Father Pfleger Ousted by his Cardinal

Pfleger's out.  He's been asked by Cardinal George to take a leave of absence.  The archdiocese has done the right thing, belatedly. But the stakes for it are higher than many might imagine

Catholics across the nation have been outraged at this priest's behavior shown on TV. But he has long been a thorn in the side of the local Church authorities. Cardinal George earlier had made it clear that Father Pfleger was to keep his nose out of politics if he wanted to keep his position as pastor at St. Sabina's until a permanent replacement was found.  But following his TUCC show, an on-line petition requesting Pfleger's removal was started, and yesterday the Cardinal made his decision.

Given the history of this congregation since Pfleger arrived their in 1981 and embraced the Black Liberation Theology of Rev. Wright, and its regular threats to leave the Catholic Church, one must assume from the stern language in the official statement that Cardinal George is prepared to face all the negative consequences of belatedly imposing Church discipline on Father Pfleger.

To put recent events in some perspective, I have asked Father Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina's Parish, to step back from his obligations there and take leave for a couple of weeks from his pastoral duties, effective today. Fr. Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time. While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the Church's regulations for all Catholic priests. I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns.

I hope also that the life of St. Sabina's parish may continue in uninterrupted fashion. Fr. William Vanecko, Pastor of St. Kilian's parish, will be temporary administrator of St. Sabina's and will assure the full complement of ministerial services during this period. I ask the members of St. Sabina's parish to cooperate with him and to keep him and Fr. Pfleger in their prayers. They are in mine.

When the issue of rotating Father Pfleger to another parish was last raised, it was announced this would be Pfleger's final term there and that a search would be conducted for his successor.  From Pfleger's own words in this story, I sense that search for a new pastor has been accelerated. Given the turbulent history of Father Pfleger's tenure at St. Sabina's, I profoundly hope that his sense of contrition, whatever the reason, remains in place until a suitable replacement is named.

The handwriting was on the wall even before the Cardinal made his decision. A member of the Chicago media who greatly contributed to the problem finally saw Father Pfleger as an attention-seeking narcissist, and may have been the last straw for Cardinal George. Cathleen Falsani, who covers the religious beat for the Chicago Sun Times, interviewed Father Pfleger. She reported his peculiar sense of contrition more focused on the damage he has done to his own career than the bile he spewed. 
...how, as a friend and passionate supporter of Obama's campaign for president, could he do what he did, with cameras rolling?

Pfleger's short answer? He didn't think the service and his "conversation" -- a more casual address than a classic sermon, he explained -- were being broadcast live online, as Trinity often does.

"They told me it was down," Pfleger said. "Their live streaming had been down all day, and they didn't know whether it was back up. . . . I regret the dramatization that I was naive enough to believe was just going to be kept among that church."

The above is arguably the lamest apology for a racist comment since Twin Owner Cal Griffith had to apologize  to his Black players after he told a Lion's Club Dinner in Waseca, Minnesota in 1978 that he had moved the Senators from Washington DC to the Twin Cities in 1961 because he found out there were only 15,000 blacks there. Like Pfleger, Griffith knew exactly what he was saying. He had. in fact, said similar things before, though not in quite the same words.  He just never expected that Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Nick Coleman was in the audience.  In fairness, Griffith may have been slightly the worse for wear after a cocktail or two when he said what Coleman himself later called "foolish things".  On the other hand, Pfleger was under the influence of what some people have found to be a far more potent mind altering substance, the genuine approval of an audience roaring over each outrageous sentiment being expressed.  

After this completely unrepentant apology, the controversial priest's self pity in comparing this political dust up to the grief he felt when his foster son was gunned downed near St. Sabina in 1998  was too much for Falsani to take. .

I've spoken to Pfleger many times about Jarvis' death and couldn't believe he said this. It sounded like the worst kind of narcissism, and I told him so.

Pfleger's response to the reporter's rebuke is a classic of self absorption: A laundry list of all the personal and family problems that he has faced of late, but no genuine recognition that his own words dripped of the racial animosity that he ostensibly dedicated his ministry to eradicating. His final thoughts are simply risible. 

"This is a dangerous time in America, the freest country in the world," Pfleger says, "where you have to whisper your thoughts."

Pfleger is still free to say and think whatever hateful thing he pleases. For the first time in years he has faced negative consequences for doing so. Instead of facing up to those consequences, he blames others who told him the system was down and the people who aren't afraid to tell him that his ideas about race are odious. Above all, he wallows in self pity.  A more self aware man would just 'fess up  that the devil made him do it, that he feed off the audience applause until he was truly emotionally and spiritually out of control.

Those who urged Cardinal George to immediately dump Pfleger need to keep in mind that schism is a messy business best avoided whenever possible. A less dramatic way to make the necessary change is to have the parish welcome a long series of guest homilists over the coming months, visiting priests who focus more on the liturgy of the day and less on the political headlines.

That would be a logical way for the Archdiocese to both enforce the discipline it has belatedly imposed on Pfleger to eschew all talk of politics and to prepare the parish for a major change of direction. The parishioners who came only for the Pfleger's political screeds would be likely to drift away to other black liberation churches during such a transition period instead of openly splitting with the denomination. That would not only avoid the sense of spiritual loss that accompanies all irreconcilable differences, it would also forestall the negative media coverage and legal problems. 

One key factor to keep in mind is that legal title to all parish property belongs to the Archdiocese itself.  Whenever there is schism, parishioners who spent decades contributing to capital drives to build and repair churches, schools and other facilities often attempt to seek restitution and can be vocal in talking their case to the media if it is not forthcoming.  Whatever Pfleger's countless faults as a theologian and political rabble rouser, he deserves credit for the manmer in which St. Sabina's has thrived financially under his guidance. 

If further racial animosity can be avoided by easing a gagged Pfleger out of the picture over the next several months or even a year or two, I think it would be for the best.  It would be sad indeed if the final chapter in this story got spun as a white Church hierarchy depriving a Black congregation of property that is equitably theirs.