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By P.J. Tumnus
Deborah Mell, openly gay alderman for Chicago's northwest side, is now facing a run-off after Tuesday elections failed to grant her a clear victory. Residents of the 33rd ward voted in similar numbers for both Mell and her challenger, Rossanna Rodriguez. The tie will be settled in April.
The tie came as a surprise to the residents of Chicago's Avondale neighborhood, considering the Mell family's 44-year stronghold there. Deborah Mell is the daughter of Dick Mell and the sister-in-law of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich — still serving time in federal prison for his attempt to sell Obama's Senate seat. Deborah Mell was sworn in as her father's replacement in July of 2013. Dick Mell had served as Avondale's 33rd ward alderman for more than 38 years, and as is commonplace in Chicago, a father can select his own progeny as his replacement. This article will not "revisit the sins of the father" on his daughter, but will focus squarely on Deborah Mell and her legacy as alderman for the last six years.
She was one of the principal players behind the clearing out of Avondale's homeless population; their tents, sleeping bags and all their personal belongs were taken away. This took place on Jan. 3, 2018, when the low recorded early that morning was -4 degrees. That entire underside of the Belmont/Kedzie interchange was "cleaned up" when the shanty residents of this community of Chicago's homeless were away at city warming centers.
Members of Resurrection Parish, notably Gretchen Moore and Fr. Paul John Kalchik, came to the aid of the homeless community living beneath the Kennedy Expressway. In the aftermath of what critics called an egregious and inhuman act, as well as all the bad press, a lawsuit was filed against the City of Chicago by the Coalition for the Homeless.
In spite of the bad PR, Mell went after Fr. Kalchik last September after learning that he had burned a blasphemous banner showing a cross intertwined with the colors of the LGBT pride rainbow. Recall, last August, the Pennsylvania grand jury report was published, followed shortly afterward by Abp. Carlo Maria Viganò's testimony exposing the "homosexual current" in the Church. In response to this scandal, Resurrection Parish decided to have a late summer "Lent," a period of 40 days of fasting and prayer to end the homosexual abuse in the Church.
After the period of reparation began, the sacrilegious banner was found by parishioners in the church's sacristy. It was a banner created in 1991 showing a purple cross interwoven with the full spectrum of rainbow colors. This banner was paid for by the parish at the behest of the first pastor, Fr. Daniel Montalbano, whose aim was to make Resurrection Parish the "gay" parish on the city's northside.
His Dignity Mass vestments and blasphemous banner were put away in storage in the parish and forgotten about for decades.
It was by a fluke that the banner was discovered by parishioners in August. The parish's sacristy contents had been moved around because of a roof leak, and parishioners came across it. The Guadalupanos demanded that Fr. Kalchik get rid of what they believed to be a sacrilegious depiction of Christ's Passion.
"Father Paul, we should burn this accursed banner in our closing ceremony for our period of reparation on September 29," one parishioner said at the time.
Father Kalchik is himself a victim of priest sex abuse, and agreed to this plan to put an end to what the parish deemed Montalbano's black legacy at the parish.
Mell and her LGBTQ supporters learned of the plan and immediately began to bombard the Chicago archdiocese with demands that Cdl. Blase Cupich call off the Sept. 29 burning.
On Sept. 14, the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, word was received by parish staff from the chancery that the banner burning should not take place publicly. In response to the directive, Kalchik and a small group of parishioners destroyed Fr. Montalbano's banner in a private ceremony, which took place in the fenced-in, secluded school yard on Sept. 14 (a day off for school, so no faculty or students were present).
Mell loudly complained, posting on Facebook on Sept. 19:
I'm calling on Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich to send this hateful bigot packing … If the Church is serious about restoring trust with its parishioners and spreading a message of love and tolerance, this is a perfect opportunity. This is a hate crime — plain and simple. I'm asking the City and the Federal government to treat it as one.
That same week, Julie Justicz, director of the Hate Crimes Project for the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, said, "While we advocate strongly against hate crimes, I have a hard time calling this a hate crime. There isn't an underlying crime that would make it a hate crime under Illinois Law."
During this period, Kalchik received numerous death threats by phone, on social media and in the mail, along with protestors rallying outside the parish shouting slurs and planting LGBT flags throughout the property.
Kalchik fled the parish after a confrontation with two priests, Msgr. Dennis Lyle and Fr. Jeremy Thomas, both vicars for priests sent by Cupich. They verbally harassed Kalchik, trying to force him to get into the car to be taken to St. Luke Institute for psychiatric treatment, even though there is no evidence Kalchik is mentally unstable.
Both men had only days before told Kalchik he could have his faculties removed if he failed to comply with Cupich's orders.
"I made it clear to them that I was not just going to cave and walk away from being pastor here at Resurrection Parish, and I stated clearly: I was once worked over by an ordained minister of the Church; it's not going to happen again," Kalchik told Church Militant at the time. "I will not leave Resurrection Parish on my own accord."
After Kalchik refused to leave, Lyle made a veiled death threat, asking, "What would happen if you were dead?"
To this day Fr. Kalchik remains far afield from Chicago, in hiding. Cupich has appointed a temporary administrator at Resurrection Parish, and Kalchik is pursuing his rights under canon law. But his current situation can be laid squarely at the feet of Deborah Mell, whose sustained criticism of Kalchik first convinced Cupich to act against his own priest in favor of protecting the LGBT lobby.