Monday, June 09, 2008

St. Sabina and St. Adalbert - IV

(Parts I, II and III of this series are linked)
I had planned to talk about what Fr. Tim could teach the errant pastor St. Sabina in tonight's post, but events in Chicago have blown that idea away. According to the website at St. Sabina, Fr. Michael Pfleger will return as pastor of the parish a week from today. The only restriction that he faces is this:

Cardinal Francis George informed us that on Monday, June 16th, Fr. Pfleger can return to his duties at St. Sabina without any restrictions except the one that was put on him recently about not publicly mentioning any of the candidates’ names and not campaigning for any candidates.

I'm disappointed in this decision, but not for the reasons that many others might be. As hateful as Fr. Pfleger's performance was at the pulpit at Trinity United, his political views aren't especially out of the mainstream of many American priests. It does no good to pretend otherwise. And let's be honest about one other thing - whether Fr. Pfleger must pretend to treat Barack Obama's name as they treat the name of Voldemort in the Harry Potter novels, Fr. Pfleger will still be in a position to assist the Obama campaign. And he will. And Cardinal George won't stop it from happening.

The problem isn't political, though. The problem is spiritual. The hateful comments that Fr. Pfleger offered were symptomatic of what has become of the bold young priest that I saw on my television nearly 20 years ago. This is a man who has lost his way. And when a priest with great charisma loses his way, he can take a lot of people with him.

For a very long time now, Fr. Pfleger has been pursuing his own agenda. He has openly defied Church rules by adopting children. He brought Al Sharpton into St. Sabina's in 2003, while Sharpton was a presidential candidate, which put his church and the entire Chicago archdiocese at risk of losing its tax-exempt status. And Fr. Pfleger said the following about a gun dealer in 2007:

"He's the owner of Chuck's. John Riggio. R-i-g-g-i-o. We're going to find you and snuff you out… you know you're going to hide like a rat. You're going to hide but like a rat we're going to catch you and pull you out."

Those are not the words of a man of God. These are not the words that an apostle of Jesus should speak.

The overarching problem is this: Fr. Pfleger has been in the same place for 25 years. For too long, he has had a sinecure, not a parish. The experiences he has had at St. Sabina have become all that he really understands. He viewed Mrs. Clinton through the prism of his own experiences. This is normal, but his view was distorted, as his remarks proved. He didn't need a time-out; what he needed was a new assignment. And the parishioners of St. Sabina, whether they recognize it or not, desperately need a new pastor.

While parishioners like to have the same pastor, there is a lot of wisdom in moving priests around to different assignments within a diocese. A priest needs to see more of the world than the view from the window of the rectory. Before Fr. Tim Kernan arrived at St. Adalbert, he had served at St. Peter Claver, a parish with very similar demographics to St. Sabina. That experience, coupled with an earlier stint at a suburban parish, gave him a wider perspective and was why he was able to make a difference at St. Adalbert.

The pastor at my current parish, St. John the Baptist, is Fr. Michael Skluzacek. Fr. Skluzacek came to our parish after serving for a number of years at the Cathedral of St. Paul. He has been here for two years now and it's taken time for him to adjust to our parish. The previous pastor at St. John's, Fr. Bill Murtaugh, was much beloved by many at St. John's. Fr. Bill was a garrulous priest who would at times give a homily that should have had a two-drink minimum. He is a gladhander and a bit of a good time Charlie, which caused him difficulties at times. Fr. Bill made things fun, but I always felt that our parish had become a little self-satisfied under his leadership. Fr. Bill has now moved on to an associate role at another suburban megaparish and is on the glide path to retirement. By contrast, Fr. Skluzacek couldn't gladhand if he tried. He is learned, gentle but reserved and is certainly more "by the book" when it comes to doctrine. Fr. Skluzacek may never be beloved, but he is respected and he has gently steered the parish back to a more traditional approach toward matters of faith. As a parish, we have learned from Fr. Skluzacek. And Fr. Skluzacek has learned from us. To my mind, that is part of God's plan.

Because Fr. Pfleger's behavior has been so outrageous, he has generated a lot of anger. A lot of people wanted Fr. Pfleger to be defrocked. Some have even called for him to be excommunicated. Not me. For all his narrowness, for all his outrages, he remains a talented man who could bring people closer to God. While I fear that his imminent return to St. Sabina will foreclose that possibility, I remain convinced that God has a plan for Fr. Michael Pfleger. And I will continue to pray for him.

