Canons of St John Cantius founder remains barred from public ministry

Rev C Frank Phillips CR Credit Canons Relgious of St John Cantius 1 CNA Fr. Frank Phillips, C.R. | Canons Regular of St. John Cantius

The religious superior of Father C. Frank Phillips, former pastor of St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, told the parish Sunday that the priest remains prohibited from exercising public ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Phillips has been accused of misconduct involving adult men. He was removed as pastor of St. John Cantius March 16 by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago. Since then, Fr. Scott Thelander, SJC, has served as parish administrator ad interim.

Phillips is canonically a member of the Resurrectionists, and the Chicago archdiocese forwarded unspecified allegations to that religious congregation in March.

The allegations were investigated by an independent review board organized by the Resurrectionists, and by provincial leaders. The results of that investigation were forwarded to the Archdiocese of Chicago, which has apparently determined not to reinstate Phillips.

"Over the past weeks, our review board and members of our community have heard from those involved and have informed the Archdiocese of Chicago of our conclusions," read a June 24 letter from Fr. Gene Szarek, superior of the USA province of the Congregation of the Resurrection, to the parishioners of St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago.

"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 Phillips' faculties for public ministry will remain withdrawn and that he not return as pastor of St John Cantius and as Superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius."

Szarek notified the parishioners that Phillips "will be receiving support and will reside at a Resurrectionist facility away from your parish."

"While we know this news will disappoint some of Fr. Phillips' supporters, we hope everyone will come to understand that this process was conducted with prayerful deliberation and sincere compassion."

The news comes days after a group formed to support and assist Fr. Phillips said he had been "exonerated" by the Resurrectionists' review board.

"The Review Board has concluded that Fr. Phillips has not violated any secular criminal, civil or canon law," Protect our Priests said in a June 20 statement.

The initial announcement of Phillips' removal cited allegations of "improper conduct involving adult men," but did not suggest the priest had committed a crime.

In March, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago told CNA that Fr. Phillips had not been accused of a canonical crime, and to the archdiocese's knowledge he was not being investigated for a civil crime.

Protect our Priests stated that the review board, consisting of three leaders from the Chicago area who are not members of St. John Cantius parish, interviewed "the detractors and several witnesses, persons who personally know the accusers, and other individuals who came forward to testify in defense of Father Phillips' integrity."

The group added that Cardinal Cupich had directed that members of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius not be interviewed by the board.

Protect our Priests describes itself as a "dedicated group of friends of St. John Cantius Church" formed to support Fr. Phillips, and asks for help to "support the man who gave gave us so much over the years."

The group stated June 20 that "We … remain confident that in this process, justice and truth will prevail over the mendacity, falsehoods, spitefulness and malevolent connivance from which this unpleasant episode originates; and that the accusers, who recklessly have besmirched their own reputations in this matter, will too choose to make themselves 'free', by each of them individually presenting an unconditional retraction."

The Resurrectionists and the Archdiocese of Chicago have both declined to comment on the review board's findings.

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Andrea Eisenberg, a member of Protect our Priests, told CNA June 21 that "We can't wait for Father Phillips to return to the parish and the community he founded to complete the work that God intends for him to do. He has been a spiritual father to so many parishioners and has led so many people to a deeper experience of the Catholic faith. It has been a hard three months, but we have been praying fervently for our dear Father Phillips' return."

Fr. Phillips had served at St. John Cantius parish since 1988. In 1998 he founded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, with the approval of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and the Congregation of the Resurrection. It follows the Rule of St. Augustine and seeks to "preserve and foster the devotional, musical, catechetical, and artistic traditions of the Catholic Church," its website says.

Mass at St. John Cantius is said in both English and Latin, and in both the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the Roman rite.

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