A good week for the Church of JPII

Opinion: Ken Trainor

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

Right after he disposed of Mike Pfleger, Cardinal Francis George flew to Rome for last weekend's big John Paul II beatification bash.

Father Pfleger, the longtime (very longtime) pastor of St. Sabina, a poor, mostly black parish on Chicago's South Side, committed a grievous sin: He overstayed his welcome. Then he committed an even more heinous sin: He said "No" to his superiors.

Some people, I'm told, don't like Mike Pfleger. They think he's too full of himself, that he's a publicity hound, that he believes the rules don't apply to him, and he isn't obedient enough. That last one really rankles conservative Catholics, who, by the way, had a very good week: JPII beatified, Mike Pfleger de-beatified.

I don't know Pfleger, so I can't vouch for or against his style. But the people of St. Sabina seem to like him a lot and he has a reputation for being a dedicated advocate for the poor. Is he a saint? Probably not. Is he simply a power-hungry, grandstanding opportunist? I doubt it.

Is he a man of the people? Certainly. Is Cardinal George a man of the institution? Absolutely.

The beatification of John Paul II highlights the fact that the Catholic Church is, in actuality, two churches (at least): a John XXIII Church and a John Paul II Church. One is pastoral, the other hierarchical — horizontal vs. vertical. It was the hierarchical Church of John Paul II, concerned primarily with protecting the institution and defending its moral authority against perceived threats, that perpetrated the widespread cover-up of the sex abuse scandal, which, ironically, undermined that very authority.

Fast-tracking John Paul II to sainthood at the very least looks like a desperate attempt to shore up that highly centralized, top-down, bunker-mentality Church. As Sunday's ceremony demonstrated, this view of Church has many devoted followers.

The John XXIII Church, on the other hand, is concerned first and foremost with living the gospel and bringing it alive in the modern world. According to the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes: "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and the hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of human beings. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the kingdom of their Father, and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for everyone. That is why this community realizes it is truly and intimately linked with mankind and its history." In other words, Church defined as "the people of God."

All the people of God.

Sounds like a pretty good summary of the ministry of Rev. Mike Pfleger. It does not, unfortunately, capture the tenure of Cardinal Francis George. I hear he's a good man. He is certainly a very intelligent man. I'm not questioning his authority in any way. Just his priorities.

I found his public defense of the American bishops' opposition to health care reform to be almost as intellectually dishonest as his public defense of the Vatican's investigation of women's religious orders. Now this. He has shown that he's all too willing to use his intellect and eloquence to support the institutional church — to put authority first, people second.

In this case, he wanted Pfleger out of St. Sabina, so he asked him to take over St. Leo High School, a failing inner-city institution that the archdiocese would probably like to close. He backed Pfleger into a corner, then waited for him to say or do something he could pounce on. He got what he wanted. Pfleger said no.

Never mind that St. Sabina would probably have closed long ago if not for Mike Pfleger. The archdiocese's commitment to inner-city parishes is tepid at best. Too expensive, not enough return. That's why St. Catherine of Siena in Oak Park is now St. Catherine-St. Lucy, the latter being a church in Austin that wasn't cost-effective.

In the case of St. Sabina, Cardinal George is enforcing a rule that pastors shouldn't stay too long in one place. In theory, that's healthy. But Mike Pfleger is the exception that proves the rule. If they were really concerned about the best interests of the people of St. Sabina, the archdiocese wouldn't be planning to replace Pfleger with an inexperienced priest imported from Africa.

The Cardinal made a choice: Obedience to authority is more important than serving the poor. He chose the institution over the people of God. That's not only wrong, it's profoundly wrong. The good of obeying authority should never outweigh the good of living out the gospel. If we want to get rigid about rules, let's make that the rule.

If you asked the people of St. Sabina whether they prefer the institutional Church or the pastoral Church, I'm pretty sure which one they'd choose.

I know which one Jesus would choose.

Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

52 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy


Posted: May 6th, 2011 10:12 AM

My fellow Catholic Christians. I have seen this before, the enemy comes to divide, and Jesus comes to unite. You can claim Christ but will Christ claim you? By your fruits you will be known, make every Mass, say every rosary, pray every novena and hate others then go to hell. This is the greatest commandment that you love one another. Show some love then go to Mass, pray the rosary, say a novena and go to Heaven. Jesus is the way!


