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Priest with strong political ties suspended

Thursday, Apr 28, 2011

* Chicago Catholic priest Michael Pfleger has been an institution in state and local politics for decades, so his suspension by Cardinal George is news for this venue

Cardinal Francis George suspended Rev. Michael Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina Catholic Church and barred him from performing Catholic sacraments over public statements Pfleger made about a possible reassignment.

In a letter from George to Pfleger released to the media on Wednesday, the Cardinal said Pfleger’s public remarks that he would leave the Catholic Church rather than accept a position outside of St. Sabina led to his decision.

“If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish,” George wrote.

* The Cardinal released the letter (read it here) to the media before Pfleger got it “to avoid misrepresentation and manipulation on anyone’s part,” he wrote. That didn’t sit well at St. Sabina

Associate Minister Kimberly Lymore declined to comment on the letter’s contents but claimed media members received the letter before Father Pfleger did.

“That’s a lack of respect,” she said. “He was ambushed. He’s spent the last 36 years in this archdiocese, given his life to this community, to the church. To be treated like this is unfair.”

* Background

During the flap over his possible assignment to Leo, Pfleger appeared on the “Smiley & West” public radio program that he had been banned from speaking at events in the archdiocese and blamed pressure from conservative Catholics and the National Rifle Association for his most recent clash with George.

“I want to try to stay in the Catholic Church,” Pfleger said. “If they say ‘You either take this principalship of (Leo High) or pastorship there or leave,’ then I’ll have to look outside the church. I believe my calling is to be a pastor. I believe my calling is to be a voice for justice. I believe my calling is to preach the Gospel. In or out of the church, I’m going to continue to do that.”

In a later interview with the Tribune, Pfleger clarified that he feels called to preach and push for social justice in a Catholic context. He said he loves the Catholic Church and prefers to stay there, but he would not go to Leo full time.

“I’ve always said I could not do something that I don’t feel called or equipped to do,” he told the Tribune. “A full-time position at Leo is not something I’m equipped to do. I think Leo has made it clear they don’t see any need for me to come there. For both sides, it would be a lose-lose.”

* More background

Pfleger has gained national attention for his protests on everything from gun violence to drug paraphernalia to Jerry Springer’s television show, and he has often appeared with major civil rights leaders.

Pfleger, who is white and runs a largely black parish, also has made racial equality a large part of his mission. He often wears African-style robes during services, and a mural of a black Jesus is behind the altar. Both his adopted sons are black.

It has long appeared he has had a strained relationship with the Chicago Archdiocese, which opposed his decision to adopt children.

* Kimberly Lymore, the Associate Minister at the Faith Community of St. Sabina, read a statement to the media yesterday

On March 11, 2011, Fr. Pfleger met with Cardinal George where he was asked to take over as president of Leo High School.

On March 19, 2011, Fr. Pfleger sent a letter to Cardinal George saying that he was neither qualified nor experienced being president of a high school but that he was willing to help Leo High School in any way that he could

According to Lymore, there has been no further communication between Pfleger and George since that exchange, despite requests from the church’s cabinet and leadership team.

“[Pfleger] spent the last 36 years in this Archdiocese, given his life to this community to the church, and to be treated like this is unfair; to be given a letter and then he doesn’t even want to — the cardinal doesn’t want to discuss it with him — that’s not fair,” said Lymore.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


28 Comments
  1. - bored now - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 7:47 am:

    sounds like they are planning on closing that church. i can’t imagine anyone else being able to keep that congregation together and in the catholic fold. but the catholic church has been making budget-saving decisions for years. add this one to the pile…


  2. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 7:51 am:

    It’s nice to see both parties putting aside petty differences to do God’s work. Alas, as long as humans are involved, egos will interfere.


  3. - Bill - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 8:00 am:

    Good riddance Loudmouth. This was a long time coming.


  4. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 8:29 am:

    Pfleger built a good parish over the years, perhaps better than anyone else could. Maybe it will leave with him, who knows.

    But he was guilty of insubordination. Pfleger put himself ahead of his parish and his parish ahead of the Archdiocese. That’s not acceptable.

    Pfleger made everything about him, which is more than a little narcissistic to me. He didn’t leave the Cardinal with many options.


  5. - Fed up - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 9:12 am:

    Pfleger feels he is bigger than the church. He has already been allowed to stay at st sabina longer than the rules state a priest can stay at a parish. He was given the opportunity to stay in the community and help a struggling high school he chose not to. If pfleger wants to be a stor front precher I’m sure he will do well but if he wants to be a catholic priest he needs to realize the church is more than just him.


