Falsely accused traditional priest ousted by Cdl. Cupich appeals to canon law
CHICAGO, Illinois, June 26, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Chicago Catholic priest removed from ministry by Cardinal Blase Cupich in what some are calling a political move to suppress a traditional Catholic community has sought recourse against the cardinal’s act via Canon Law.
Cupich’s March removal of Father Frank Phillips, CR, as pastor of St. John Cantius Parish and Superior of a religious community housed at the parish were not only unfair and unjust, a letter from Phillips’ canon lawyer said, the act should be considered null and void under Canon Law. Father Phillips had been deemed guilty in advance, it said, punished and publicly defamed without due process or cause.
The April 29 letter from Phillips’ canon lawyer to Cupich was obtained, reported onand printed in full by Catholic blogger Oakes Spalding, who is also a St. John Cantius parishioner. The full text is included below.
“What is more, the verbiage of your decree and other public writings appear contradictory, and unfounded in canon law,” the letter to Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, states. “Hence, this perceived lack of clarity and linearity – also in reference to the erroneous application of the dictates of the prescribed canon law process – gives way to, and even further provokes profound confusion amongst the faithful, causing unnecessary scandal and division.”
The letter demands that the Cardinal “restore” Phillips as pastor at St. John Cantius.
“As a final resolution of the entire, baseless matter, this could prove persuasive to avoid litigation that potentially would involve the Archdiocese in the secular courts,” the letter states.
Spalding pointed out that Cupich acted before Phillips’ religious congregation commenced its formal investigation, and that because Phillips’ had already been deemed guilty, testimony by any of the priests and brothers of Phillips’ local religious community – many of whom would potentially be knowledgeable about the likelihood of any improper conduct on the priest’s part – was ruled out in the investigation into the misconduct allegations.
“Of course it sounds unjust,” he wrote. “It also frankly sounds bizarre.”
“If there had been an effort on the part of the Archdiocese to “get” Fr. Phillips,” Spalding said, “something that no one, arguably, has any certain or direct evidence for, one would imagine that the effort would have been more intelligently managed.”
Cupich removed Father Phillips as pastor of St. John Cantius in Chicago and Superior of the associated religious order, the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, March 17, also pulling Phillips’ priestly faculties to perform public ministry.
Cupich’s stated reason for Phillips’ removal was “credible accusations of improper conduct involving adult males.” No further information on the allegations, accuser or accusers has been released.
Cupich assigned the investigation to the Congregation of the Resurrection (the Resurrectionists), of which Phillips is a member, though Cupich retains canonical authority as cardinal archbishop of the locale where Phillips serves.
The review board concluded May 26 that Phillips had “not violated any secular criminal, civil or canon law,” according to the independent non-profit group Protect Our Priests, formed to support Phillips in his defense.
“We now prayerfully await the response of His Eminence, Blase Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, for the return of our pastor,” the group said in its June 20 statement on the review board’s findings, which have not been released.
Despite the reported findings, the Archdiocese of Chicago declined to reinstate Fr. Phillips and confirmed that his faculties for ministry would remain withdrawn – the news was delivered via a letter in parish bulletins over the weekend from Father Gene Szarek, Provincial Superior of the Congregations of the Resurrection.
“We accept the Archdiocese’s decision that Father Phillips’ faculties for public ministry will remain withdrawn and that he will not return as pastor of St. John Cantius and as Superior of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius,” his letter stated.
The archdiocese did not respond to LifeSiteNews’ inquiry into why Cardinal Cupich is keeping Phillips from public ministry.
The archdiocese did, however, communicate with the Chicago Tribune on the matter.
The Tribune reports that spokeswoman Paula Waters said although Phillips was not found to have violated any Church or secular law; there was other information that warranted his removal and a continued ban on his administering sacraments in public within the archdiocese. Waters declined to give specifics of the findings on Phillips, the report said.
“There are standards for behavior,” Waters had said.
She continued, saying the review board “did not recommend that he be returned as the pastor of St. John Cantius. And so, based on their recommendation that he not return and on other factors, the cardinal decided that his faculties to minister would remain withdrawn.”
Last Friday, Phillips’ attorney Stephen Komie told the newspaper Phillips had been “cleared 100 percent” by the review board, reiterating the investigation had found no violation of any civil, canon or criminal law on the part of Phillips.
There was “no justification” for the allegations, Komie said.
