Is Father Pfleger the Christ?


( Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / March 20, 2011 ) Father Michael Pfleger gives prayers to his parishioners after the end of mass at St. Sabina Church. With his future at St. Sabina Catholic Church in doubt, a tired-sounding Pfleger stood in front of his parish Sunday and asked for its prayers.

Two things puzzle me about the heated and heartfelt opposition to the removal of Rev. Michael Pfleger as the pastor of St. Sabina's: How can one man get so passionately attached to his job that he thinks his parishioners can't get along without him? And how can the parishioners get so passionately attached to one man that they can't get along with him?

Central to the debate is the eternal question: Is it the faith or the man? Is St. Sabina's congregation so robust because of Father Pfleger or because of their faith? If the latter, will be it as strong without the man? This is not a insignificant question; it goes to the heart of the question of faith.

Some argue that the point of contention between Father Pfleger and Cardinal Francis George is one of obedience. Priests take oaths to obey, and Pfleger clearly is in violation of that oath. By publicly challenging the cardinal, he is damaging the church.

There's no denying the good work that Father Pfleger does; the spirit of hope and unity that he infuses in his congregation and community. Some of his tactics can be questioned, but no one should question his intentions. 

Because of the wonders that he has done at St. Sabina, I don't understand why he wouldn't want to bring his considerable talents to the nearby Leo Catholic High School. In that, he would not be leaving the neighborhood where he is so beloved. Imagine how his enthusiasm and skills could energize a whole, new sphere.

But again, what I find so troubling is that while Father Pfleger brought his congregation to Christ, would they remain with Him after their pastor is gone? If they really are truly faithful, who their pastor is shouldn't matter all that much. They are there to receive the sacraments, not for a show.

Before Christ's passion and death, the apostles feared they could not get along without Him. Turns out that Christ did not truly leave them. But in his physical absence, their faith sustained them, a faith that has been shared by 2,000 years of believers. If the apostles could get along without the inspiring physical presence of Christ, then I suppose the St. Sabina parishioners should be able to get along without Father Pfleger. Unless, of course, he and his congregation think of him as Christ.

Will the parish survive? I hope so. And it will if the parishioners have faith in their faith. 

Filed under: Uncategorized

Tags: opinion, religion


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  • I'm not always supportive of the Catholic hierarchy--and for that matter, I'm not always supportive of Father Pfleger. But I think you make a valid point that too many people have missed in the heat of the moment.

  • Since, I'm not Catholic,

    however it appears to me that based on Cardinal George's letter, either Pfleger is a liar or George is senile. I have made my own determination of credibility here. I suppose that someone will tell me that only St. Peter can judge.

    In any event, my understanding is as George said--a Roman Catholic priest is supposed to listen to the Pope and Bishop, or step aside. I suppose that if one doesn't agree, one can become a Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, or COGIC (and Pfleger has probably become the latter).

    Also, I suppose that Cardinal George was totally out of bounds in appointing two African American priests to assume responsibility for the parish during the suspension. Sure.

  • As a former catholic ( I am now a protestant), catholics are not encouraged to read the Bible (not just the New Testament).
    If they did, they would realize that cbedience and sacrifice of
    one's own will to God is necessary. You are correct to say
    that the church is what's important not the pastor. It's
    apparent to me that many parishioners of St. Sabinas are lost.
    I hope they soon see the LIGHT.

  • In reply to moncerato:

    Really? I'm a life-long Catholic, and in my experience Catholics are ENCOURAGED to read the Bible. I don't know where the "Catholics aren't supposed to read the Bible" canard started. Maybe that's a misunderstanding, because reading the Bible, for Catholics, doesn't mean blindly plowing through it and taking everything literally and out of its historic context.

  • In reply to icefalcon58:

    It's a pre-Vatican II thing, and comes from the fact that before the Reformation and during the Counter-Reformation, the standard was to PREACH the Bible, not READ it. The reason for this was because most people were illiterate.
    In the last 50 years though, that has changed greatly. Ever falling costs of printing has put not only the scriptures, but catechisms and many historical documents into the hands of the faithful.