Posted: May 6th, 2011 3:22 AM

Yes, guess we are done, & soon Pfleger will be also!BTW,"white folk", isn't hate speech. For that you'd have to listen to Rev. Wright.OP, Thanks for answering NONE of my questions.The only way you have supported your position on here, is to insult anybody who doesn't agree that Pfleger shouldn't be moved from S.S's.Soon he'll be packing up his big SUV, & his (taxpayed for) body guards will escort him out of there.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 6th, 2011 1:26 AM

Hey, Second Coming! Hurry outside. There's a fresh bucket of slop in your pen.

The Second Coming from Heaven  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 8:41 PM

Barbara, shame on you! You have sinned! You do not say ANYTHING negative about God's second son Barack Obama!!! He can do NO wrong! Everything he chooses to do is the right thing. Even though HE gave authority to kill a man this week, and people celebrated in the streets. Even though he said he would close Gitmo, and it's still open. Even though he's got us into a 3rd war. Even though we're still in Iraq and Afghan and said he'd get us out. Oh wait, this was supposed to be about a priest.

Patricia O'Shea  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 8:38 PM

Well said OP Res.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 7:39 PM

Barbara, you sound like Glenn Beck. The comment "you don't like white folk" is right out of his playbook. How sad that you felt the only way to support your position was to resort to hate speech. Shameful. We're done talking.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 6:37 PM

Why is Pfleger unwilling to share his talents with other inner city parishes? If he has done such a wonderful job with St. Sabina's after 20 years why does everyone act as if the parish will crumble without him?


Posted: May 5th, 2011 5:49 PM

Checking the website for St. Pat's of Chicago ~ looks like a regular listing. It's nothing like S.S.'s. website. Sacrements are mentioned & the pastor writes well. Seems like a nice church. Maybe there will be an increase in attendance once S.S. is closed/ or has a new pastor.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 5:20 PM

Barbara-Flagler Beach- The Cath. Churches of the 2011 reflect the culture of their communities. They no longer have a cookie-cutter approach of the pre-Vatican II days. Their appearance, clergy, bulletins, social activities, outreach, etc. vary. I attend Old St Pats in Chi. It is not called a parish. It is called a Metro Community. Whatever it is called, it is a great place to be. In my mind, OSP is more like St Sabina's than OP's four Cath church. Catholics now have choices. That's good.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:57 PM

"You wouldn't question whether any Catholics live here."That's not what I asked, I asked if there were any practicing Catholics. Big difference! Are there any Catholic churches in OP? Why travel over to S.S's.?


Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:52 PM

Now we are really getting off the subject. But, who pays for Pfleger's police body guard?(tax payers) Why does he drive a big SUV? Have you ever seen Jesse Jackson's mansion(s) or Rev. Wright's huge estate? Don't talk about how the Catholic higher ups live in luxury, when the successful Protestant ministers do also.Me thinks you don't like any white folk except Fr. Flaky, ooops, I mean Pfleger.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:41 PM

"My understanding of why, in ordinary circumstances, a priest cannot adopt a child is because the celibate priest possesses no one person or thing. I recognize that there are married priests (former Protestant ministers who have become Catholic) with children; they present a different situation."These are the words from Ask Fr. Andreww's site.Check it out!Who gave Pfleger permission, does anyone know?

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:36 PM

Your brother's experience is an excellent example of what is wrong with the Vatican. Why is the Pope living in luxury when there are poor parishes in such dire shape? Cardinal George sleeps in a mansion. Neither man leads by example nor follows Christ's teachings. The Catholic Church will regain stature when it rededicates itself to addressing the needs of the poor around the world. End the pomp and circumstance. Shed the wealth. Live a simple life and fight against injustice and ignorance.

epic lulz  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:14 PM

Barbara, if you were really Catholic would know that the Papacy has sanctioned priestly adoption, and that Pfleger was not the first. And if you had ever been to OP, you wouldn't question whether any Catholics live here. You can cloak your racism and your rightwing agenda in the robes of Jesus all you want, but it is not fooling anyone.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:11 PM

