Fr. Michael Pfleger has just burst on to the national scene in an unseemingly way, but he’s been making unseemly waves in Chicago for years.
During Pfleger’s 2002 stand-off against Cardinal George, for instance, here was a cartoon the Chicago Sun-Times printed about Fr. Showboat:
pfleger cartoon.jpg
Catholics interested in reading about the colorful 2002 stare-down between Cardinal George and Pflegers, when the Archbishop blinked first, can read some news articles I’ve reprinted in full on page 2.
[HT: Ann Scheidler of Pro-Life Action League]


St. Sabina losing its leader
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times
Date: February 12, 2002
Author: Cathleen Falsani

After 27 years as a Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, one of Chicago’s most controversial religious figures, may be out as pastor of St. Sabina Church on the South Side.
Pfleger said Monday that Cardinal Francis George met with him last month and told him he would not be kept on as pastor of St. Sabina, where he has been sole pastor for 20 years.
“I was told that my term as pastor is not being renewed and was asked to think about options for myself and for St. Sabina,” Pfleger said, adding that he would reject another church post. “I really do not feel that I wanted, nor that I was called, to do another form of ministry. Nor do I feel called to go to another African-American church.
“There’s a sense of a lack of commitment of the Catholic Church to the African-American community,” said Pfleger, who is white. “I feel there’s not the support there from the diocese to start over.”
If forced to leave St. Sabina, the 52-year-old priest said he might leave the Catholic Church altogether.
“My desire is to remain a priest. My desire is to pastor at St. Sabina,” he said. “If this was not an option for me, I would have to look for other employment opportunities. I might have to look outside the Catholic Church.”
A spokesman for the cardinal said Monday that George “is in conversations with Father Pfleger about his future.” But spokesman Jim Dwyer added, “No decision has been made about his future and may not be made for quite some time.”
Gary London, president of the St. Sabina parish council, said if Pfleger leaves, many parishioners will follow. A self-described “cradle Catholic,” London said if his pastor leaves the Catholic Church, “I would be right there with him. I wouldn’t have to think twice about it.”
Archdiocesan policy normally limits pastors to two six-year terms at the same church, though assignments can be extended by the cardinal. Pfleger reached the end of his third six-year term in November, Dwyer said.
Although priestly assignments are largely a private matter, word of Pfleger’s possible reassignment had been spreading among religious leaders in Chicago and across the nation.
Pfleger long has been a thorn in the side of some church leaders, who consider his stands on social and religious issues to be grandstanding. He has clashed with all three cardinals under whom he has served. Pfleger has been arrested for acts of civil disobedience about 40 times, raising the ire of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who still kept Pfleger on at the end of each of his first two terms.
Last summer, Pfleger was at the center of a months-long controversy when he accused the Southside Catholic Conference intramural athletic league of racism after the largely white league voted against admitting all-black St. Sabina. “I was told by archdiocesan officials that we embarrassed the archdiocese,” Pfleger said.
In January 2001, George said despite Pfleger’s unorthodox style he was “a good priest, a priest in good standing. . . . I trust him. I trust that he’s close to his people and close to the Lord.” Asked about Pfleger’s long tenure at St. Sabina, the cardinal said, “That’s a unique place, and he’s a unique priest.”
Terry Peterson, Chicago Housing Authority chief and a close friend of Pfleger’s, said removing the priest “would just send a bad signal to the community. Here you have a person who has given his life to the ministry, to his community and his church. And here you have someone who’s not willing to make a decision to give him six more years.”
The Rev. Michael Pfleger, sole pastor of St. Sabina for 20 years, says he doesn’t “feel called to go to another African-American church” because of what he calls the Catholic Church’s lack of commitment to the black community. See related stories pages 1, 7.
Copyright 2002 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

Cardinal lets Pfleger stay at St. Sabina, for now
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times
Date: February 13, 2002
Author: Cathleen Falsani

