Father C. Frank Phillips, former pastor of St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, has been asked by his religious superior to move to St. Louis, the priest informed his supporters Wednesday.
Phillips, 68, has been accused of misconduct involving adult men. He was removed as pastor of St. John Cantius March 16, and prohibited from public ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago by Cardinal Blase Cupich.
In 1998, Phillips founded the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, with the approval of Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and of the Resurrectionists.
“From the founding of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, I have instructed the men how to live the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. One of those vows, obedience, may especially challenge Religious because it is difficult to submit your will to a superior,” Fr. Phillips wrote July 18 to Protect Our Priests, a group formed to support and assist him.
“As you know, the Canons are requested not to have contact with me, which is difficult for them and for me as their Founder. Also, I have been asked by my superior to relocate to St. Louis. I am requested to do this not under formal obedience but willingly in the virtue of obedience. Is this difficult? Yes, it is,” he wrote.
The saints “were always obedient to their superiors, and their examples help to sustain me now,” Fr. Phillips wrote. “We need only look to St. Padre Pio to see the extent of his lived obedience. If I could not or would not listen to my superior, how could I then expect the Canons, as their Founder, to be obedient to their superior?”
He said he is uncertain of what the future holds for him, and that “time will tell” what it holds for the Canons.
“I feel confident that they will be blessed with vocations for their dedication to the restoration of the sacred in obedience,” he added.
“I thank everyone who has supported the Protect Our Priests initiative with prayers, sacrifices, Masses, and contributions. May St. John Cantius, our heavenly patron, extend his blessing to all of you.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago forwarded unspecified allegations against Fr. Phillips to the Resurrectionists 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 by Fr. Gene Szarek, superior of the USA province of the Resurrectionists, along with his own proposal for a resolution.
Szarek sent on May 21 a “votum”- an official opinion- to the Archdiocese of Chicago, in response to the findings of the review board.
Citing “a certain amount of ambiguity between the allegations of the accusers and the testimony of witnesses, including Fr. Phillips himself,” Szarek said he would instruct Fr. Phillips to undergo a psychological evaluation, “and possible sensitivity training in the very near future.”
Fr. Szarek said further that Fr. Phillips should not return to St. John Cantius Parish as its pastor, considering both his age “and out of respect for the Cardinal's own preference.”
The superior also wrote that it “seems fair and just to restore the canonical faculties of Fr. Phillips” because “no civil or ecclesiastical crime had been established.”
He noted that Fr. Phillips' accusers “thought that his removal from the parish was all that they desired.”
Fr. Szarek also wrote that since Fr. Phillips is founder of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius, “the ideal would be his restoration as their superior general.”
The Canons Regular are incardinated in the Chicago archdiocese, and their assignments are made by the Archbishop of Chicago, Fr. Szarek noted, so “there is no fear that Fr. Phillips could possibly interfere in some way” with the archbishop's decisions.
“The historical reality of his being the Founder and his ongoing provision of spiritual leadership would be salutary for all,” Fr. Szarek stated, adding that Fr. Phillips “would obviously not reside” at St. John Cantius Parish.
“If the above recommendation is unfeasible, then at least he and the Canons should not be prevented from communication.” A prohibition on communication between Phillips and the Canons Regular had not previously been reported.
Despite Fr. Szarek's proposal, Cardinal Cupich declined to allow Fr. Phillips to minister publicly. Ordinarily, a priest prohibited from public ministry is able to celebrate Mass only in private, and is not able to hear confessions or celebrate other sacraments, unless a person is in immediate danger of death.
“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,” Fr. Szarek wrote in a June 24 letter to the parishioners of St. John Cantius parish.
Paula Waters, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told the Chicago Tribune June 25 that though Fr. Phillips had not been found to have violated civil or canon law, there was other information that justified barring him from exercising public ministry.
“There are standards for behavior,” Waters told the Tribune.
Stating that the review board recommended that Fr. Phillips not return to St. John Cantius as pastor “and on other factors, the cardinal decided that his faculties to minister would remain withdrawn,” she said.
When asked about the removal of Fr. Phillips' faculties, a Chicago archdiocese spokeswoman told CNA June 26 only that “it was recommended that Fr. Phillips not return to ministry at St. John Cantius” in the Resurrectionists' investigation report.
In his letter informing the St. John Cantius community of Cardinal Cupich's decision, Fr. Szarek wrote: “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.”
In a June 29 statement Fr. Szarek said that reports “the Independent Review Board exonerated Fr. Phillips are without foundation.”
Fr. Szarek added that he has offered his support to those accusing Fr. Phillips of misconduct and has "assure[d] them of appropriate pastoral care." He said this "is surely a difficult time for those who have suffered in any way, and I entrust their care to your prayers."