Chicago Catholics are all-too-familiar with the perpetual shenanigans of Fr. Michael Pfleger, the pastor of Saint Sabina Church in a 99.9% black community of Chicago. In the Chicago archdiocese, a priest normally serves at a parish only for a few years before he is transferred to a different church. Regular priest rotation is seen as good for the churches as well as the priests; however, if a priest represents something special in a given community, he can be given one extension—for a purely theoretical example, a Laotian priest in an all-Laotian community might be given a three- or four-year extension given what he represents there. A priest involved in a massive rebuilding or construction project might be given an extension to finish out the effort, and so on. Extensions happen, but are quite rare, and never go beyond the one-time deal.
Except Fr. Pfleger, who has been at St. Sabina for thirty years. Somehow, he is continually given a free pass. Every incoming cardinal of the archdiocese immediately threatens to correct this oversight, but the church residents complain, and the issue goes away. Curiously, many churches complain when a popular priest is transferred, but no special exceptions are given.
In that 30 years, he has done nothing but attracted media attention to himself. He preaches his own liturgy, blending Baptist choirs, fiery sermons (usually done in a stereotypical urban black voice), black liberation theology, and every so often, Catholicism. Against direct orders from the archdiocese, he adopted a son—legally, because state law allowed him to do so, and there was no prohibition against such a move in the Catholic church. Indeed, a widower with children and grandchildren can become a Catholic priest, provided he maintains chastity. Pfleger used this loophole to adopt a child. Actually, he did it twice, adopting African-American boys as well as acting as a foster father to a child who was tragically murdered a short time later.
Pfleger is seen wherever radical activism appears. If Jesse Jackson, Jr., marches outside a business for whatever contrived reason, Pfleger shows up later (often in religious garb). If there was a picket line outside a television studio, gun store, or business, there was Pfleger. He has angered the archdiocese by associating with Louis Farrakhan, Jeremiah Wright, and Al Sharpton—all of whom are opposed by the Church for, respectively, anti-semitism, calls for outright disobedience, and being openly pro-abortion.
When the Southside Catholic Conference athletic league refused to allow St. Sabina’s basketball team to join (conference officials felt the league was large enough, St. Sabina was too far, and the neighborhood’s high crime rate needed to be addressed), Pfleger announced the reason was purely racism. This attracted the entire Chicago media, who just luv the guy. Under pressure from the archdiocese to stop the anti-Catholic media blitz, the league relented and allowed them to join. The St. Sabina basketball team performed very well, but were caught violating rules; the team quit the league in an outrage provoked by Fr. Pfleger himself. They could have simply obeyed the rules (the rule in question: students can only play on one grade level team at a time; St. Sabina was taking the best players from different grades and playing them on multiple teams to stack the deck in their favor for each grade level). When the rule was invoked, Pfleger simply cried racism and quit.
In short, Pfleger has been arrested numerous times for assorted protest-related activities, has hired prostitutes (paying them to attend anti-prostitution counseling), and publicly threatened the life of a suburban gun store owner, and has openly called for women to be ordained as priests. He admits he is an intentional problem to the archdiocese, but defends it all by imagining that the role of the Church is to be committed to social activism, rather than religion.
He has had no greater opponent than Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George, who took his position in 1997. The Church, as many of you know, has lately begun to strengthen enforcement of its beliefs and discipline its hippie priests who ran amok with the faith during 1970-2000. Particularly after Fr. Pfleger went off the deep end after the election of Barack Obama (the President himself has since expressed distaste for Pfleger and his methods after previously supporting him), Cardinal George announced that a decision would be made on Fr. Pfleger’s assignment soon.
Cardinal George has yet to announce this decision, but recently reaffirmed that it was time for a change—for both St. Sabina Church as well as Fr. Michael Pfleger. Recently, Cardinal George suggested he might be a good fit to head up Chicago’s Leo Catholic High School.
Fr. Pfleger announced that if he is asked to leave St. Sabina’s, he will leave the Catholic Church entirely.
Who is surprised? Because this is what Pfleger does: when faced with the responsibility of his own poor judgment and distaste for the rules, he quits. He found a loophole around his vow of chastity; but he can no longer thumb his nose at his vow of obedience.
Good riddance. If St. Sabina is as strong in their faith as you claim, they will have no need of you any longer. And if the church crumbles, then your 30 years there was, as we suspect, all about your social activism and not about your wasted flock at all.