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