Next: the previously promised lessons that Fr. Tim could offer to Fr. Pfleger


Leo Pusateri said...

I am a former practicing Catholic.

Between the pedophilia scandals and the Jesuits, along with the near liberation-theology adopted by many of the bishops, despite the fact that I believe in Catholic doctrine, I can no longer support the men who are leading the Church.

I myself was approached sexually by two priests, on two different occasions; each time I had placed trust in them in counseling roles, and/or the role of a friend.

When I finally reported the incidents, I was told by an assistant to the bishop that I should go to confession. Heh.

What really broke the camel's back for me, was when my son was in Iraq, I asked the priest to ask the congregation to pray for the success of their mission. He refused, saying only that he'd pray that they would be brought home safely and quickly.

I don't know... too many leftists in the ranks now. Fr. Pfleger was just another one, and is emblematic of what is wrong with the Church today, IMO.

Right Hook said...

Cardinal George is doing a disservice to the people of Pfleger's congregation by not stepping up to the plate and doing what needs to be done. Such inaction enables situations like the ones related by Leo to occur.

As far as Saint John's goes I really miss Father Jim Grogran as he really connected with my kids when they were younger. He wouldn't win any awards for prose from the religious academia, but he was very effective at expressing rather deep concepts in a kind of blue-collar way that the kids readily understood and could apply to everyday living.

Unfortunately for us God called him back to the home office at a relatively young age. Rest in Peace, Father Jim.

Mark Heuring said...


I'm sorry to hear about your experiences. Unfortunately, that happened too often. I guess I was fortunate - I always had supportive priests growing up.

The story about your prayer request getting turned down is horrible. That's a priest who needs to get his mind right.

Gino said...

lets not forget that abortion and life are issues that cannot be ignored by any catholic.

just how does supporting obama advance these values?
he has the the most extreme anti-life record possible.

Anonymous said...

I've read your posts about Pfleger and Fr. Tim, and I couldn't agree with you more. He is a talented and flawed man who lost his way at some point. This will probably come as no surprise to you, but I know Pfleger fairly well and have done volunteer work at his parish. He is a good and well meaning man who, like Father Tim, would give someone in need his last penny, but he is also a deeply flawed narcissist. He has done both a great deal of good and a great deal of harm in his lifetime. While he has certainly followed St. James' credo that Faith without works is dead, it is difficult to discern just who Pfleger is working for much of the time. It certainly doesn't seem to be the Arcdiocese of Chicago or the Cardinal, but at the same time, Pfleger has probably brought more new Catholics into the fold than any other priest in the Diocese.

He runs one of the South Side's most active Food Depositories, preaches self-reliance and self-help to his Parishioners, runs a great prison outreach, has made his Church one of the bright spots in alcohol and drug addiction prevention and recovery, and has turned St. Sabinas into what is almost certainly the strongest Catholic faith community in Chicago's inner city. But his narcissism seems to know no ends.
I was very disappointed to read that Cardinal George abdicated his duty to rein Pfleger in yesterday, but I can't say I was surprised. It was probably the 3rd or 4th time this has happened.
I look forward to your conclusion and insights, and if you don't mind, I might send a link to your blog to Cardinal George.


Anonymous said...

That is a great question, and one I will try to answer. But I also ask you to look up an article in Slate by Douglas Kmiec who recently endorsed Obama. Kmiec who is the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel under Presidents Reagan and Bush, Dean of Catholic University Law School, on the short-list of any Conservative for a Supreme Court nomination (until recently) and one of the foremost pro-life legal advocates in the U.s. for the last 3 decades. He does this topic much more justice than I can, but I'll try.

For many people, opposition to abortion is a categorical moral imperative. I agree with that stand at a personal level. But when you place abortion in the realm of electoral politics, for me, it then becomes a difficult and complex issue. Put banning abortion on the ballot and I will vote to ban it every time, but I don't see it as a make or break issue in electoral politics.
I base this on two recent announcements from the Church: A Declaration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last year, and a Papal speech in 2006.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops stated last year in "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" that as Catholics we are not single-issue voters. A candidate’s position on a single issue is not sufficient to guarantee a voter’s support. Yet a candidate’s position on a single issue that involves an intrinsic evil, such as support for legal abortion or the promotion of racism, may legitimately lead a voter to disqualify a candidate from receiving support."
And in a speech Pope Benedict gave to European lawmakers in 2006, Benedict issued the following instructions for the Catholic conscience:
“As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today: the protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family — as a union between one man and one woman based on marriage . . . ; and the protection of the rights of parents to educate their children.”

