Jewish Journal

The flogging of Father Michael Pfleger

by Brad A. Greenberg

June 4, 2008 | 3:41 pm

Catholics have turned against Pfleger. Credit: Sun-Times

Things just keep getting worse for Father Michael Pfleger, the Catholic priest who made racially loaded fun of Hillary Clinton in a sermon two Sundays ago at Barack Obama’s (now-former) church

Yesterday, Cardinal Francis George placed Pfleger on leave:

“Fr. Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time,” he continued. “While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the Church’s regulations for all Catholic priests. I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns.”

Pfleger’s reaction pretty much has been to blame everybody but himself. Cathleen Falsani, the Chicago Sun-Times’ phenomenal religion columnist details his reflections in this exclusive:

I’ve been writing about Pfleger for almost as long as I’ve been writing about anything in Chicago. He’s a perennial source for theologically intriguing, often controversial, sometimes plainly outlandish stories on the religion beat. Pfleger, 59 years old and a priest for 33 of those years—nearly all of them served at St. Sabina in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood—has never met a cardinal-archbishop of Chicago he didn’t aggravate. During his tenure, the activist priest has had throwdowns with all three of the “men in the red dresses,” as we call them, who have run the Catholic Church in this town.

Pfleger is always in trouble over something, with someone.

This time, the tone is a little different, as Pfleger’s waves have made a loud, acrimonious splash on the national and international scene. In video clips broadcast on YouTube, he stood in the same pulpit the Rev. Jeremiah Wright vacated not too long ago, mocking Clinton’s tearfulness earlier this spring on the campaign trail and accused her of expecting white entitlement in the face of her black opponent’s wildly successful campaign.

In the wake of the Clinton flap, Cardinal Francis George officially silenced Pfleger, whom he had pressured to resign a month ago from the Catholics for Obama committee.


Then, it was my turn. “So you’ve known, um, the person whose name we can’t mention, for, like, 20 years or so?” I stammered. “Jeez, it’s like he’s Voldemort in Harry Potter, the name we dare not speak.”

It’s a rare occasion when Pfleger and I find ourselves at a loss for words.

Pfleger’s about as cowed as I’ve ever seen him. He’s reeling, really, from what he admits is a difficult predicament of his own making. Over the weekend, he said that the days since his Trinity address had been the most difficult of his life, even more painful than when his foster son Jarvis was gunned down near St. Sabina on May 30, 1998.

I’ve spoken to Pfleger many times about Jarvis’ death and couldn’t believe he said this. It sounded like the worst kind of narcissism, and I told him so.

He told me that, when Jarvis was killed, he was angry with God and didn’t understand why God had allowed it to happen. But he knew Jarvis’ death was not his fault. He hadn’t shot his foster child.

The difference between that pain and this, he said, is that, essentially, he shot himself and his church. “I’ve spent my life trying to, No. 1, serve God, and to build up this faith community. I felt all of that was at risk. I felt that I don’t want to hurt this church; I’ve done everything trying to make this church strong. I don’t want to hurt this church. I don’t want to hurt these people who are at their jobs or workplaces having to defend their pastor. That shouldn’t be what they have to do. I did not want to hurt this church’s reputation.”

The rebel priest has had a rough couple of weeks. Last week, as the furor over his comments at Trinity was building, he underwent surgery for a hernia. His doctor told him to stay in bed for a week. He didn’t. And Pfleger’s 96-year-old father is ailing after a series of strokes.

“He’s all I’ve got. He’s all that’s left of my family, and it’s so painful, ” said Pfleger, choking back tears. He has two adopted sons, but his mother and sister are deceased.

“So I’m dealing with that and the fact that the whole world hates my ass right now.” There’s a new group just started called “Catholics Against Michael Pfleger,” with an online petition to have him removed from the pulpit.

Pfleger has become collateral damage in a battle that’s bigger than he is.

“I understand that,” he says. “People say, well, I thought you were more politically savvy. Well, I would have been if I was speaking at a banquet, or if I were speaking at a press conference. But I didn’t think this was a political time. I was speaking at a pulpit about an issue that is . . . the greatest sin against the Bible, about racism.

“This is a dangerous time in America, the freest country in the world,” Pfleger says, “where you have to whisper your thoughts.”

Falsani followed up today with a story about Pfleger apartment hunting, which is what happens when you get booted from the rectory.

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