in Catholic Circles

Chicago Priest and Parishioners Burn Rainbow Flag

On September 14, Father Paul Kalchik and a handful of parishioners of the Resur­rection Catholic Church in Chicago burned a rainbow pride flag in the fire pit normally used for Easter vigil mass after cutting it into seven pieces. Father Kalchik originally announced that this event would take place on the September 29 Feast of Saint Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, but was told by the Archdiocese of Chicago not to proceed. Defying the Archdiocese’s warning, Father Kalchik went ahead anyway, saying that “in a quiet way we took matters into our own hands and said a prayer of exorcism over this thing.” In late September, the Archdiocese temporarily removed the priest, stating that he left his parish by mutual agreement “to receive pastoral care.” The Arch­diocese insisted that Father Kalchik’s removal was not directly related to his deci­sion to burn the flag, but instead was a result of “sev­eral issues in the parish” that had been ongoing for some time. Father Kalchik has previously commented that sexual abuse in the church is “definitely a gay thing.”

Kenya Film Classification Board Bans Film; Ban Briefly Suspended by Kenya High Court

In April, the Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB) banned Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu’s film Rafiki due to “its homosexual theme and clear intent to promote lesbianism in Kenya contrary to the law.” Rafiki, a coming-of-age love story named after the Swahili word for “friend,” was the first Kenyan feature film to be selected for screening at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. Ms. Kahiu filed suit against the KFCB for its purported enforcement of colonial-era morality laws that have been since superseded by the Constitution of Kenya as promulgated in 2010. Shortly before the submission deadline for consideration at the Academy Awards (which requires at least a week’s screening in the film’s home country to qualify), the High Court of Kenya ruled to allow a seven-day viewing period in select theaters. During this initial run, Rafiki became the second-highest-grossing Kenyan film in history. More than 6,500 people saw the film and many more were turned away as cinemas sold out. Ms. Kahiu, a Catholic since birth, has stated that the church has been receptive: “I had a conversation with a priest who reflected on the words of the Pope who said ‘God made you the way you are and God loves you the way you are.’” Her case continues in court.

Canadian Bishops Issue Strict Media Rules

Prior to holding its annual plenary assembly in Cornwall, Ontario, in late September, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued strict rules for members of the media who would be covering the event. Specifically, journalists were told to submit their questions in advance and, on the application for media accreditation, were instructed “not to approach Bishops or CCCB staff for interviews at any time, including coffee breaks and meals.” Lisa Gall, CCCB’s communications coordinator, said these requirements “were added on the basis of recent experience.” Prior to this assembly, CCCB’s media accreditation forms only asked journalists to detail the subjects on which they wished to question bishops. The president of the Canadian bishops’ conference, Lionel Gendron, echoed the words of St. Paul in Ephesians while speaking at the assembly—that “it is better to expose works of darkness and bring them to light.”

US Supreme Court Refuses to Force Philadelphia to Refer Foster Children to Catholic Charity

On August 30, The US Supreme Court denied Catholic Social Services its request for an emergency injunction that would have forced the City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services to resume placement of foster children with the Catholic foster agency. The City Council of Philadelphia had ceased making foster-care referrals to Catholic Social Services in March, after the city learned that the charity was not placing children with same-sex couples due to its religious objection to same-sex marriage. Catholic Social Services sued the city in May, alleging that the city was violating its First Amendment rights to religious freedom. It lost in the federal district court and in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, prompting it to petition the Supreme Court for injunctive relief. Justices Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch would have granted Catholic Social Services its request but, following the Court’s denial, the case will head back to the Third Circuit for a hearing on the merits in November. Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, stated that “based on deeply held religious beliefs,” the charity is not “able to consider foster care placement within the context of a same-sex union.”

Court Rules in Favor of Metro’s Ban on Religious Advertising

On July 31, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit handed down its decision in Archdiocese of Washington v. WMATA, ruling that DC’s Metro transit system can prohibit religious advertising in its stations and on its buses and trains. The case arose following Metro’s rejection last fall of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Christmas advertisement depicting the biblical Magi, after which the Archdiocese filed suit challenging Metro’s 2015 prohibition of “issue-oriented advertisements,” including ads that “promote or oppose a religion, religious practice, or belief.” The DC Circuit rejected the Archdiocese’s argument that this prohibition violated the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the basis that Metro’s ad space constitutes a “non-public forum”—historically different in purpose from places of publication “congregation and discussion” likes parks and sidewalks—and that Metro’s ad guidelines are “viewpoint neutral.” In the lead-up to the decision, the US Depart-ment of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the Archdiocese against Metro’s “viewpoint discrimination” and now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh heard oral arguments in the case, referring to the Metro’s ad guidelines as “pure discrimination.” Justice Kavanaugh did not participate in the decision, however, due to the nomination process ongoing at the time.

Slovakian Priest Challenges Church’s Stance on Celibacy

Reverend Michal Lajcha— a Catholic priest in Slovakia, where 62 percent of the population is Roman Catholic—has written a book challenging the church’s rules on clerical celibacy, in which he asserts that changing the mandatory nature of this requirement to a voluntary one and allowing married men to become priests could help prevent sex scandals in the future. The book—The Tragedy of Celibacy: The Death of the Wife—was written in versions for both theologians and the laity, and argues that the hierarchy cannot understand the lives and concerns of the Catholic faithful because they do not share the same lived experience: “there’s a huge abyss between the clergy and the laypeople,” writes Rev. Lajcha. Pope Francis has made the point in the past that clerical celibacy is a result of tradition rather than doctrine, and has expressed some degree of openness to ordaining married men in light of a global shortage of priests. The pope has called for a summit of bishops in the Pan-Amazon region next year, and Italian Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, when asked about the possibility of a decision at this meeting to offer official ministry to women and married men, stated that “we don’t want to preclude anything.”