What are we now speaking in tongues? The last 3 posts make no sense. Ya know, my brother is a priest. His 1st assignment as pastor was a very poor parish. The rectory was filled with rats & roaches. I wrote the bishop an awful letter expressing my disappointment.Didn't matter. He stayed there 6 years, built a new rectory,repaired the church, & collections &/people tripled. Now, he's a pastor of a huge church. But, he still has to obey his bishop.He does, & Pfleger should.

observant servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 3:27 PM

Barbara it is my guess that you may be the only one, the rest of us are Catholic, but you keep on practiesing and one day, you too may be Catholic The word catholic (derived via Late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective %u03BA%u03B1%u03B8%u03BF%u03BB%u03B9%u03BA%u03CC%u03C2 (katholikos), meaning "universal"[1][2]) comes from the Greek phrase %u03BA%u03B1%u03B8%u03CC%u03BB%u03BF%u03C5 (kath'holou), meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words %u03BA%u03B1%u03C4%u03AC meaning "about" and %u03CC%u03BB%u03BF%u03C2 meaning "whole". Be one in Jesus

observant servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 3:20 PM

Get Help from oak park, get a bible, or lectionary and read; James 2:17 "Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself." James 2:and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Put those prayers to practice, a Catholic teaching

observant servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 3:08 PM

The question is will they avail themselves to it. The Cardinal has the greater responsibility in this, he must even if Fr. Pflager doesn't for the sake of the church, Fr. Pflager must for his own sake and the sake of the church. Brothers and Sisters speak, truth to power, and some will call you a muckraker and some will call you a prophet.

observant servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 3:06 PM

Get help from Oak Park the reason we are in the place we are now in the view of the world is that we have failed to call failings, failings. The Holy Father John Paul II failed us, and many of our Bishops have failed us, and good Catholics have stayed silent. It is not always anger and hatred for the Church you hear, sometimes it love for her that you hear, calling her to be better, to do better. The work of men from the top to the bottom, from the sanctuary to the pew, is in need of God's grace


Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:58 PM

I love it! Now you're on to defending Obama. I guess their aren't any practicing Catholics on here? That question didn't get a reply.

Get Help from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:57 PM

@Carol: God bless you. I pray that you find the peace you so clearly desire. (PS - I have strong feelings about church hierarchy, the sex scandals, and ministry...I simply choose to pray for healing and strength rather than to rant about them in an online message board)

Teresa Powell  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:55 PM

Like John Murtagh, I have heard Fr. Pfleger preach, have seen the love that his congregation has for the Church and each other, and have talked with him. His good works are widely known in Chicago. Many saints "spoke truth to power" and challenged the leaders of their day to take another look. Today we remember the saints; not those leaders who tried to silence them.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:49 PM

Asking the Catholic Church to conform to a nonhierarchical, nonauthoratative model would be like asking the NFL to adopt the rules of the NHL. The Roman Catholic Church is what is -- and obedience to authority is one of the key precepts of the church. I know lots of good Catholics who stay within the church and try to effect change. There are a lot of others -- like myself -- who left the church because its stance on a lot of issues, and get our Christian nurturing elsewhere.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:41 PM

Also, to "get help," I think that someone who fails to be angered and outraged by the Catholic church's epidemic of child rape and protection of the rapists rather than protection of the children is more likely than me to need counseling to get over their issues.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:39 PM

I was simply trying to point out that the schism described in the article is being demonstrated by the comments. There are clearly people, like Pfleger, who find actual ministry to be the most important part of their service to God. Then, there are others who think that supporting and protecting the church's hierarchy is more important. Perhaps "get help" and Barbara are correct, those who find ministry to be more important should leave the Catholic church and serve elsewhere.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:39 PM

Wow, Observant! You are taking this in another direction. I too have noticed how many of our elected officials do not practice what they preach. So many rail against reproductive rights but will turn their backs on aid to the poor and addressing world poverty. The same phonies who attack funding for Planned Parenthood will then vote against providing health care for children. Oak Park's Children's Clinic has been a lifesaver for many families.

