Editor’s note: yesterday, we received a flurry of messages and emails about a very unexpected situation at St. John Cantius in Chicago, an epicenter of the restoration of Catholic tradition not just for America, but the world. The pastor, Fr. Frank Phillips, had been removed by the archdiocese as both pastor and superior pending an investigation into allegations of improper but consensual relationships with an adult male or males.
Since the details are very much obscured by the archdiocesan approach to the matter, we are reprinting the first-hand account of our colleague Oakes Spalding, whose work we have occasionally printed in these pages. His observations originally appeared at his blog, Mahound’s Paradise. We do not know nearly enough to make a judgment about the situation, 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, 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.
It is possible that the allegations are true; we’ve certainly been surprised before. It is also possible that they are false — and by their very nature they would be extremely difficult to prove — and merely provide a convenient excuse to remove a beloved pastor from the heart of a flourishing traditionalist apostolate. We cannot be certain, so we will merely let the known facts speak for themselves for the time being. We encourage you to pray for Fr. Phillips, for the people of St. John Cantius, for an honest and just investigation, and for God’s will to be done in this situation. And pray for Cardinal Cupich — he certainly needs it, no matter what the outcome here.
Cardinal Cupich Moves Against Chicago’s Leading Traditionalist Church, Removes Pastor After Allegations of “Improper Conduct”
by Oakes Spalding
As some of you know, I am a parishioner at St. John Cantius. I was confirmed there nine years ago. Julie and I were subsequently married there, and she, in turn, entered the Church soon after. Our four children were baptized there. I’m going to use most of this post to try to relate only the facts as I know and can remember them, partly from the various conversations and discussions I’ve had with parishioners and others over the last 24 hours. A few of my own personal opinions will be made clear at the end of the post.
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for our transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training. He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. To us he is the censure of our thoughts; merely to see him is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and different are his ways…. Wis. 2:1, 12-22.
– From the last public reading by Father Frank Phillips, at Mass on Friday morning.
This weekend, in a letter read out during 5:00 Mass on Saturday and repeated during the 7:30, 9:00, 11:00 and 12:30 Masses on Sunday, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that Fr. Frank Phillips had been removed as Pastor of St. John Cantius and as Superior of the Order that he founded, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.
The letter stated that Fr. Phillips had been credibly accused of improper relationships with an adult male or males.
Fr. Phillips is currently staying at an undisclosed location, pending an investigation of the complaints by the Congregation of the Resurrection, of which Fr. Phillips is a member.
Representatives of the Archdiocese subsequently added more to the story in unofficial talks after Mass: The allegations involve three adult males, they refer to relatively recent actions (in the last five years), and the complaints do not involve any criminal or civil charges. They first came to light in November. Someone suggested (perhaps one of the representatives) that the investigation was expected to take six months.
The Archbishop appointed Rev. Scott Thelander, a member of the Canons Regular who had recently been Pastor at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Springfield, to become “Interim Administrator” of the Parish and, I assume, the Order. Fr. Trenton Rauck of St. John Cantius will replace him in Springfield.
On Saturday, St. John Cantius posted this letter on its website, and subsequently read it out after the letter from the Archdiocese at each of the four Masses on Sunday.
The letter has since been taken down, it is unclear why or on whose direction, and replaced by this short note:
Everyone is solidly supportive of Fr. Phillips. There is a huge amount of love and affection for him here, both on a personal level and for everything he has done to build up the parish from near-death to being one of the country’s leading centers for Catholic Tradition and the Traditional Latin Mass, as well as becoming a Chicago cultural landmark in its own right. As far as I know, there has never been even an atom of rumor here of inappropriate conduct or homosexuality.
(I just reread the above paragraph, and it doesn’t put it quite right. If you are not a parishioner at Cantius, it would be perhaps difficult to understand the level of love and respect we all have for Fr. Phillips. For a man always so busy with so many tasks, it’s remarkable how many people feel so close to him.)
There was also much anger, directed, as might be expected, at Cardinal Cupich, who has long been perceived as being hostile to this Traditionalist parish. At the Saturday evening Mass, a man loudly departed his pew and stormed into the vestibule, loudly swinging the heavy doors. At the Sunday 7:30 Mass, a woman interrupted the reading of the first letter, shouting that the whole thing was a setup.
On the other hand, in their personal conduct after Mass towards the representatives from the Archdiocese, most parishioners were polite, at least in the interactions that I witnessed. And on the St. John Cantius Facebook page (administered by a layperson) and in other social media, the call has gone out for restraint. So, among other things, threads or comments that might be construed, even remotely, as being critical of or hostile to Cardinal Cupich or the Archdiocese have been taken down or deleted. And so on.
After the 11:00 and 12:30 Masses, I asked the representatives why Fr. Phillips had been “removed” as opposed to “suspended,” especially considering that only complaints had been officially acknowledged and the investigation by the Resurrectionists had not yet begun. As I remember it, I received two different answers from the first spokesman and a third answer from the second spokesman:
- The complaints and/or charges were very grave.
- Cardinal Cupich made the decision (that’s all the representative knew).
- This is standard procedure.
While a recent or active “inappropriate relationship” with a parishioner or parishioners would certainly be a serious matter and potential grounds for removal, classifying, pre-investigation, a complaint or even set of complaints not involving minors and not involving a breach of criminal or civil law as very grave, strikes one as a bit odd. And removal at this stage is not standard procedure, either as presented in the Archdiocese Handbook on Personnel or considered against the background of other recent cases in Chicago.
As far as I know, and according to the Handbook as I read it, even a priest accused of criminal molestation of a child is generally placed on administrative leave, at least pending the results of an investigation.
I have to say that, to me, the overall tone of the official statements as well as the unofficial talk is that whatever the results of the investigation, Fr. Phillips will not be coming back.
While the precise nature of the charges is still unclear, it’s fair to say that most parishioners have a difficult time believing that Fr. Phillips could be anything but innocent. Even on the logical possibility that there might be at least partial truth to the charges (and I suspect the hardheaded among us have considered the possibility), and whatever might or might not be said in public, many are viewing this as Cupich’s long-anticipated attempt to assert control over the Canons Regular and St. John Cantius itself with the eventual goal of shutting us down.
The Canons still have no official independent status and all members could be reassigned by the Archdiocese at any time, or the Canons Regular broken up or dissolved.
Whatever Cupich’s actual desires or intentions, I always believed we would be protected by the fact that an obvious move against Cantius would be perceived badly by the Chicago community – again, partly keeping in mind our status as a cultural institution. Forgive me, but I never thought it would happen this way. Now it seems like it was the most (or the only) logical way for it to happen.
A round the clock Rosary Chain for Fr. Phillips is being organized at:
In addition, I believe a public prayer is being organized outside of Holy Name Cathedral. I’ll post an update when I have the details.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.