Cardinal Francis George agreed Tuesday to extend the Rev. Michael Pfleger’s term as pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church.
“He is willing to extend my past term and, over the next few years, look into a new pastor for St. Sabina and other options for me in ministry,” Pfleger told several hundred of his parishioners gathered for a Bible study at the South Side church Tuesday night.
Pfleger, who said the cardinal had asked him to announce the extension, met earlier in the day with George and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry at the cardinal’s Gold Coast residence.
“I’m just happy to still be pastor of St. Sabina,” Pfleger said. “I appreciate him extending my term.”
The cardinal’s offer came after a Chicago Sun-Times report Tuesday in which Pfleger said George told him last month he would not be kept on as pastor of the church where he has served nearly all of his 27 years as a priest.
Some parishioners yelled “No!” and booed when Pfleger said the cardinal still intends to find a new pastor for St. Sabina. Pfleger shushed them and said, “None of that.”
“I want to make it clear that I understand the policies of the archdiocese and that I respect them,” Pfleger said. “But I also believe there are unique situations, and unique parishes should be examined individually, and I’ve asked that it be done here.
“I really do believe that I’m called to be here. I believe we have a lot of work left to do.”
Pfleger’s third six-year term as pastor expired in November, and he told the cardinal he wanted to stay at the parish where he has been pastor since 1983. He said he did not want to go to another parish and that, if forced to leave St. Sabina, he might leave the priesthood.
The usual assignment for priests in the Chicago archdiocese is two six-year terms as pastor, though that can be extended at a cardinal’s discretion.
The mood among St. Sabina parishioners Tuesday night was upbeat and defiant. Before Pfleger spoke to parishioners, they sang hymns, clapped and prayed in tongues.
“I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who set themselves against me round about,” they sang. “Thou O Lord are the shield for me. The glory and the lifter up of my hands.”
A reporter asked Pfleger who he could envision replacing him as pastor at St. Sabina. Before he could answer, a parishioner shouted, “There is no replacement!”
Earlier in the day, the archdiocese released a statement saying that dialogue between Pfleger and the cardinal about the priest’s future had been interrupted. “Picking up this conversation depends on Father Pfleger’s cooperation,” the statement said.
Pfleger said that on several occasions over the last year the cardinal and other archdiocesan officials had talked to him about his future at St. Sabina. Each time, he said, he made it clear he believed he should remain at the parish in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.
“I want to continue to build a church of leaders,” Pfleger told parishioners and reporters. “We are out to build leaders that can transform the city, the state and the country. I want them to continue to understand that their faith is not just something we do on Sunday.”
Pfleger declined to speculate on why George decided it’s time for him to move on. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, George’s predecessor, had renewed Pfleger’s assignment at St. Sabina twice, giving him a third six-year term. In 1995, when his second six-year stint expired, Pfleger said Bernardin called and told him, “You can stay at St. Sabina as long as you want.”
The Rev. Michael Pfleger said Tuesday he’s happy his term at St. Sabina has been extended. “I believe we have a lot of work left to do,” he said.
Copyright 2002 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

Priest promised to obey, but has long habit of rebellion
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times
Date: February 13, 2002
Author: Cathleen Falsani

