Friday, March 18, 2011

The “Things” that wouldn’t leave!

They seem to be the duo that just won’t leave, and that some people don’t want to depart.
PFLEGER: Entering his fourth decade

I’m referring to Rev. Michael Pfleger of the Gresham neighborhood’s St. Sabina Catholic Church, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald – the federal prosecutor who locally can claim two gubernatorial notches on his professional belt.

BOTH MEN HOLD positions that have a certain protocol behind them that says there is a certain time limit to the job, after which they’re supposed to move on to other professional challenges.

In the case of Pfleger, the Catholic Archdiocese usually assigns priests to a parish for six years, and allows for the occasional extension to 12 years in a single church. For Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney is supposed to serve four years, then move on to another prosecutorial post.

That is, if they don’t decide to run for electoral office, or shift to some other city.

Pfleger has far exceeded his time limit. He has been at the church on 79th Street for three full decades, while Fitzgerald will hit the one-decade mark come October.

WHICH IS WHY it is ironic that speculation popped up this week that both men might finally be moving on to another position.

In the case of Fitzgerald, he supposedly is in line to be the head of the FBI. The man whom many would like to think of as a 21st Century version of Eliot Ness could become the modern-day equivalent of J. Edgar Hoover.
FITZGERALD: He should have been two AGs ago

For Pfleger, he had a sit-down with Cardinal Francis George recently to talk about his professional future. The outcry from various segments of Chicago caused the Archdiocese to feel the need to issue a statement Thursday saying he’s not going anywhere else anytime soon, because his departure would harm the St. Sabina parish.

The sad thing is that such a statement likely is true.

THE PARISH IN a one-time Irish neighborhood that long ago became majority African-American in character likely would have died off years ago had it not been for Pfleger – who throughout his years as a priest has shown a willingness to adapt himself.

He may be one of the few Catholic priests in Chicago who has any real feel or understanding for the African-American population in this city (which may be shrinking, but still accounts for one-third of Chicago).

If anything, St. Sabina is more about the Pfleger personality rather than traditional Catholic teachings, which is a fact that bothers some Catholics who would rather think it is the place of other people to adapt their views to that of the church’s establishment.

Which means that if Pfleger were to move on (the Chicago Tribune reported that church officials considered putting him in charge of Leo High School, before deciding to leave him in place for part of a fourth decade), it probably would turn off the people who regularly attend that parish’s services.

IT ALSO IS likely that Fitzgerald will remain in place for awhile longer.

He supposedly is on the short list to become FBI director. But various reports indicate he’s not necessarily the favorite.

And if he did try to leave for the Washington-based position, there would be people who would be convinced that Chicago was headed down the drain – just as much as there are some people who are convinced that Pfleger is an essential part of his parish and its surrounding neighborhood.

Fitzgerald is the guy who during his time as Chicago’s top federal prosecutor oversaw the staffs that prosecuted George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, along with one-time Chicago Sun-Times executive Conrad Black, several city officials in the Hired Truck Program, and one-time Chicago Police commander Jon Burge – who started serving his prison stint this week.

THAT IS ON top of his D.C.-based work in prosecuting former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby for perjury.

There are those people who are convinced that no other person would have used the U.S. attorney position to prosecute so many people so indiscriminately.

It has gotten to the point where the political establishment that ultimately decides who gets to be the U.S. attorney is afraid to think of moving him elsewhere. Fitzgerald most likely would have to receive such a high-ranking title as “FBI director” in order to justify to his local fans that he wasn’t somehow being screwed over in being removed from the Chicago prosecutorial post.

Which is sad.

PERSONALLY, I HAVE watched Pfleger and Fitzgerald during my two-plus decades as a reporter-type person. Watching Fitzgerald assume the mantel of prosecuting political corruption and expecting government officials to actually uphold the ideals of good government sounds noble, as are many of Pfleger’s most-outspoken moments meant to eliminate the scourges of drugs and alcohol from inner-city neighborhoods in Chicago.

The problem is that keeping one official too long causes us to rely too heavily upon them. Officials start to forget that everyone eventually must move on.

The Archdiocese, in saying this week that Pfleger will remain at St. Sabina, said in part, “we believe that removing him at this time would be devastating to both our parish and the Auburn/Gresham community.”

I can’t help but think that the U.S. attorney’s office will someday have to issue a nearly identical statement that says Fitzgerald will remain in town for awhile longer.


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