Komie further disputed the archdiocese’s claim that the review board recommended Phillips not be reinstated, saying, “They did not make any recommendations. They returned a straight report.”
Spalding remarked how the letter from Phillips’ canon lawyer to Cupich is dated six weeks after Cupich’s March removal of Phillips, and also pointing out the letter came six weeks before the archdiocese’s announcement that Phillips would remain withdrawn from public ministry.
The current status of the case is not known, he said, nor is it known whether Cupich has replied to the letter as it had asked, or if he did, what his reply may have contained, “But we do know that Cupich must have recently acted in spite of it.”
Cupich would have demonstrated “precipitous judgment,” the letter said; if he did as he was reported to have, and told Phillips’ religious community April 7 that the investigation of the diocese indicated that “Fr. Phillips is guilty.”
This statement by Cupich would have been made prior to the review of the allegations conducted by Phillips’ religious congregation at Cupich’s direction.
Further, the letter said, Cupich’s informing the media of his March decision to remove Phillips prior to the completion of any investigation, whether diocesan or by the religious order, “blatantly constitutes a violation of Fr. Phillips’ privacy and all rights relative to the preservation of his good name; a clear manifestation, in the minds of many Christifideles, of either an animus against Fr. Phillips, or a high level of suspicion and a low level of skepticism was present during the decision making phase, or, perhaps, a mixture of both …”
Phillips had asked in the letter for Cupich to reverse Phillips’ removal from ministry and reinstate him in his roles at St. Cantius, and advised that if Cupich did not restore him, further recourse would be pursued.
Phillips also suggested a public statement from the archdiocese communicating a positive end to the matter once it had concluded and confirming restoration of his status. Aside from pursuing a Canon Law case, if Cupich refused to reverse his decision, the letter indicated that litigating in the secular courts was not out of the realm of possibility.
It can be assumed that Phillips is in the process of pursuing a canon law case, Spalding said, regardless of Cupich’s recent decision to permanently pull Phillips’ faculties.
“But given that the recent decision by Cupich itself appears manifestly suspect, in view of the actual results of the investigation by the Resurrectionists, one also imagines that it cannot but help Fr. Phillips in this separate case,” he said. “That Cupich exhibited “precipitous judgment” and perhaps even an “animus” against Fr. Phillips three months ago can only acquire additional plausibility against this new background.”
Alan R. Kershaw, Ph.B., J.U.D., J.D.
Advocate of the Apostolic Tribunal of the Roman Rota Practicing in the Supreme Court of Cassation
Rome, 29th April 2018
H.E . Blase J. Card. Cupich Archbishop of Chicago 835 North Rush Street Chicago, IL 60611-2030 U.S.A.
Re: Rev. C. Frank Phillips, C.R.
Greetings in the Risen Christ!
I have been retained by Fr. C. Frank Phillips, C.R., to defend him in the canonical forum. Attached herewith is a copy of the mandate of appointment. Should you require an original of the mandate, kindly let me know and I will have one delivered to your offices.
Fr. Phillips has instructed me to contact you with regard to his current status in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and as the Founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius.
Before proceeding, indubitably it is salutary to recall certain recent, salient, and undisputable events.
- February 26, 2018 Fr. C. Frank Phillips was called by Fr. Dennis Lyle and Fr. Jeremy Thomas of the Priest Vicar Board, informing him that accusations of improper conduct had been made against him.
- The afternoon of March 2nd Fr. Phillips, accompanied by his civil lawyer, met at the Chancery with Fr. Dennis Lyle, Fr. Jeremy Thomas, and Sr. Joan McGlinchey. Also present was Fr. Gene Szarek, C.R., in his capacity as Provincial General of the Congregation of the Resurrection. Fr. Phillips did not respond to the allegations, nor, as you know, was he legally obliged to.
- Ten days later, on March 12th You announced your decision “to remove the faculties of Reverend C. Frank Phillips, C.R., which means he can no longer remain as the pastor of St. John Cantius and the superior of the Canons Regular”.
- On March 16th you wrote to the “Parishioners, Staff and Friends of Saint John Cantius Parish”, informing them: “that I have had to withdraw Reverend C. Frank Phillips’ faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago”, and that you “took this step after learning of credible allegations of improper conduct involving adult men”.
