Saturday, May 31, 2008

Catholic church should crack down on all priestly politicking, not just Rev. Pfleger

In theory, I was pleased to learn that Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese is cracking down on the Second City’s very own Rev. Michael Pfleger, who has managed to become yet a second “crazy black preacher” (even though he’s white) to be aligned with Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

I honestly believe Pfleger’s recent remarks concerning Obama opponent Hillary R. Clinton and her expectations of support from white people are not worth much attention – in part because Pfleger’s history shows he will use his position as head of the South Side’s St. Sabina church to say just about anything.

HE’S ALSO DOING nothing more than stating the incredibly obvious when he says that racial tensions have tainted the 2008 Democratic presidential campaign.

So George’s statement issued Friday that Pfleger had promised to “not publicly mention any candidate by name and will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests” means there will be one less person spouting inflammatory rhetoric related to the presidential candidates.

That is a plus.

But George, in his statement, also said that priests, “must speak to political issues that are also moral.” Which means there are occasions when he wants his priests to speak out and go on the attack against political people.

BUT THE QUESTION is, “What is moral” and “What is mere politicking?”

Some people might argue that Pfleger was addressing a moral issue – the way in which racial tensions that exist in this country have poisoned the presidential campaigns between Obama and Clinton.

In fact, whenever Pfleger has spoken out throughout the years, it was motivated by incidents where interests of lower-income African-American people are being ignored by the establishment. Considering that he presides over a parish that was once white Irish, but has evolved into majority African-American, one can say Pfleger is just reflecting the views of his parishioners – which is what a priest is supposed to do.

In the latest “incident,” Pfleger, when he made a special address to the congregation last Sunday at the Trinity United Church of Christ (Obama’s church, and the one for which the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was pastor for many years), was talking about what he perceived as Clinton’s racially improper conduct during her campaign.

SPECIFICALLY, HE MOCKED the tears she shed publicly at an event early in the campaign season. Some political observers believe she was putting on an act, but Pfleger went into a diatribe saying that Clinton was legitimately sad that people were taking a black candidate more seriously than they were a white woman such as herself.

“She wasn’t the only one crying,” Pfleger told the congregation. “There was a whole lot of white people crying.”

George called the Clinton comments “partisan” and said they, “amount to a personal attack.” Clinton aides really are crying now, calling the reverend’s comments unfair, and Obama couldn’t issue his statement denouncing Pfleger fast enough.

But is it really any less partisan or personal whenever a Catholic priest somewhere in the United States decides to take it on himself to deny communion to (or even go so far as to call for the excommunication of) a politician (almost always an urban Democrat) who won’t call for the criminalization of a woman’s ability to abort a pregnancy?

THIS HAS HAPPENED many times, most recently earlier this month when Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas denounced that state's governor (and possible choice of Obama for vice president), Kathleen Sebelius, for supporting the "serious moral evil" of abortion.

Some people reading this commentary will now get angry and argue that abortion qualifies as one of those “moral” issues that George, in his statement, said priests must speak to.

But I would respond that the potential of racism in this campaign is also a moral issue. Perhaps the church should be trying to encourage its members to look beyond prejudices in trying to determine who should get their votes come the Nov. 4 elections?

If it won’t do that, then the Catholic church (many of whose priests and nuns used to march in solidarity with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. back in the 1960s) becomes a part of the problem, by which people would prefer to ignore racial tensions and let them simmer – rather than try to resolve them.

I CERTAINLY WOULDN'T object in the least if the next priest who wants to play local politics with a social conservative Republican by demonizing the GOPer’s Democratic opponent were to get a similar order from their archbishop to “keep quiet.”

But I am realistic enough to know that is not going to happen.

That is why too many people view the Catholic church as being willing to allow freedom of expression, provided that people say the “right” thing that agrees with the boss. Say the “wrong” thing, and you get a symbolic whack across the knuckles with a ruler.

It wasn’t always like this. There was once a time when churches in this country viewed electoral politics as something almost sinful. They tried to stay out of the mechanizations of elections because they feared being tainted by the process.

NOW, THEY'RE ALL too eager to take sides.

That bothers me because it is not like either political party has dominance over morals – I have seen enough politicos up close to know there are sleazy people in every political party in existence. And the truly good ones are also scattered about the political spectrum.

With the influence that the church has over its members, I’d hate to think it was being wasted on behalf of certain political people just because they happen to be a part of a Cardinal’s preferred political party.

If that is the case, then the Catholic church goes from being an organization devoted to protecting the spiritual faith of its members to being one of the lowest forms of life in existence – they’re nothing more than lobbyists.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Chicago Archdiocese ( was short and sweet in telling Rev. Michael Pfleger to “shut up” about politics.

Should presidential candidates ( downplay their religious affiliations?

Throughout the years, Father Pfleger has touted causes as profound as trying to reduce ( the amount of violence in African-american neighborhoods to as small as ( trying to get the youth basketball league team his church sponsors to play in a church-run league of predominantly white teams.

The Catholic church defends its actions in the excommunication of wayward souls ( who happen to be in electoral politics.


Anonymous said...

This is a good example of why I think the IRS rule of "address issues, but don't endorse or attack particular parties or candidates by name" is a wise one and not simply a cop-out to avoid losing tax exempt status.
While the Church certainly has a right to address moral issues and say that things like abortion and racism are wrong, the actual decision of whom to vote for ultimately resides with the individual and only God can judge that.
Some conservative or traditionalist Catholics (and I consider myself one, by the way) argue that allowing openly pro-abortion Catholics to receive Communion causes "scandal", implies approval of their actions, and amounts to a desecration of the Eucharist that has to be stopped by public action on the part of the priest.
I am not sure I agree with that, partly because of the reason you cite. If a pastor or bishop wants to privately advise a particular public figure that it isn't appropriate for him/her to be receiving Communion, fine. If the matter can be resolved quietly without making headlines, great.
But if that person insists upon coming up to the altar anyway, I feel any "scandal" that results is entirely the responsibility of the public figure in question and not the person giving out Communion.

Anonymous said...

Excellent commentary. I'm tired of certain people being selectively targeted by members of the clergy.