  6. - amalia - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 9:22 am:

    The Archdiocese has transferred/moved other “famous” priests with strong ties to congregations. Old St. Pat’s, St. Mary of the Woods in Edgebrooke, so this is not a new story. however, if the claims of those talking at St. Sabina’s are true, it’s how Cardinal George did it that is objectionable….passive agressive method of notice. also, he’s on his way out of town for the ceremony for the beatification in Rome, so he’s not around to answer. Yes, Father Pfleger has his big bad points. But the church and the work in the community are very good, a real anchor, and would be in no danger of closing with so many parishoners. unless, of course, Mayor Rahm’s new proposals will be taxing to the church. how long until they sell the Cardinal’s mansion?


  7. - titan - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 9:53 am:

    A poorly handled matter (on both sides to some extent), but Pfleger seems to have forgotten that he is in a rigidly “top down” organization and he has already been given exceptional treatment to exempt him from normal rules. I think he finally pushed things too far.


  8. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 9:58 am:

    @amalia -

    I would find it more troubling if the claims were true that this move was motivated by his efforts to make the streets of his parish safe from violence.

    Hundreds gunned down in Chicago each year apparently don’t move the Cardinal, but G-d forbid a gay couple try to adopt a parentless child or provide a home for a child whose been abused or neglected.


  9. - wordslinger - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 10:08 am:

    As secular figures, I don’t think either Pfleger or George have brought a lot to the party. If they didn’t have collars, no one would give them the time of day.

    I remember being absolutely shocked by the “fighting young priest’s” hateful and misogynistic attack from the pulpit on a Sunday morning on Hillary Clinton. That certainly had nothing to do with fighting for “justice” or however he likes to portray himself. It was just mean and nasty.


  10. - Cincinnatus - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 10:18 am:

    YDD,

    For some reason your comment,

    “Hundreds gunned down in Chicago each year apparently don’t move the Cardinal…”

    struck an image in my mind ala Monty Python (Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition). Roving bands of ninja priests fighting for justice like superheros.


  11. - John Bambenek - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 10:23 am:

    YDD-

    I’m not sure what church you’ve been observing, but the Catholic Church all but lobbies for the repeal of the Second Amendment. You can read some of the Catholic Bishops statements from here.

    I’m quite sure Cardinal George is not a member of the NRA and certainly not going to be their errand boy despite the claims of others.


  12. - amalia - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 10:29 am:

    @YDD one never knows what moves the Cardinal. the institution of the church in this form is anti LGBT, anti woman power (except the power of birth), and changing on the position on abortion. church scholars of old did not hold the same position as is held now, the life begins at conception bit which came in vogue in the late 1800s. all institutions should help anyone help a child, fight violence, and have great concern for the health of all people, including women. there can be disagreement about Father Pfleger but many can agree that the institution of the church needs lots of work. they should worry more about priests who hurt children!


  13. - Keen observer - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 10:56 am:

    Religion ain’t bean bags.


  14. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 10:59 am:

    @Bambenek -

    “All but lobbies”?

    You know that the Catholic Conference of Illinois has actual lobbyists, right?

    When you “all but lobby” for changes to a law, what are you actually doing?

    Are Catholic priests urging their parishioners to call their lawmakers and tell them to vote against conceal carry?

    Are they telling parishioners that it is a sin to vote for pro-gun legislators?

    Are they refusing communion to lawmakers that are NRA-endorsed?

    Because these are some of the “non-lobbying” activities the Church has engaged in in the past when it cares about an issue.

    When you “all but lobby” for changes in gun control laws but you ACTUALLY lobby for public funding for parochial schools and the right to discriminate against gay Americans, its pretty clear what your actual priorities are.


  15. - Esquire - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 11:18 am:

    I am confused by Amalia’s comments on various positions of the institutional church.

    The Cardinal may reinforce those traditional teachings, but, as an individual, he does not set the standards. The pro-life position of the church and opposition to abortion did undergo some modification during the late nineteenth century, but this should not be a surprise. The medical and scientific communities made advances that improved the understanding of human biology and prenatal life in utero.

    Reverend Michael Pfleger is a controversial figure who should have been called on the carpet long ago. Cardinal Bernadin neglected to do it. To his credit, Cardinal George has addressed the issue in the form of progressive discipline. Pfleger is suspended today because he failed to heed repeated warnings that were issued previously.


  16. - Way Way Down Here - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 11:47 am:

    Command Hierarchy - best not to forget it.


  17. - 42nd Ward - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 12:50 pm:

    Pfleger should go to the Anglicans. He will fit right in. They like social activists, and share most Catholic doctrines. Or the Presbyterians - they virtually are social activists.


  18. - Not It - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 1:05 pm:

    I have been following this guy ever since the Obama campaign. This guy isn’t a priest, he is an activist who uses his priestly cover to make news. I have no problems with activists doing crazy things to get attention; I do have a problem with activists using the Holy Church to do it though.


  19. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 1:43 pm:

    Goodbye St. Sabina Catholic Church, hello St. Sabina’s Community of Faith. I think the good Cardinal will discover it was easier when he could occasionally make the good father heal to some extent.

