By Cassandra Norris
Cardinal Francis George may have broken the Golden Rule. To the shock of Rev. Michael Pfleger and to the dismay of St. Sabina parishioners, the Cardinal suspended the priest based upon what Pfleger calls “absolute lies.”
Pfleger has been the eye of a media firestorm for months now- not only have his beliefs created friction with other members of the church, but he’s declined an offer to relocate from St. Sabina’s to Leo Catholic High School. He was offered the position of principal, a role he feels his lack of educational experience would detriment.
“I don’t know anything about running a high school. That’s a disaster in motion. It’s a train wreck,” the pastor said.
The standard term for any one priest at an individual parish is twelve years; Pfleger has been leading his flock for thirty. He’s well-known in the community as a leader and a catalyst for positive change.
“He’s out there in the street. When something’s going on, Father Pfleger’s right here,” said citizen Wayne Smith. “One day, a guy got shot on the corner down there. Father Pfleger ran out there trying to figure out who did it and trying to stop the violence in the community.”
He was suspended from his position on Wednesday, a development he found out about through the media- the letter, written by Cardinal George, was released to news sources before Pfleger had the chance to read it. The Cardinal wouldn’t discuss the matter and was en route to Rome by noon on Thursday.
Around the same time, hundreds of parishioners rallied at the Cardinal’s North Avenue home in protest of the suspension.
“Let him continue to do the good work he is doing in our community,” said Stan Matthews, a resident of the Auburn Gresham neighborhood, where St. Sabina’s is located. “They gave him an ultimatum and it’s kind of putting him in a situation where it’s hard for him but the community is going to be behind him 110 percent.”
Father Pfleger is avoiding the mainstream media because he feels they’ve “disrespected the church.” His plans for the future- immediate and long term- are unclear even to him.
“I want to be a Catholic priest. I want to remain a Catholic priest and a pastor,” he said. “If they put me out, I have no choice. But I do I intend to remain in the African American community.”
The letter from Cardinal George states that in recent years, Pfleger has told him that he does not want to remain pastor of St. Sabina Parish “for the length of [his] priestly ministry in the church.” Pfleger said that statement is a lie. The two agreed upon a succession plan that would take place in about three years from the date of its conception. The pastor takes the revocation of the plan seriously.
“It’s personal. Every priest that I’ve talked to in the last 24 hours has said to me ‘this is personal.’”
He’s even considering legal action based on his confidence that the accusations against him are false.
Pfleger recognizes his position as a “thorn” in the church. His beliefs- like women should be ordained and priests should be able to get married- have put him in the limelight as being “outspoken.” The recent suspension is in response to remarks he made on a National Public Radio show, and it keeps him from “functioning as a pastor.”
Even in light of the disappointment and controversy, Father Pfleger still has faith.
“My faith is in God. Denominations are like shoes- you put them on to go somewhere, but you can still get there without a shoe,” he said.
Parishioners are requesting a meeting with the Cardinal when he returns from Rome, but for the time being, Pfleger is remaining true to his calling.
“If they say leave tomorrow, I’ll get up and leave tomorrow. But right now, I don’t know what the future is. Right now, I want the church to decide what they want.”