05/10/2011 10:26 am ET | Updated Jul 10, 2011

The Plight of Father Michael Pfleger


Father Michael Pfleger follows the priesthood in the tradition of the Baptist ministry of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is an advocate, a personality and an out of the box thinker. He is a leader, not an obedient bureaucrat.

Pfleger was strongly influenced by Dr. King. As a young man, he witnessed the marches for open housing, where he saw his white neighbors, friends and clergy become terrorists as King and other Blacks marched in his then neighborhood of Marquette Park in 1966.

This march, according to King, was the worst of any that he participated in because of the physical abuse. King was hit in the head with a stone.

Protesters' cars were turned over and burned, as was the case with Andrew Young, who was at that time a King aide. Whites climbed trees to call blacks monkeys and niggers and to tell them they would never live next door.

This was Pfleger's introduction to the Civil Rights Movement.

He saw King go undisturbed by the chaos, remaining focused on his goal. King had been hit, but remained unraveled.

It was from this experience that Pfleger decided he wanted to be a priest. He wanted to be about the business of social justice. He committed on that day his life's work to the clergy.

A Man of Action and Advocacy

But Father Pfleger's advocacy has caused constant conflict and irritation with and for the Catholic Church, of which he is a part of, but not of it.

Cardinal Francis George, his superior, has problems with Father. He has been Archbishop for the past 14 years, but retires this year and I think he's determined to take Pfleger with him.

George is a Catholic traditionalist and believes he should be obeyed. Surely the Cardinal finds Pfleger troubling. Pfleger has been at St. Sabina, on Chicago's South Side, for the past 30 years.

It is Catholic tradition to reassign priests every seven years, perhaps after a one-time renewal, so Father is long past his service commitment.

The Cardinal wanted to send Pfleger to St. Leo, a school just blocks away from St. Sabina, that is challenged and which serves African-American youth. But Father refused the position, because he is not an "educator."

He is a priest, a community organizer of the best order. He has stamped out cigarette and liquor ads and stores and gangs in the area.

Cardinal George, last week in a most insulting way, brought in Rev. Andrew Smith to assume "pastoral" duties at St. Sabina while Pfleger is on suspension. Smith is a Black priest, but will never ever fill Father's Pfleger role, and he knows it.

Pfleger has built a church based on activism. He follows Jesus in the name of his challenge and advocacy, and not just ceremony.

Father Pfleger is a change agent. He has demonstrated such with his life's work in the Auburn Gresham community by making it safer, economically viable, with improved housing, and by making his church relevant and involved.

He has extended the church beyond the confines of Catholicism and attracts all. He has expounded and expressed the Black plight and become a national figure with his commentary.
A "Black" role model, Father Pfleger is one of one and more recognized than the Cardinal.

His program in February, where he brings in national figures from all walks of life to lecture, reaches beyond the church and into the larger Chicago community with much acclaim.

Pfleger has been political and usually on the right side of the issue for Black America. He has not cared about being popular, but more about being right. He has challenged and pushed the envelope.

And now in his moment of fire, where are we, as this White man who is not Black has not only stood tall, but sometimes lone?

This priest is not a Black minister, but has accepted "our" clergy tradition as his own and created something special in his priestly protocols. Where are we as a community in support of him?

Good Priest vs. Bad Priests

Cardinal George may be a good right catholic, but he is dead wrong. Pfleger has been critical of the rigidness of the church in not including women in its hierarchy and other ancient, out-of-date practices that have resulted in the Catholics' loss of membership.

The priests are guilty of allowing their pedophilia to get out of control, as it was imposed on children in disgusting ways. Guilty priests who were reassigned and had their negative behavior protected were not severely dealt with and often even ignored.

Sometimes these deviant priests were elevated within the ranks, as opposed to being suspended and permanently dismissed.

Father Pfleger is being punished for his good behavior, while some of the deviant priests were promoted to escape the consequences of their deviancy.

The move is now on Father Michael Pfleger over whether to stay or to leave the Catholic Church.

Personally, I hope he leaves, so that he can start a new church, where a new flock, in addition to the St. Sabina congregation, will gather and where he can have freedom. I would join.

His style is of the kind for the mis-churched and un-churched. Leaving the church would allow full inclusion of his ministry, where we probably would be able to appreciate him more than within the confines and framework of religiosity.

Father Pfleger needs to be free of the Catholic restriction. In a real way, his circumstance is the definition of what is really wrong with the Catholic Church.