    Seriously, the Independent Catholic Church as well as the Old Roman Catholic church could both use some charismatic priests that don’t want to be Bishops.


  20. - John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 1:58 pm:

    >>>Are they telling parishioners that it is a sin to vote for pro-gun legislators?

    Pfleger was telling folks to kill legislators that did not vote for gun control.

    http://isra.org/quick/pfleger_calls_for_murder_052607-b.mp3


  21. - John Bambenek - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 2:46 pm:

    YDD-

    I said “all but lobbies for the repeal of the Second Amendment”, don’t take a fragment and not use all of it to contort my words. Obviously, it was rhetorical flair.

    I can explain the difference between, say, concealed carry and abortion as, say, the difference between “prudent judgment” and “objective grave moral evil”. At least I suppose that’s how theologians would argue it.

    On one hand, even opponents of concealed carry aren’t looking to strip police and the military of their firearms, they just don’t think they should be available to the general population. Ergo, in some subset of circumstances, carrying a firearm is morally ok, if not morally laudable.

    On the flipside, there is no circumstance (save those true cases of life of the mother with no other options), where abortion is anything but gravely and objectively evil.

    But why let reason and logic interfere with mindless polemics (and yes, that would be irony coming from me which makes your position that much more absurd).


  22. - downhereforyears - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 2:53 pm:

    Pfleger is way over the top, at times inciting people to break the law. Good riddance. I’m just shocked it took the good Cardinal this long.


  23. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 3:30 pm:

    === The pro-life position of the church and opposition to abortion did undergo some modification during the late nineteenth century, but this should not be a surprise. The medical and scientific communities made advances that improved the understanding of human biology and prenatal life in utero. ===

    LOL. The changes in the Church’s stance had nothing to do with medical advances.

    For 2000 years the Church has gone back-and-forth on the philosophical question of whether life begins at conception or quickening.

    Which stands in stark contrast to the very real fact that life ends when a loaded gun ends up in the wrong hands, as loaded guns have a habit of doing.


  24. - John Bambenek - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 3:37 pm:

    YDD-

    “real fact that life ends when a loaded gun ends up in the wrong hands, as loaded guns have a habit of doing. ”

    One, I would suspect most people who get shot tend to live through it reading the various police reports. I could be wrong, but nonetheless shot != killed.

    Two, loaded guns don’t have a habit of getting into the wrong hands nearly in the proportion you are suggesting. I propose several ways to analyze the absurdity of that statement. First, we can compare the number of operable firearms out there to the number of weapons used in crimes. I suspect that’s not even close to a fraction of 1%.

    We could, say, take the total number of people who have every handled a firearm and compare that to the number of murders. Again, far less than 1%.

    As far as quickening vs conception of when life begins, while there has been a bit of academic debate on when “life begins”, the Church, as far as my brief research yields, has always held abortion as grave evil, even if before “life begins” (i.e. quickening or ensoulment standards).

    Of course, those debates more or less ended about a millenium ago.


  25. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 3:50 pm:

    @John -

    65,000 firearms injuries and 30,000 firearms fatalities in the U.S. per year.

    For some perspective, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that there were 33,000 people killed in car accidents and 11,000 killed in drunk driving accidents.

    We require cars to be sold with seatbelts but don’t require guns to be sold with trigger locks.

    The police can instantly search the ownership record of every car and history of every driver, but keeping those same records for gun owners is compared to Nazism.

    You need to do more research on the Catholic Church. Try searching St. Thomas.


  26. - Because I say so - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 4:44 pm:

    Seems to me that many of Pfleger’s motives have been self serving. I agree that he has done good things for his community but he intentionally stirs the pot and for the sake of confrontation. He and his parishioners have been given privilege by allowing him to stay ay Sabina’s for all these years. Many other Catholic’s have petitioned the Archdiocese to keep beloved pastors to no avail. I’m not a fan of Cardinal George but it’s time that Pfleger was put in his place. If you are a Catholic Priest you follow the rules


  27. - Park - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 5:10 pm:

    Hopefully he’ll reconsider and take the Leo job. He could have some positive influence on those kids.

    He knows he’s been given extraordinary leeway for years, and also know that his recent comments about leaving the Church were way over the top. The Catholic Church is unique in having a strong central authority. There’s no shiite v. sunni, no splintering into a million separate mini churches, no council of elders voting on local dogma. There’s good and bad about all that, but he knows the rules.

    Not too many priests who have split off have ended up happy about it (maybe the occasional Luther).


  28. - A Paul Andrews, III - Thursday, Apr 28, 11 @ 5:44 pm:

    It seems interesting to me that the politicians, both Republican and Democrat, who has mismanaged the State’s revenues and expenditures for so long, are now asking the innocent state workers to pay the price of their mismanagement. What percent of these same politicians’ salaries would it take to balance the budget for this year? This has to be the most fair and equitable solution to the current budget crisis, including eliminating their health and pension contributions.


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