It already is starting on the Internet. Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese blinked.
He caved in. He surrendered to the priest they were hoping to dump – the Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Parish in the Gresham neighborhood.
THE CARDINAL ON Friday said he was reinstating Pfleger as pastor of the parish that Pfleger has led for three decades, and has made it clear he doesn’t want to leave. Pfleger will be back behind the pulpit and delivering a sermon come Sunday services, and I’m sure his gregarious personality will run amok on that day.
Such stability at a Catholic parish officially is regarded as a bad thing. The church likes to have its priests move about from church to church throughout their pastoral careers, believing they can effectively influence many more people through the church if they don’t become too attached to any one parish.
A priest lasting more than a decade at any one church is a rarity. For Pfleger to have remained in the same parish since the early 1980s is a miracle nearly as significant as the good works done by former Pope John Paul II that may make him an official Catholic saint someday.
What has enabled Pfleger to remain at St. Sabiina is that he is that rare breed of white person who is not uncomfortable among black people. And St. Sabina is a parish in a neighborhood that most definitely has changed to a heavy African-American character.
THE PEOPLE WHO are most offended by Pfleger’s conduct throughout the years are those who have their own racial hang-ups to work through, and who wish that the Catholic church could somehow reinforce those hang-ups.
The reason that St. Sabina is a thriving parish on the South Side is because it has adapted in character to its neighborhood. Critics would say it has been tainted. I would say it has adapted to its parishioners – which is what a church ought to do.
What good is a church if the people who live in its parish don’t find it relevant?
That is why I am pleased to learn that Pfleger will continue to have a role at St. Sabina. I know full-well that if Cardinal George’s suspension of the priest had evolved into a permanent removal, it would have been taken as a sign by the people with the hang-ups that the Catholic church was taking up their cause.
THAT WOULD NOT have been a good thing – even though I fully appreciate from my contact with Pfleger as a reporter-type person throughout the years that the man does have an ego. He’s not a bashful type.
His personality can be overbearing.
Yet that would not justify his removal – particularly since I don’t think the Catholic archdiocese would be able to find a replacement who could continue to keep that parish intact.
In short, there are lessons that the Catholic church could learn from people like Pfleger when it comes to appealing to the masses and remaining relevant as we work our way deeper into the 21st Century.