    The advent of the Internet has made this even easier. And as a Catholic who "fell away" during college and came back ONLY because of personal study of scripture and the Early Church Fathers and Pope John Paul The Great's emphasis on reason- I see less reason to be Protestant every day.

  • In reply to seebert:

    True, most people were illiterate when the Bible was first compiled--meaning they COULDN'T read the Bible. That's different from discouraging a literate population to read it. In fact, when St. Jerome produced the Vulgate, the purpose was to disseminate the scriptures to the general population via the clergy, who were more likely to be literate in Latin--as close to a universal language as was possible at the time.

    But restricting ourselves to the post Vatican II world...if you were an adult prior to Vatican II, you've had 50 years to catch up on your Bible studies, and if you grew up post Vatican II, you were encouraged to have some first-hand knowledge of Scripture. At the very least, there should be some familiarity with the readings at Mass.

    Ted, I know what you're saying, but I hear all the time--from Catholics who are in their 20's and 30's--that they were "discouraged from reading the Bible". When pressed, they almost always admit that the topic bores them and so they don't read it, but they like to imply they were steered away from it. That's unfortunate, because Catholic or not--or whatever religion you are--the Bible is an important cultural cornerstone on so many levels.

  • In reply to icefalcon58:

    The real problem growing up in the 1970s was not too little scripture- I was encouraged to read scripture and study on my own. It was too little Catholicism as the ecumenicism of the spirit of vatican folks did their level best to turn us all into kumbaya singing liberal hippies.

  • In reply to seebert:

    The discussion taking place in the media now has everything to do with "disrespect" and nothing to do with the needs of, or the structure of, the Church. Pfleger has been at St. Sabina's way beyond the maximum number of years allowed. The limits were set precisely to prevent this sort of reaction from happening. This just goes to show that no extensions should have been granted to him--he is just taking advantage of the Archdiocese, which has so far given him a break.

    But then he went PUBLIC with the issue. If my employer called me in for a private conference and asked me to take on a different job--not a demotion--because my skills in that area were important to the company, I could certainly refuse...and resign. It would be considered HIGHLY unprofessional for me to "page" the entire company and air my grievances over the loudspeaker while criticizng my boss. I would get fired.

    Pfleger is not ENTITLED to remain as pastor. His congregation is not ENTITLED to keep him.

    That the congregation at Sabina's doesn't understand this just goes to show that they were loyal to the man, not the faith.

    The Cardinal is right--Pfleger already has left the Church. So have his followers.

  • In reply to icefalcon58:

    What is missed here is that the church does not think that it cannot carry on without Father Pfleger. The church objects to the way the Cardinal removed their priest. Of course their belief is in Christ and not the man, but they feel that the Cardinal is being disrespectful of their congregation by removing him so abruptly without consideration to the ALREADY IN PLACE plan for a replacement.
    So, your entire article is really based on conjecture.

  • In reply to icefalcon58:

    I agree that the parish will be able to survive without Fr Pfleger, but I think you have been hasty in assuming that the uproar is over misplaced faith. The Christian church is set up as a family -- this kinship is modeled throughout the new testament -- and when a part of that family is lost, in this case one they were taught to look to as "father" -- it's hard. People don't want it to happen anymore than you, personally, want to rearrange your family. What you're seeing is less "Fr Pflegel is their Christ and the anchor of their faith" and more "Fr Pflegel has been a shaping influence on the growth of their faith and a father-figure in the church family." They will have no easier time accepting a new priest than you would having a new father. You may have faith in your family's ability to survive even the loss of a patriarch, but you won't like it. That's the loss they're feeling, not one of having a saviour ripped from them.

  • In reply to moncerato:

    BRILLIANT insight, Dennis. You are absolutely right.

  • I'm a long ways from Chicago, and in a parish that lost a priest last year to a love affair and marriage. And I've got to say, like with the Fr. Corapi Scandal that hit EWTN- cults of personality are a real problem for some Catholics- especially the heterodox on the left and the right.

    For an Orthodox Catholic, it doesn't matter who the priest is at Mass. I'm closer to my new pastor than I ever was to my old one, but to me it simply doesn't matter. My faith is bigger than who my pastor is.

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