observant servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:25 PM

The reasons for supporting Senator McCain must be his adulteries life style, President Obama, believes in choice, which is a value the church teachers , God gives us free choice free will and we a responsible for how we use it. President Obama choices family, Senator McCain choices adultery. I am glad to have a president who believes in choices then chooses well, over a president who says he believes in family values but choice adultery. The wisdom of choice lives in a man's heart. Deut 30:19

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:21 PM

Barbara has a point. Priests are required to follow the rules of the Catholic Church and Fr. Pleger cannot challenge his Cardinal. I think what some of us have posted deals with a perception that the Vatican is not in touch with it's American parishes. Important issues (poverty, hunger,racism, etc.) should be the focus rather than reigning in a radical priest. The wounds caused by the sex abuse scandals have not healed and many are still waiting for the Vactican to accept responsibilty.

seriously.... from op  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:17 PM

Pfleger's boss told him he was moving to a new assignment and Pfleger whined, cried, became unprofessional and he quit. Nothing more to see here folks...

Get Help from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:08 PM

The level of anger about the Church and JPII is even worse than I had ever expected. With little provocation, Carol's horrible comment to Barbara demonstrates both anger and hatred. I genuinely hope that several of you get professional or spiritual help for your issues. God bless and keep us all.

Observant Servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 2:04 PM

Barbara we agree, the Cardinal has used poor judgment in the past and now compounds this with his current stance, but yet we continue to stand by his choices because his is the Archbishop. He cannot make up for past mistakes, by making more mistakes no matter how many titles red hats or long robes he has. It comes a time when it is not about him and his authority to but his responsibility to. In my opinion is now that time. I hope that in His trip to Rome that he will seek wisdom from God


Posted: May 5th, 2011 1:54 PM

You people from OP, don't get it. Are any of you practicing Roman Catholics? The Catholic church is ONE church, with the same rules for all priests. They are not suppose to adopt chidren.The reason for not supporting Obama had nothing to do with his race.(why did you mention race?) It had everything to do with his stand on abortion. As I stated before this thread is about removing Pfleger.Whether anyone likes or dislikes the Cardinal is not the issue.

Carol from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 1:33 PM

I think that Barbara perfectly illustrates the distinction between the two types of churches being discussed in the article. I also think it's interesting that she is offended by Fr. Pfleger's adoption and care for children, but seems unfazed by JPII's protection of priests who were raping children. I think that tells you everything you need to know about how much to value her opinion.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 1:08 PM

Let me tally this up, Barbara. Father Pleger's "sins" that you identified include supporting a black man for president and his association with controversial black ministers.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 12:19 PM

The Cardinal used poor judgement a long time ago, when he didn't removed Fr. Pfleger when he adopted a child. Poor judgement again when he wasn't removed after adopting a 2nd & 3rd child. (one is a forster child) Poor judgement again when Pfleger blatantly supported Obama, who supports abortion, even late term abortions. When Pfleger mocked Hiliary Clinton.Time & time again Pfleger criticized the policies of the church. Poor judgement now? Give me a break! This cult leader needs to go & soon

Observant Servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 12:01 PM

Barbara, the Cardinals authority is not being questioned, his judgment is, there is more to leadership than the exercise of authority, there is the exercise of good judgment. The Cardinal has a duty to the people of God first and foremost as the Sheppard of the Church; tell me what benefit this has for God's people and His Church. I must confess poor judgment myself from time to time and I have noticed that Cardinal Bishops, Cardinal Archbishops, Bishops, Priest, Deacon's , people and Pope's sometimes make poor decisions , this looks like one.


Posted: May 5th, 2011 11:03 AM

I can't support a priest who thinks he doesn't have to obey the Cardinal. He may have done great things @S.S.'s, but that is not a reason to let him stay. He may have the support of the parishioners, Jesse Jackson, Rev. Wright, & Louis Farracon, but in the end, the Cardinal will make the final decision.He'd make an excellent minister. I hope a church of another denomination will offer him a job. He's really already left the Catholic church, as the Cardinal mentioned.

Observant Servant  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 10:50 AM

The article is pointed and I like it, it asks is this best for the church (the people) the answer seems obvious. But I have a question not so obvious to me. What is the upside for the Archbishop, why now, and really why at all at this point? An exception made for 23 years, should only be changed with a clear purpose and clear benefit. The Church gives the Bishop the right to place, give and and resend the faculties of his clergy. My mother always said just because you can does't mean you must. ?

