Remember the Chicago – and I say Chicago rather than Catholic – priest Fr. Michael Pfleger?
A reader alerted me to this headline and story in the Chicago Tribune:
Cardinal suspends Pfleger: ‘You are not able to pastor a Catholic parish’
Citing what he called threats from the Rev. Michael Pfleger to leave the church, [which is why I said “Chicago priest”] Cardinal Francis George has removed the outspoken priest from St. Sabina parish and has suspended his “sacramental faculties as a priest.” [Not just removed from the parish, but also suspended.]
Pfleger had publicly feuded with the cardinal about possibly being reassigned to Leo High School, telling a radio show recently that he would look outside the Catholic church if offered no other choice. [My understanding is that Pfleger has never been in another parish. He was assigned there as a new priest and has never been anywhere else.]
“If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish,” George wrote in a letter dated today. [Pretty hard to disagree with His Eminence. And if Cardinals are weak friends, they can be powerful enemies.]
“A Catholic priest’s inner life is governed by his promises, [Remember, diocesan priests make promises, not vows.] motivated by faith and love, to live chastely as a celibate man and to obey his bishop,” the cardinal continued. “Breaking either promise destroys his vocation and wounds the Church.
“Many love and admire you because of your dedication to your people,” the cardinal wrote. “Now, however, I am asking you to take a few weeks to pray over your priestly commitments in order to come to mutual agreement on how you understand personally the obligations that make you a member of the Chicago presbyterate and of the Catholic Church.
“With this letter, your ministry as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish and your sacramental faculties as a priest of the Archdiocese are suspended.” 
The cardinal ended the letter by saying, “This conflict is not between you and me; it’s between you and the Church that ordained you a priest, between you and the faith that introduced you to Christ and gives you the right to preach and pastor in his name. If you now formally leave the Catholic Church and her priesthood, it’s your choice and no one else’s. You are not a victim of anyone or anything other than your own statements.”
Kimberly Lymore, associate minister at St. Sabina Parish, read the following statement early tonight:
“On March 11, 2011, Father Pfleger met with Cardinal George, where he was asked to take over as president of Leo High School.
“On March 19, 2011, Father Pfleger sent a letter to Cardinal George saying he was neither qualified nor experienced being president of a high school, but that he was willing to help Leo High School in any way that he could.
“There has been no response by phone call or letter from the cardinal. Today Father Pfleger was called to a meeting at 4:30 at the Pastoral Center. At that meeting, Father Pfleger was given a letter that he was suspended and Cardinal George did not want to discuss it.
“The leadership of Saint Sabina [? An odd description. What would that mean? Who is running the place if not the pastor? – That was a rhetorical question, of course.] will have an official response tomorrow. We are in shock. [Really? I am shocked that it took so long.] For your information, the press received this letter before Father Pfleger and the church heard about it through press calls.”
Lymore said Pfleger was in the church tonight but he did not appear when the statement was read.
During the flap over his possible assignment to Leo, Pfleger appeared on the “Smiley & West” public radio program that he had been banned from speaking at events in the archdiocese and blamed pressure from conservative Catholics and the National Rifle Association [NRA? LOL!] for his most recent clash with George.
“I want to try to stay in the Catholic Church,” Pfleger said. [HEY, MICHAEL! It’s all up to YOU.] “If they say ‘You either take this principalship of (Leo High) or pastorship there or leave,’ then I’ll have to look outside the church. [No. That is not, in fact, the case.] I believe my calling is to be a pastor. [Pastor is both a technical term and a generic term. The Cardinal decides whether you will be a pastor of a parish.] I believe my calling is to be a voice for justice. I believe my calling is to preach the Gospel. In or out of the church, I’m going to continue to do that.” [Don’t let that door hit you….]
In a later interview with the Tribune, Pfleger clarified that he feels called to preach and push for social justice in a Catholic context. He said he loves the Catholic Church and prefers to stay there, but he would not go to Leo full time.
“I’ve always said I could not do something that I don’t feel called or equipped to do,” he told the Tribune. “A full-time position at Leo is not something I’m equipped to do. I think Leo has made it clear they don’t see any need for me to come there. For both sides, it would be a lose-lose.” [It’s a foregone conclusion.]
On the radio, Pfleger said conservative Catholics [Ooooooo!] want to return St. Sabina, a mostly African-American parish, to the way it was before he got there nearly three decades ago and silence what they believe to be progressive messages from the pulpit. [Remember the videos of this guy? Click HERE.]
For a couple of years, he said he has been the target of petitions and letter-writing campaigns by the NRA. Letters are often copied to the cardinal, Pfleger said.
“The NRA … says I’ve been much too vocal about assault weapons and much too vocal about guns being registered and being accountable to gun owners,” Pfleger said on the radio. “So all that combined and I guess the cardinal didn’t have anything to do one morning and decided he wanted to get rid of me again.”
But in his letter, the cardinal said he had no ulterior motives in wanting Pfleger at Leo.
“As you know, this was an honest offer, not driven by pressure from any group but by a pastoral need in the Archdiocese,” George wrote. “You promised to consider what was a proposal, not a demand, even as I urged you to accept it.”
The cardinal says his private conversation with Pfleger “was misrepresented publicly as an attempt to ‘remove’ you from Saint Sabina’s. You know that priests in the Archdiocese are ‘removed’ only because they have been found to have sexually abused a minor child or are guilty of financial malfeasance.
“In all other cases, priests are reassigned, moving from one pastoral office to another according to the policies in place for the last forty years,” George wrote. “That process has now been short-circuited by your remarks on national radio and in local newspapers that you will leave the Catholic Church if you are told to accept an assignment other than as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish.”
Si tacuisses, parochus mansisses.
Sad business. I never like seeing a priest in such a conflict wind up suspended. But it sounds as if he stepped wayyyyy over the line in this case, by going to the press and saying he would leave the Church if he didn’t get his way.