his story because they impinge on my story and life, insofar as he pushes a narrative blaming all queer people for the brokenness of the world and the church — and insofar as he encourages attacks on queer people for that reason.

On 6 September 2018, Kalchik published an open letter to Pope Francis. As far as I can ascertain, that letter was carried exclusively by Michael Voris' Church Militant site, which has done everything in its power to turn Kalchik into an iconic figure in the battle against evil gays in the Catholic church. I do not choose to link to that site, but you can easily find Kalchik's statement there by googling. 

In this letter, which was published two weeks after Viganò's public letter attacking Pope Francis and claiming that a "homosexual network" is destroying the church, Kalchik states that he was raped by a neighbor at the age of 11, a "predatory homosexual." He states that, as well, he was sexually assaulted by a priest some years later, when Kalchik was a young seminarian.

Kalchik says that this second violation made him a "broken man," that he was "diagnosed with chronic major depression with suicidal ideations." He left the seminary, and then returned again. It's not clear what kind of therapy he may have had between his first stint in the seminary and the second, and  why a seminary would accept a man with a history of serious, understandable mental disturbance that seems still seriously to impede Father Kalchik's ministry as a priest.

The lesson Kalchik took from these experiences was that "monstrous predatory gay men" had stolen his virginity, and that the church is in the hands of "predator gay priests and bishops, as well as homosexual cabals running chancelleries." The church needs a "year of purification" to rid itself of the dirt of these people, and the laity need to rise and "exorcise the Church of the demon of predatory gay sex abusers, and a gay mafia running through its ranks."

That letter was published by Church Militant on 6 September. On 9 September, Kalchik gave a homily — also published by Church Militant — lauding Viganò as a good and holy bishop, a teller of the truth, who has correctly informed the world that Pope Benedict placed sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick that Pope Francis removed. As a result:

What all this means is that Pope Francis is not suitable to sit on Peter's throne ….

The homily continues with the theme of Kalchik's 6 September letter to the pope, laying blame for all the corruption in the church on "gay predators." 

On 16 September, when he announced that he and some parishioners had burned the rainbow flag to "exorcise" their church, Kalchik stated in his homily making this announcement — again, published by Michael Voris' Church Militant site — the following:

As events have unfolded over the last month, we find the Church engulfed in a great battle. Many cardinals, bishops and even the Pope seem to be living double lives. They, at times, speak eloquently about the Faith and present themselves as men striving for holiness. But then the records show they are either living very sinful lives or have covered up for others who do so, leaving them to prey on more victims. 

Father Kalchik may understandably have been a broken man after he was sexually assaulted as a young teen and again as a young man. He describes psychological trauma following the second assault that is entirely consistent with sexual assault. 

It appears, however, that, despite his subsequent seminary screening and training, he has continued carrying that trauma into his ministry, focusing it on very disturbing allegations that all gay men are sexual predators, that the abuse crisis in the Catholic church is entirely due to the fact that many priests are gay — and that Pope Francis himself is leading a "double life." 

This is a broken man, in short, who is being adroitly used by the very same people pushing Viganò's attack on the pope — and he is clearly allowing himself to be used by those malicious players, reveling in the use they are making of him and his story. Rather than seeking healing for this broken man, they want to score points via Kalchik's story of brokenness to attack Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich, whom they link to Francis and a "homosexual network" that is destroying the church.

In short, much more is going on here than a story told by a man broken by sexual assault. This story is part and parcel of a much bigger story about how "gay predators" are at the root of all evil in the church and the world, and how Pope Francis is connected to a "homosexual network" which encourages "gay predators." If you dare, step off into the fever swamps of commentary in the hard, homophobic Catholic right as it deals now with the Kalchik story — Church Militant is leading the pack — and you'll discover an astonishing mess of lies, fake news, and, above all, hateful disinformation about gay people and gay lives designed to encourage attacks on those people and their lives in the name of Catholic truth and "love."

What you will not encounter is even a scintilla of awarenes — not even now, as the Kavanaugh débacle opens this can of worms more every day —  that sexual assault of vulnerable women and girls by heterosexual males is far and away more common than is sexual assault of vulnerable men or boys by homosexual males. But despite that easily demonstrated fact, no one, Father Kalchik included, concludes that all heterosexual men are evil, predatory, and need to be attacked due to the prevalence of sexual assault of females by straight men in our society.

I can certainly understand Father Kalchik's mental disturbance after the sexual assaults he has experienced. I sympathize with him, as I do with anyone who has endured sexual assault — e.g., with Christine Blasey Ford or Deborah Ramirez. I also have to conclude that it's with very ill grace that organizations like Michael Voris' Church Militant claim to have concern for Father Kalchik and what he has experienced, as they use his narrative to build a toxic, hate-centered story about the danger of gay predators, as a basis for enacting and eliciting violence against queer people in the name of Christ.

These folks are doing evil work and dressing it up as holy. The consequences of work like that are always predictably evil — and they show themselves primarily when hapless people are attacked though they have done nothing to merit attack, and are in that way forced to pay the price of the unholy choices and behavior of those who have dressed up their evil as holiness.

The face of the church presented to the world by Michael Voris' Church Militant group is the worst face imaginable. The church we encounter in these fever swamps of Catholicism is ravenous for the blood of vulnerable people. It is the precise opposite of healing. It is capable of using a broken man to whom it offers no healing to pursue its goal of targeting and attacking vulnerable human beings who do not merit attack — claiming all the while that everything it does is done in the name of holiness and Catholic truth.

This is the face the Catholic church has already shown the world in the Inquisition, in pogroms, in complicit silence as millions of Jews were murdered in Christian countries, in its blessing of slavery, in its holy warriors and Conquistadors. This demonic face of the church has nothing at all to do with Jesus and the gospels. It is their antithesis.

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