Friday, April 1, 2011

Is St. Sabina worth Pfleger ego?

In the ongoing dispute in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago about what to do with Rev. Michael Pfleger, I will be the first to admit that the St. Sabina parish in the South Side’s Gresham neighborhood probably would wither away and die if Pfleger were to be removed as pastor.

Yet a part of me wonders if that is a good enough reason to justify keeping Father Pfleger at St. Sabina – where he has served for three decades, significantly longer than the six years (12 maximum) that priests usually serve in an individual parish.

PERHAPS IT JUST is the reality that the particular parish Pfleger kept from withering away many decades ago when the white people left the neighborhood and it became predominantly African-American isn’t meant to last forever.

Because I do believe that if Cardinal Francis George takes the hard-line and insists that Pfleger move on, that the many people who currently attend St. Sabina will follow him to whatever church he becomes a part of.

It almost sounds like a cult of personality for Father Pfleger, which is a scary concept for any religious leader.

But I also have to admit that Pfleger deserves some credit for keeping the St. Sabina parish relevant in its changing neighborhood. Too many of the people who are quick to trash Pfleger are really upset because they think he has been too accommodating to the racial change --  rather than trying to take some hard-line such as many of them did when they moved out of the city into the suburbs (a trend that continues with many white people leaving the inner suburbs of Cook County for the outer suburbs of places like Will County, which had the largest percentage increase of population for the entire state in the latest Census Bureau results).

PERSONALLY, I THINK the clock is ticking for St. Sabina, which is a shame. Because it is a story that should be praised, even though too many want to focus on Pfleger’s alleged gaffes throughout the years (which mostly amount to speaking out against injustices that many people would prefer to ignore because they take place in a neighborhood they no longer care about).

Pfleger is popping up in the news a lot in recent days because of the plot that was conceived by officials in the Archdiocese that would have shifted the priest out of St. Sabina as pastor, but would have kept him in the same neighborhood by putting him in charge of Leo High School.

I’m sure someone thinks that is a wonderful compromise that pleases everybody, even though I see it as a purely political deal that will appease nobody.

The Chicago Sun-Times went so far as to send a reporter-type person to St. Sabina last Sunday, where Pfleger was boastful during his sermon, saying he remains in place at the church – where parishioners have made it clear in letters to the archdiocese that they want him to remain indefinitely.

THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE on Thursday found Cardinal George in west suburban Westchester, where he would only say that no final decision has been made yet concerning Pfleger’s fate.

So where do we go from here?

What I find interesting is the idea that Pfleger is now 61, a fact I find hard to phathom because I have written about his antics on so many issues throughout the years that I will always think of him as a youthful man with vigor and energy.

In short, when he was the youngest full pastor in Chicago. A part of me is shaken up that he could be approaching an age where his retirement altogether could become an issue.

WHICH MEANS ST. Sabina officials ought to be thinking of the day when Pfleger moves on, and who they want to replace him as pastor. I understand there is a priest in place who theoretically is being groomed by Pfleger to someday take over St. Sabina – but that someday is still a few years away.

Whereas George seems to want to give in to those Catholics who want to view Pfleger as an embarrassment and move him along now, and NOT on his own terms.

I fear this situation will turn out badly. Everybody is going to wind up being upset and feeling neglected, regardless of what decision is ultimately made.

Because I’m now wondering if the ultimate legacy of Father Pfleger is going to be that he merely deferred the closing of St. Sabina (a parish that easily could have died in the 1970s due to “white flight”) for a few decades.

HE POSTPONED THE inevitable. I’d hope that doesn’t overshadow his legacy.

I’d rather remember him as the Catholic priest who was willing to take on the tobacco industry for their advertisements in his neighborhood targeting black people or willing to stand up to the street gang influences – even if it means we also have to remember his “brain cramp” moment when he offended Hillary Clinton during her ’08 presidential aspirations.


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