He likes to call himself “God’s errand boy,” but the Rev. Michael Pfleger has often clashed with mortal authority.
Pfleger touched off an unusual public standoff with Cardinal Francis George when he said Monday the cardinal told him he would not be kept on at St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church, the South Side parish where he has been pastor since 1983.
Pfleger–whose past adversaries have included the tobacco industry, Jerry Springer, a major brewer and stores that sell drug paraphernalia–said then that if he weren’t allowed to stay at St. Sabina, “I would have to look for other employment opportunities. I might have to look outside the Catholic church.”
Pfleger was much happier Tuesday night, announcing the cardinal had agreed to extend his term as pastor at St. Sabina indefinitely, while a search that could take two to three years is undertaken to find his replacement.
Pfleger, 52, has a history of rebellion dating to his days as a seminarian at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.
He was evicted from the parish rectory after he challenged the way the pastor treated parishioners. In Pfleger’s last year there, the school’s vicar threatened to expel the priest-in-training when he refused to move back to campus from the West Side parish where he had been working.
Also as a seminarian, Pfleger picketed then-Cardinal John Cody’s home on North State Parkway after the cardinal closed several inner-city schools.
Pfleger ran afoul of Cody again in 1981 when he adopted his first son, Lamar.
Cody threatened to fire him if he went through with the adoption. He did it anyway. Cody didn’t fire him.
Later, Pfleger was called on the carpet by then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin after being arrested for defacing billboard ads for alcohol and cigarettes that targeted black neighborhoods–an act Pfleger described as civil disobedience.
As a Roman Catholic priest, just how obligated is Pfleger to obey the wishes of George, his bishop?
When Pfleger was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, he made a promise of chastity and a promise of obedience.
In canonical terms, a promise isn’t precisely the same as a vow, according to the Rev. Patrick Lagges, a canon lawyer and director of canonical services for the Chicago archdiocese. Religious women and men–nuns, brothers and religious order priests–take vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. Diocesan priests, like Pfleger, make public promises during their ordination to obey and to be chaste, Lagges said.
“They basically require the same thing,” Lagges said, “to obey legitimate church authority.”
The biggest difference between a vow and a promise is the steps needed to officially break them.
“A religious order priest who takes vows who wants to be relieved of his vows would have to be dispensed,” Lagges said, referring to the process by which the vow is formally undone.
A diocesan priest need not officially dispense with his promises, Lagges said. But there is a formal process for diocesan priests to be dispensed of their promises if they so choose. It’s commonly called “laicization”–making a religious person a lay person.
Many priests who choose to leave the priesthood don’t bother with the laicization process, Lagges said. “There are some guys that just walk away,” he said. “They’re not too concerned at that point what their official status is with the church.”
Canon law also spells out the process by which a pastor who doesn’t want to be transferred to another parish can petition the bishop to stay. But the bishop has the final word.
If George ultimately did order Pfleger transferred and Pfleger refused to leave, the cardinal could declare the pastor’s position at St. Sabina vacant, said the Rev. Gilberto Cavazos-Gonzalez, a professor of spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Hyde Park.
“Even if he’s still there, it’s as if he doesn’t exist,” Cavazos-Gonzalez said. “But the priest can’t be excommunicated for disobeying the cardinal.”
Copyright 2002 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

Bishop to Pfleger: Just get out
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times
Date: February 22, 2002
Author: Cathleen Falsani

Kimberly Lymore, pastoral associate at St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church on the South Side, says an unexpected visitor stopped by the parish rectory last Friday–Bishop Joseph Perry, the Chicago archdiocese’s vicar for the area that includes St. Sabina.
He came to see the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Lymore said, and, finding Pfleger wasn’t there, left a message for him.
“He says, ‘Get out of the priesthood, start your own church,’ ” Lymore said. “I was kind of shocked that that came out of his mouth. He said that Father Mike had said in the newspapers that he would leave the priesthood and start his own church” if he couldn’t stay on at St. Sabina. “Then, he said, ‘I would do that immediately, so as not to be disruptive to the church.'”
Lymore said she had tried to reach Perry earlier that same day to get a fax number for the Vatican for parishioners who wanted to write to protest Cardinal Francis George’s plans to remove Pfleger from the South Side parish where he has been pastor for 18 years and reassign him.
Pfleger’s third six-year term expired in November. Archdiocesan policy normally limits pastors to two six-year terms at the same church, though assignments can be extended by the cardinal.
George has said he will extend Pfleger’s last term indefinitely while a search is mounted for a new pastor, a process that could take as long as two or three years.
Pfleger, who has been a lightning rod for controversy in the church, said Thursday he was hurt by Perry’s message.
“When a bishop comes and tells somebody who works for you that you should leave and to pass the message along, it’s hard for me to think this isn’t personal,” Pfleger said. “My desire, and I have made it very clear from the beginning, is to remain in the church. To have a message passed on to me that I should leave the church by a bishop of the church, that’s both painful and hurtful.”
Perry did not respond to calls Wednesday and Thursday for comment.
Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for the Chicago archdiocese, said Thursday he would not comment about a conversation between two employees of the archdiocese.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger (left) and Bishop Joseph Perry talk last year at a meeting to discuss the Southside Catholic Conference’s refusal to let St. Sabina into the athletic league. Last week Perry reportedly encouraged Pleger to leave the priesthood.
Copyright 2002 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.

Pfleger to church: ‘I am not quitting’
Publication: Chicago Sun-Times
Date: February 24, 2002
Author: Dave Newbart
Read here.