- The news of Fr. Phillips’ removal was soon in the local, State, national and international media: “In a statement to parishioners, Cardinal Blase Cupich explained that he had made the decision to « withdraw » Phillips after learning « of credible allegations of improper conduct involving adult men ». Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said in an email that the allegations do not involve minors.” (Chicago Tribune, March 19, 2018; amongst others see also: Newsweek, March 19, 2018; Crux, March 20, 2018).
- Within the time limits foreseen by canon law, on March 26th Fr. Phillips formally petitioned you to “either revoke or emend your decree” (can. 1734), and to “engage in a process of mediation which can resolve this issue without further canonical action” (can. 1733, §1).
- The Saturday following Easter you met with the members of the Canons Regular, and during the course of the meeting, with reference to Fr. Phillips, you reportedly expressed to those present that the investigation of the diocese indicates that he is guilty. It is also my understanding, that you strongly recommended to the members of the Canons Regular to not give witness testimony before the Review Board.
- On the 10th and 12th days of April the “Review Board”, or investigative panel constituted by the Superior of the Congregation of the Resurrection, Rev. Fr. Gene Szarek, interviewed Fr. Phillips’ detractors, and other persons, including Fr. Phillips, who was accompanied by his civil lawyer. Not surprisingly, Fr. Phillips denied the allegations, just as all innocent people refuse to confess to illicit actions they did not commit. To date, the Panel’s final report has not been presented, but it is forthcoming.
* * * * *
As Your Eminence knows, canon 1717 CJC recites: “§1. Whenever an ordinary has knowledge, which at least seems true, of a delict, he is carefully to inquire personally or through another suitable person about the facts, circumstances, and imputability, unless such an inquiry seems entirely superfluous. §2. Care must be taken so that the good name of anyone is not endangered from this investigation.”
In your letter/decree of March 12, 2018 to Fr. Gene Szarek, C.R., you generically signify: “Considering the complaints of inappropriate conduct recently brought against the Reverend C. Frank Phillips, CR […] I hereby withdraw all of his faculties to engage in any ecclesiastical ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and remove him of pastor of St. John Cantius Church”; therefore: “I will appoint a parish administrator until the matter currently under investigation is resolved”, and, “I will appoint someone to serve as superior of the Canons Regular on an interim basis”.
Furthermore, you express the presumption “that an investigation will be undertaken by your office into the allegations made against Fr. Phillips and the exact nature of his conduct. I ask that you keep me apprised of your progress and the ultimate outcome of your inquiries”, and close with your “prayer for a swift resolution to this matter”.
Also worthy of note is your appointment of Reverend Scott Thelander, SJC, also done on March 12th, “as administrator of St. John Cantius Parish and Superior ad interim”, and you convey your assurances “to visit with the Canons Regular as soon as I can to ask your suggestions and recommendations for moving forward with a permanent arrangement for the position of Superior”.
* * * * *
Primo ictu oculi your decree, the singular administrative act dated March 12, 2018, is ipso jure null and void under canon law. Attentive study of the facts and related documents further confirms this conclusion.
Canon 1717 explicitly mandates: « §1. Quoties Ordinarius notitiam, saltem veri similem, habet de delicto, caute inquirat ».
Præprimis, in Fr. Phillips’ case there does not appear to be any canonical “delict” to speak of.
Second, although there was no apparent or discernable « notitia delicti » you reportedly asserted to the members of the Canons Regular on Saturday, April 7th that the investigation of the diocese indicates that “Fr. Phillips is guilty”. If this corresponds to the truth, then a precipitous judgment was expressed, or better reiterated by your good self, albeit in absence of a delict and without a preventive « inquisitio circa facta et circumstantia et circa imputabilitatem».
Canon 1717 also explicitly mandates: « §2. Cavendum est ne ex hac investigatione bonum cuiusquam nomen in discrimen vocetur ».
