I hate guns. I dread the warmer weather and the Monday morning death toll of mostly Black teens and preteens shot and/or killed by guns in Chicago in neighborhoods, parks, and now on expressways. Black lives matter? Black lives shatter. It feels like scattershot genocide.
On New Year’s Eve day, I went downtown on the el to an anti-gun march Father Michael Pfleger was holding at the Tribune Tower plaza. I was thrilled; Father Michael Pfleger is my hero, largely because of his constant struggle against guns. Further, he is the only major Chicagoan leading the fight against guns.
It was a smallish march, 200-300 people, largely older people, many middle-aged couples holding photos of handsome boys who had died by gunfire. There were a number of teenage girls there, several of whom spoke and wept about lost brothers or boyfriends. I noted with more than a bit of dismay and anger that there were not many teenage boys, the age group most at risk and most responsible in the constant gun deaths.
Pfleger asked us to walk in pairs, so we wouldn’t disturb the shoppers on Michigan Avenue. I was paired with a delightful African-American woman. We had a lot in common and I learned a lot from her in a short time. She was a writer for the Tribune, and like many (most?) Tribune employees, had recently lost her job. She lived in St. Sabina Parish and loved the church. She and her husband had one son, about 18, who will be going to college next year. She said the neighborhood was very dangerous because of guns. I asked her where her son went for fun. She said, “He doesn’t. We don’t let him go out.” Stop and let that sink in.
I asked her how easy it would be to get a gun. She said, “I could walk out the door and get a gun within 10 minutes.” Truly, I had no idea. She and I agreed that we could get rid of the guns if the political will was there.
Several weeks later, two brothers in their 60s, and later, another adult, accused Pfleger of sexual abuse. I was surprised and not surprised. Sometimes I think the only men who enter[ed] the Catholic clergy, do/did so for their access to children. Then I think back to my childhood priests and absolutely can’t accept that they were abusers. First of all, there was the pastor, Father Briody, who hardly showed his face except to come in to distribute report cards and mispronounce names. Then there was Father Fraser, the lovable jokester. And two incredibly handsome young men, Father McGinnity and Father McGourty. They were always walking fast and playing sports. I just can’t imagine any of them being abusers.
On the other hand about a year ago, the Tribune published the names of all priests accused of sexual abuse over a long period. Virtually all of the names were Irish. The good old days. Pfleger is German. Ridiculous, you say? Yes, no, and maybe.
About the accusers. The two brothers grew up on the West Side, raised by a struggling single mother in a crime-filled area. They were small for their age and sometimes bullied. Father Pfleger helped them. According to the younger brother, Pfleger got him a church job and took them to pizza parlors and an amusement park. The older brother said he saw Pfleger as a father figure and a hero in the African-American community. One of the accusers has asked Pfleger for money. The latest accuser, a teenager at the time, sort of “hung out” with Pfleger, and says Pfleger gave him drugs and alcohol.
As I write this, Father Pfleger is back at St. Sabina, apparently with or without the approval of the Archdiocese, which has been dithering in its own investigation. St. Sabina has been withholding its $100,000 monthly contribution to the Archdiocese. (Every Catholic I know chuckles about this.) Pfleger has been cleared by DCFS, which only deals with current cases. Pfleger has not been arrested, and the parishioners of St Sabina are overjoyed.
FYI: There were 769 gun homicides in Chicago in 2020, 240 people shot in January of this year, and 144 shot in February.