As a Catholic, how am I to interpret what these means on a larger level? I'll first point out that making abortion illegal doesn't equate with ending abortion, and may not even decrease it, but it would certainly drive it back underground. So if I am really interested in stopping abortions, working to make it illegal probably isn't the the way to do it, and would almost certainly lead to even more horrors. Working to teach children properly about sex and correct the situations of hopelessness which lead to the majority of abortions seems a more sensible approach, and one that takes into consideration the life of the child and the life of the mother, as the Pope admionishes us to do. Maybe some think that the scared mother is getting what she deserve when an illegal abortion goes bad, but people, especially young people, make mistakes. Having gone through the terror of knocking up my girlfriend at the age of 18, I have a pretty good idea about the terror and bewilderment that one goes through, which I am sure is even more acute for the girl. A young pregnant girl in this position is terrified and needs hope, help and empathy. I would rather see us focusing on providing those things to a nascent mother, and include those terrified women in the "life in all its stages" category.

Secondly, I accept the Churches position on torture as "intrinsically evil." Pope Benedict has been very clear about this issue, reminding Catholics in 2006 that "the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances.'" Redefining the legal meaning of torture doesn't change what it is morally. As long as the GOP wants to make that part of their platform, I can't abide that.

Lastly, I oppose Capital punishment. While I realize that the Catholic magisterium has never advocated unqualified abolition of the death penalty, in 1995 John Paul II proclaimed in Evangelium Vitae that "direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral." In a country where 129 people have been freed from death row since 1973, no one can tell me that the proper standards to justify capital punishment exist.

How do these things tie together? Here is what my conscience tells me: I don't want abortions to occur and my commitment to my faith is to advocate to make life better for women who might get abortions, especially out of fear, which I am certain is the majority. Obviously, some women will still choose to abort, but criminalizing abortion won't change that. But helping them to better accept a child seems the best I can do in the interests of protecting life in all its stages. So I cannot prevent abortion, but I can take actions to support a mother and put her in a better position to keep a child, and on social welfare issues, I think Democratic policies are more amenable to that position.
And just as I wouldn't support a woman getting an abortion in order to protect my lifestyle, I also can't justify torture, even for the most ruthless terrorists. Evem if it allegedly keeps us safe, which is a highly dubious notion. I believe it is my moral obligation to oppose letting any President commit and/or order others to commit intrinsically evil acts on my behalf.
And the same principals apply to capital punishment. So if I am supposed to accept the Catholic teachings and principles advocating what Cardinal Bernardin called the "Consistent Ethic of Life", I think I am on better ground supporting Democratic positions and politicians than Republican ones.


Gino said...

rich: that is a well put up answer.
but realize that every point you made is highly debatable by honest thinking catholics of good conscience.

i can do that here, but wont. unless mark wants to start something. its his house, afterall.

i think about who are the most theologically versed, and 'living the life' catholics involved in political discourse.
overwhelmingly, they fall with the right, as far from obama as it gets.

Anonymous said...

I realize that my position on abortion is debatable, and that for many, it is all that matters. But I would honestly think that most Catholics of conscience would agree with me on opposition to torture and capital punishment.


Anonymous said...

The Catholic Church has consistently preached the doctrine of the scantity of life, and that includes murder, capital punishment and abortion. I've always found it quite amazing of the inconsistencies with many people regarding this subject. Many people support abortion right, but are against the death penalty. Others are against abortion rights, but support the death penalty whole heartedly.

It's really funny because abortion rights advocates tend to vote Democrat, while people who wish to make abortion tend to vote Republican. At the same time, many people who are against the death penalty vote Democrat, while many people who support state sponsored killing vote Republican.

I guess my question is: What's a life loving Catholic practicing Christian supposed to do? I firmly believe that the sanctity of human life trumps many other issues, but which is more important, the beginning of life, or the imposed ending of it?

Mark Heuring said...

Thanks to all for the comments. My view is this:

1) Torture is evil. Rich is right. Now the question is how do you define it? I need a better definition than what is provided here.

