Kalchik told NBC News last week that he had disposed of the banner “in a quiet way” but insisted that the banner belonged to the parish, and that the parish had the “full right to destroy it.”
Kalchik said that it had been done “privately because the archdiocese was breathing on our back.”
Fr. Thomas Petri, OP, academic dean of the Dominican-run Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., told CNA that it is common for church decorations, vestments, and altar cloths to be burned when they became “worn, old, or simply artifacts from a bygone era in terms of style and taste,” but he stressed that they must be disposed of reverently.
“The usual method is to burn these items, or to bury them in a place where they will not be disturbed,” Petri said.
“Items dedicated for the worship of God cannot be used for any other use. This is why they are burned or buried; they are given to God completely and so rendered unusable to us. I presume the same is true for banners and hangings used in the sanctuary of a Church but I don’t know that this has ever been stated.”
In this case, it is not clear if the Archdiocese of Chicago objected to the burning itself, or to the public nature of the action and the apparent symbolism it was intended to convey.
In an interview after the flag was burned, Fr. Kalchik appeared to criticize openly his archbishop, Cardinal Cupich, whom he accused of downplaying the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and of rejecting a link between homosexuality and sexual abuse by clergy.
“I can’t sit well with people like Cardinal Cupich, who minimizes all of this,” he told the Chicago 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.”
Some Church commentators have suggested that Kalchik was right to go against Cupich’s instruction. But Petri said priestly obedience to his bishop is not a light matter.
“We priests promise obedience to the bishop when we are ordained,” he said.
“Clearly, no bishop could command a priest to do something against the divine law, but, short of that, every priest, in my view, needs to give his bishop the benefit of the doubt and be obedient upon first request.”
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Petri also pointed out that in serious cases, if the matter in grave and the priest disagrees, he should reason with his bishop about the request and, if necessary, appeal to the Holy See.
He told CNA that while the banner itself may have symbolized a wider agenda to some, it was important to consider both the potential effects of making the burning a public event, and the discernment of the bishop - in this case Cardinal Cupich.
“I think it’s sad that the rainbow has become the symbol of a movement and a lifestyle that very much flaunts a disordered sexuality and is opposed to the virtue of chastity,” Petri said.
“Yet, I know there are many homosexual men and women living a secular gay lifestyle, who wave the rainbow flag and identify with it, but who are, at the same time, already questioning the so-called gay scene, the pitfalls of the gay culture, and who are open, by the grace of God, to the healing and virtue that the Church can offer them.”
“I do not see how a priest who openly burns the symbol of a secular gay culture can hope to minister to or reach out to those men and women,” Petri told CNA. Instead, he said, the emphasis should remain on pastoral concern, not alienation.
“Regardless of intent, when publicly announced it cannot but be viewed as a provocative and acrimonious gesture.”