OP Resident  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 10:15 AM

You are right, Barbara. I support Father Pfleger and believe the Catholic Church has more important issues to address than removing the priest who has meant so much to the St. Sabina community. I hope you agree.

Too Much Drama from Oak Park  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 5:21 AM

I'm not sure what this piece is but it's not journalism. It lacks any sense of objectivity or context. Father Pfleger is a priest, and knew when he signed up that the role expected obedience and faith. If he no longer likes the terms of his commitment, he has the opportunity to leave the church...a threat he has made already. All the rest is drama and spin...the world has too much of it, and the church is no place for it. Bless you Father Pfleger, I hope you find whatever it is you seek.

Barbara from Flagler Beach  

Posted: May 5th, 2011 4:46 AM

OP Resident, This thread is about Fr. Pfleger!


Posted: May 4th, 2011 10:58 PM

Making JPII a saint is ok, just as long as he is made the patron saint and protector of pedophiles. His role is death should mirror his role in life.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 3:50 PM

Barbara, you know what is really offensive? Pope Benedict XVI has said that the sexual contact with children was not considered evil until the 1970's. As Cardinal, he was put in charge of addressing the problem of pedophile priests and instead of going after the abusers; he protected and shielded them from the law. He knew that the priests accused of these heinous crimes were simply being transferred to other parishes and did nothing to stop the practice. In fact, he provide them with sanctuary

Barbara from Flagler Beach  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 3:30 PM

I didn't mean to imply that the website was offensive. It's just not Catholic. Catholic's go to mass,not worship service, priests give homilies not sermons. (They aren't taped & sold either.) They don't have assistant ministers,Baptist guest speakers.(ex:Rev.J. Wright) nor would any other pastor agree to having a letter on the website that bashes the Cardinal. Pfleger shouldn't even be inside the church since he's suspended!

epic lulz  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 2:37 PM

Excellent piece.

OP Resident  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 12:48 PM

It seems strange to me that the Catholic Church failed so miserably in protecting children from predators but now feels the need to transfer a priest who has had such a positive impact on the community. They should be more concerned about those pedophiles who are on the lam and hiding out inside the Vatican. John Paul II failure to take appropriate action against these abusers should disqualify him from sainthood. He oversaw a criminal enterprise that destroyed the lives of many innocents.

Kim from River Forest  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 12:10 PM

All Catholic Parishes (and many other churches as well) must say goodbye to pastors and other staff members from time to time. Sometimes it is very difficult. St. Sabina's and Father Pfleger should be no different from other parishes. Change brings new life.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 12:05 PM

I visited the St Sabina website and did not find it offensive at all. A website is a secular activity of a church on which they inform their parishioners of what is going on and provide opportunities for people to participate in their church life without beiing in the church itself. On the upper right hand corner are three links - Word, Worship, and Works. That is what a church website should be about. I think your problem with the site is more cultural than religious. That's a problem.


Posted: May 4th, 2011 11:41 AM

Jesus in the garden, "But not what I will but what you will." Obedience is not a dirty word. Humility is a virtue. Pfleger should try it.

Barbara from Flagler Beach  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 7:24 AM

You say "Is he simply a power-hungry, grandstanding opportunist? I doubt it." If you checked St. Sabina's website, I think you'd change your mind. Nothing religious about it, just photo's of himself, & articles bragging about himself.He needs to move his followers,( most of whom are not Catholic) to another place.

john murtagh from oak park  

Posted: May 4th, 2011 12:32 AM

What a great letter. It read like a symphony. I have heard Fr. Pfleger give homilies several times. His talks are thoughtful, enraging, reverent and honest. What he has done for the St. Sabina Community is amazing. When driving on the south-side through decaying neighborhoods, you know immediately when you pass the St. Sabina parish line. It sparkles. If the Church followed Pfleger ways instead of leading him with a whip, there would be a lot less dead souls and bodies on the south-side.

Joshua33 from Chicago  

Posted: May 3rd, 2011 11:36 PM

Excellent journalistic quality and balance. Thank you my brother for writing this.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2017

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad