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Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago in an interview with Salt and Light, May 1, 2017.
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Cdl. Cupich keeps traditional priest from ministry, despite report finding him innocent

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CHICAGO, Illinois, June 25, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – A Chicago Catholic priest heading a traditional parish community removed by Cardinal Blase Cupich in March will not be allowed to return to his parish or religious order, despite his exoneration for alleged misconduct.

Cupich, made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2016, had removed Father Frank Phillips, CR, as pastor of St. John Cantius Church and superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, for “credible allegations of improper conduct with adult men,” according to the cardinal’s signed letter read to parishioners at Mass the weekend of March 17-18.

However last week an independent group of Father Phillips’ parishioners and supporters announced via its Protect Our Priests website that Father Phillips had been exonerated

“The Review Board has concluded that Fr. Phillips has not violated any secular criminal, civil or canon law,” the group’s June 20 statement said.

“Fr. Phillips, having been exonerated thusly, and this in turn confirmed by the votum of The Rt. Rev. Gene Szarek, C.R., Ph.D. Provincial Superior of the Congregation of the Resurrection upon receipt of the Review Board Report. We now prayerfully await the response of His Eminence, Blase Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, for the return of our pastor,” the group stated.

Since Father Phillips is a member of the Congregation of the Resurrection, the investigation was assigned to his religious community, which appointed an independent panel to hear and consider evidence. 

The panel was then to prepare a written decision for the appropriate canonical authority, in this case, Cupich.

The review board’s conclusion came May 26, the Protect Our Priests site said, after taking hundreds of hours of testimony from the accusers, people who knew the accusers, and others who had come forward to defend Father Phillips. The Protect Our Priests site is not officially associated with St. John Cantius, the Resurrectionist Congregation or the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.

'We accept the Archdiocese’s decision'

Despite the review board’s findings that Father Phillips had not violated any secular criminal, civil or canon law, his priestly faculties will not be returned and he remains removed from St. Cantius Parish and the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.

A June 24 letter from Father Gene Szarek, Provincial Superior for the Congregation of the Resurrection placed in parish bulletins this past weekend and posted on St. Cantius’ website informed parishioners that the archdiocese had decided to keep Father Phillips withdrawn from public ministry.

“We accept the Archdiocese’s decision that Fr. Phillips’ faculties for public ministry will remain withdrawn and that he not return as pastor of St John Cantius and as Superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius,” it states in part.

LifeSiteNews did not hear back on an inquiry to the Archdiocese as to why Cardinal Cupich is keeping Father Phillips from performing priestly ministry.

Politics over justice

Oakes Spalding, a St. John Cantius parishioner and blogger, wrote that “This is of course a travesty.”

Spalding said he is convinced Father Phillips is innocent of any wrongdoing, whether moral, legal or civil, and that the charges are political and an attempt to quash a traditional Catholic parish.

He further wrote the allegations were “seized upon by hostile forces in the Chicago Archdiocese and elsewhere as an opportunity to attack and destroy an incredibly successful traditionalist pastor and (perhaps later) the traditionalist order that he founded and the old Chicago church that he saved from the wrecking ball and turned into one of Chicago's most thriving parishes.”

“The final result was not based on justice but on politics,” Spalding stated, and said those politics are not limited to that of Cardinal Cupich.

“Catholic traditionalists and conservatives have assumed that the liberal Cardinal Cupich is somehow behind it all,” he continued, “not without reason, I think, given his past behavior and reputation. But I do not believe that blaming Cupich for all of it is correct, or at least, given what we know, entirely correct.”

Father Phillips had other enemies, Spalding wrote, and pledged to name names in a subsequent post.

Silence from all corners

Renew America’s Matt Abbott wrote at One Peter Five about Father Phillips’ being blocked from returning, including Spalding’s observations that there’d been no statements issued by the Archdiocese, the Resurrectionists or the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, and Spalding’s assertion that the effort to suppress Father Phillip went beyond Cardinal Cupich.

“Has Cupich silenced everyone involved?” Abbott wrote.” Stay tuned.”

The news of Father Phillips’ removal was a shock to St. John Cantius parishioners and others, as the order and Father Phillips are held in high regard by parishioners and tradition-friendly Catholic priests around the U.S.

“We do not know nearly enough to make a judgment about the situation,” Steve Skojec wrote at OnePeterFive of the March announcement, “but it has long been expected — ever since Cupich took over America’s third-largest diocese — that he would follow his earlier track record as a bishop hostile to Tradition and make a move against St. John Cantius.” 

“Remember,” Skojec said, “this is a man who, as Bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, physically locked the doors of a traditional parish in full communion with the diocese during the Easter Triduum to keep them from worshiping God in the way they believed was most pleasing to Him.”

“I hope for a swift resolution to this especially because I don’t believe the allegation. I just don’t,” Father John Zuhlsdorf had written on his blog. “Given that Phillips seems not to have broken any civil laws the move against him seems pretty sudden and draconian, but I guess that’s what they do around there.”

The way in which Cupich removed Father Phillips went beyond what is recommended by the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People pertaining to the handling of allegations involving adults, retired Corpus Christi Bishop Rene Henry Gracida said.

“I was stunned by the news,” Gracida wrote on his blog

“What I find so disturbing in the news about the removal of Father Phillips is that the public way in which Cardinal Cupich removed Father Phillips was so uncalled for,” Bishop Gracida said. 

“Every bishop at one time or another is faced with the sexual misbehavior of a priest with a man or a woman who is not a minor,” he continued. “In the case of minors the Dallas Charter demands rapid and harsh measures by the bishop in handling the case. In the case of adults, such measures are not only not required but are inadvisable because of the scandal of the weak, which results. Instead, the priest is suspended and quietly removed from office and no public announcement by the Ordinary is necessary, a simple discrete letter to the people of the parish is sufficient.”

St. John Cantius parishioner Nick Chapello had told Church Militant, “I find it very hard to believe these accusations that have been put forth against him...Fr. Phillips is a man that I can trust with the care of my wife, my children and, yes, my very soul.” 

Spalding had written as well upon the March announcement of Father Phillips’s removal that this was odd given it is standard procedure even when a priest is accused of abusing a minor to place the priest on administrative leave while the investigation is being conducted. 

Spalding said in March he expected Father Phillips would not be coming back.

The Canons Regular of St. John Cantius religious order offers Mass in both the Extraordinary and Ordinary Forms.

Father Phillips founded the order in 1998 with the approval of Cardinal Francis Cardinal George, and the approval of the Congregation of the Resurrection.

According to the order’s website, the mission of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius is to help Catholics rediscover a profound sense of the sacred through solemn liturgies, devotions, sacred art and sacred music, as well as instruction in Church heritage, catechesis and Catholic culture in the context of parish ministry. The order’s members live in community under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, following the rule of St. Augustine.

A red flag went up for traditional Catholics and others when Cupich removed Father Phillips given the cardinal’s record of hostility toward Traditional Catholicism – stemming from Cupich’s locking a traditional parish community out of its church during the Easter Triduum in 2002 as bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, to prevent the Traditional Latin Mass from being celebrated. 

Cupich had said his move was to seek an opportunity “for us to all worship together, for one moment of unity as a Catholic Church."

As a result, the Traditional Catholic community was forced to conduct its Good Friday liturgies on the sidewalk outside.

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