2) It's a close call, but I personally oppose capital punishment. A lot of the arguments against capital punishment are specious, but my vestigial libertarian instincts inform my view that giving the State the power to kill opens the door to horrible things.

3) Kmiec is wrong. Period. While I understand that banning abortion won't end it, it's more complicated than that. Roe v. Wade was an abomination for constitutional reasons even more than it was a moral evil, and that is saying something. It was an exercise in raw judicial power. And Obama, if elected, will put more judges on the Court that will keep Roe. He has promised as much. Rich, we've talked on this board before about the Kelo decision. If you oppose Kelo, and I know you do, you should oppose Roe.

If Roe goes away, abortion doesn't end; the matter goes back to the states. My guess is that some states will ban abortions, others will not. Once the matter goes away from the judicial realm and back to the political realm, we'll be able to use all the moral arguments against abortion and work on the hearts and minds of people. As everyone on this board likely knows, while abortions continue to happen in this country, they are not viewed especially favorably, especially among younger people. Abortion may not go away in my lifetime, but I would not be surprised if it does in my children's. And I'm guessing that by the time my grandchildren reach middle age, Roe will be seen in the same way that the Dred Scott decision is seen now.

My two cents.

Mark Heuring said...


That's interesting that you know Pfleger. The reason I'm writing about Pfleger is because, for all his problems, I don't think he's beyond the pale. And if he could get away from his current milieu, he might gain a perspective that would make him a better person, a better priest and most of all a better instrument of peace, as St. Francis would have it. But that's the next post....


Gino said...

"I firmly believe that the sanctity of human life trumps many other issues, but which is more important, the beginning of life, or the imposed ending of it?"

you just answered the question.
as a catholic, conception marks the beginning of life.
abortion is a forced end to that life.

Gino said...

I'll first point out that making abortion illegal doesn't equate with ending abortion, and may not even decrease it,

the same can be said of rape,theft, pedophilia, but we dont let that stop us, do we?
when you agree, even in part, to allow abortion as an evil, you are making a judgement that this evil can be tolerated. i disagree.
and i think evangelium vitae even stated the requirement of catholics to oppose abortion always.

(i will vote against rape and pedophilia every time, but i also want to make sure that first i create an atmosphere and culture where perverts can get their sex jollies without having to resort to these things.
it sounds kinda stupid, dont it?)

"the prohibition against torture 'cannot be contravened under any circumstances.'" Redefining the legal meaning of torture doesn't change what it is morally.
then what is torture?
to me, torture is inflicting severe pain and injury for its own sake. and the USA/gop is not endorsing this.
put pouring water over a guy's face to find out where the bomb is has proved successful, and such, when done with a particular goal such as this, is life affirming.

imposing fear and discomfort is not torture to me.
not everybody responds to kind words, a nice dinner, and a foot massage like the liberals would want us to believe. bad people try to do bad things, and its up to the good guys to try to stop them.

so let me get this correct: you oppose bush because he wants to pour water on a terrorist's face.
but you support obama, and seem Ok with the idea that he has already voted to kill live-born children for convenience.

at least i think i got a clear idea of your thinking.

or, maybe its that you want to vote democrat no matter what, and are trying to make the church's teachings fit your political bias?

Mark Heuring said...


I'll let Rich respond to the particulars, but I will say this: Rich isn't a "foot massage" liberal by any means. Trust me on that. He's an exceptionally tough-minded fellow. And I mean that as high praise.

By the way, I'm not sure what a "foot massage" liberal is, but it does sound a bit like a strawman, no?

Rich, the floor is yours, good sir.

Gino said...

now mark, read again.
i didnt refer to foot massage liberals.

i dont know rich. i'm just responding to his points.

an aside:
CA,back in 94, the sister of former gov jerry brown ran for governor herself. she was anti-death penalty, and for abortion at any time with taxpayer funding. she believed nobody should have to pay for abortion as it was a fundemental right.

when called upon to defend her death penalty opposition, she cited her deep conviction for the value of human life as taught by her catholic faith as the main reasoning. ROTFLMAO!!!

Gino said...

i just read the Kmiec article. he pulls such a slick slight of hand with his facts its totally unbecoming. i saw right through it in the first paragraph, and it just kept getting worse.

he's a shill for obama.
not some well-thought articulator of political values.

it will work to convince the foolish, but not the informed