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FFRF ad blitz hits Chicago, despite censors

The Catholic Church’s clout in the Chicago area has resulted in the Windy City’s two daily newspapers rejecting a Freedom From Religion Foundation media campaign that spotlighted a survivor of priest abuse. The ad urged: “Stop ignoring headlines: It’s time to leave the Catholic Church.”

Chicago’s alternative weekly, the Chicago Reader, demonstrated more bravery than the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times and published the full-page ad on Jan. 31. (See ad below.)

A Chicago-area FFRF member who was sexually abused at age 13 by his parish priest suggested and underwrote the FFRF ad and is using a portion of his church settlement to pay for the plea to the public to abandon the Catholic Church. (See story below.) The person asked that the ad be timed to run during National Catholic Schools Week (Jan. 27-Feb. 2).

After encountering print censorship, FFRF fought back by placing prominent billboards all over Chicago, including a 20-by-60-foot sign on the Kennedy Expressway west of Montrose, stating, “Value Children over Dogma: It’s Time to Leave the Catholic Church.” The powerful image depicts a small schoolgirl hiding her face. (See Page 1 for the billboard image.) That message went up in February for the entire month.

Additionally, through Feb. 10, 11 digital billboards in the Chicago area showed the message: “It’s Time to Quit the Church.”

The ad in the Chicago Reader lists a series of real newspaper headlines about the ongoing revelations of massive priestly abuse of children and the subsequent Church cover-up, urging readers to stop supporting the world’s largest and most powerful religious institution.

The suppression of FFRF’s ad by Chicago’s two dailies shows the power of the Catholic Church to intimidate its critics, maintains Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

“The ‘look the other way’ deference the Church has continually demanded and received — from congregations, media, police and courts — is the very reason why so many horrific crimes against children have occurred and gone unreported and unprosecuted in the first place,” Gaylor says. “The Catholic Church remains a virtuoso in silencing not only its critics, but its hundreds of thousands of victims — including one Chicago-area victim seeking to spare future children similar abuse.”

Adds Tom Cara, volunteer director of FFRF Metropolitan Chicago Chapter, which helped oversee the ad campaign: “It is tragic when a major metropolitan’s two largest newspapers elect not to publish a public condemnation of an organization’s horrific crimes. Our ad is a plea for help from a victim, and it is being ignored in order to protect the offenders.”

This 20-by-60-foot billboard was seen by travelers on the Kennedy Expressway (Interstate 90-94) west of Montrose near Chicago during February.