Prescinding momentarily from whether you ordered an « investigatio prævia» into the allegations of non-existent « delicta », on March 12th you asked Fr. Gene Szarek, C.R., to “keep me apprised of your progress and the ultimate outcome of your inquiries”, on the presumption “that an investigation will be undertaken by your office into the allegations made against Fr. Phillips and the exact nature of his conduct”. Therefore, prior to the completion of any investigation, whether diocesan or by the religious order, you proceeded to inform the media of your decisions as set forth in your March 12th decree. This, Your Eminence, blatantly constitutes a violation of Fr. Phillips’ privacy and all rights relative to the preservation of his good name; a clear manifestation, in the minds of many Christifideles, of either an animus against Fr. Phillips, or a high level of suspicion and a low level of skepticism was present during the decision making phase, or, perhaps, a mixture of both; which reprovingly gives way to a reversed burden of proof, i.e. Fr. Phillips must prove his innocence rather than the reprobate accusers having to prove his culpability. To be clear, this is not simply an opinion, or a defense tactic of the undersigned patrocinium, but rather an easily verifiable current of valuation widely shared amongst the faithful, in particular by those who personally know Fr. Phillips, together with all those who are familiar with and participate in the good works of the Canons Regular SJC in Chicago, and elsewhere.
Canon 193, §1, CJC clearly establishes: “A person cannot be removed from an office conferred for an indefinite period of time except for grave causes and according to the manner of proceeding defined by law”.
Thereby, with regard to Fr. Phillips’ case, one legitimately queries: Where is the “grave cause”? And, why was the requisite “manner of proceeding defined by law” set aside, and not followed as prescribed by the Codex?
Ad rem, given the facts outlined herein it is indubitable that your March 12th decree is irreparably vitiated sive in procedendo sive in decernendo.
Ultimately, in the exercise of his priestly ministry Fr. Phillips has acted in accordance with canon 529, §§ 1-2, CJC, and has conducted himself in an exemplary fashion, reflecting the Magisterium and exhortations of Pope Francis; that is to be selfless and reach out to help others, regardless of their status, to be compassionate and always act with brotherly love especially towards those who find themselves in difficulty on the path of life.
If Your Eminence, as Ordinary of the Archdiocese of Chicago, prior to giving the March 12th decree had conducted a preliminary investigation, prompting the restrictions, scilicet the canonical sanctions, imposed on Fr. Phillips, then it can only be valuated as superficial and incomplete. Hence, your decree is lacking factual foundation (Cfr. canons 48-51 CJC).
What is more, the verbiage of your decree and other public writings appear contradictory, and unfounded in canon law. Hence, this perceived lack of clarity and linearity – also in reference to the erroneous application of the dictates of the prescribed canon law process – gives way to, and even further provokes profound confusion amongst the faithful, causing unnecessary scandal and division.
* * * * *
In light of the arguments heretofore articulated sive in jure sive in facto, on behalf of Fr. Phillips and in defense of his person and interests, You are hereby respectfully petitioned to revoke your March 12th decree in its entirety and, to said effect, restore Fr. Phillips’ status quo ante as Pastor of St. John Cantius and Superior of the Canons Regular SJC.
As a final resolution of the entire, baseless matter, this could prove persuasive to avoid litigation that potentially would involve the Archdiocese in the secular courts.
Indubitably, Fr. Phillips has been egregiously defamed by his reprobate detractors, including those who have “jumped on the band wagon” ostensibly hoping to have found an opportunity for fraudulent monetary gain.
The damage to Fr. Phillips’ reputation has indeed been compounded by those same wide reaching media reports which have caused and continue to consternation and astonishment amongst the Christifideles. Hence, it is left to Rev. Fr. Phillips to discern if and what further action should be taken to restore his good name.
On this point, Fr. Phillips suggests and would appreciate drafting any eventual joint communication to the faithful in the Archdiocese, regarding the positive resolution of all contrasts and his status.
However, should Your Eminence not deem the above arguments to carry sufficient weight for the reasonable and justifiable revocation of your March 12th decree, then by these presents Fr. Phillips makes formal hierarchical administrative recourse against your decree of March 12, 2018.
In closing, I take the opportunity to quote the words of His Holiness, Pope Francis, expressed in his recent letter to the Chilean bishops, wherein he asked forgiveness, acknowledging “that I have made serious mistakes in the assessment and perception of the situation, especially because of the lack of truthful and balanced information”.
From a professional perspective, and with legitima suspicione, I ask myself whether Your Eminence too has been misled by a deplorable “lack of truthful and balanced information”. Should this prove to be the case, then to the mind of Fr. Phillips’ supporters the moment to rectify matters must be seized immediately to underscore the fact that “zero tolerance” is not merely a one-way policy.
With a prayer for a positive resolution of all issues, I look forward to your
In Domino addictissimus,
Alan R. Kershaw, R.R.Adv.