Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church in Chicago’s South Side is described by some as a radical leftist priest. Or at least that’s how Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass described him, adding Pfleger was “right” in shutting down the Dan Ryan Saturday, hash-tagged the #DanRyanShutDown, to protest violence he and others believe is borne out of “economic hopelessness.”
Pfleger is a well-known firebrand activist and advocate for the undeserved in his South Side church community, in the greater Chicago area and indeed, nationally. Pfleger has stirred the pot and created controversy but as Kass says, he cares about the people. For Pfleger, matters of race, poverty and inequality are as much a part of his pastoral mission as providing the sacraments, he’s said.
Pfleger is white. His parish of more than 2,000 in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side is overwhelmingly made up of African American congregants.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A White German-American, Pfleger Has Been Pastor of a Predominantly Black Parish for 37 Years & Leads Non-Violent Protests Against Violence, Poverty & Inequality
Pfleger, a white man now age 69, graduated from Loyola University and the University of Saint Mary of the Lake and was ordained in 1975. In 1981, he was made pastor of St. Sabina and has never left. He’s been at once controversial in some quarters and revered in others. He counts among his supporters and collaborators Jesse Jackson and Cornel West and has often been out of favor with the church hierarchy for his radical ways, it’s been reported.
“Since 1968, Father Pfleger has lived and ministered in the African-American community on both the west and south sides of Chicago. He spent two Summers working in a Native American community in Oklahoma, and did his seminary internship as a Chaplin at Cook County Jail and at Precious Blood Catholic Church, both in Chicago,” St. Sabin’s website’s bio reads.
He and his congregation have worked to shut down drug paraphernalia shops, and have alcohol and cigarette billboards removed from the neighborhood. He was arrested for destruction of property when he scaled a billboard to deface it. His efforts were rewarded when the Chicago City Council voted to remove those ads from the neighborhood.
“In the course of his extensive and active ministry, Father Pfleger has been recognized for his commitment to equality and passionate stance against injustice. Some of the awards and honors he has received include: “Keeper of the Dream”, Rainbow/Push; Distinguished Service Award, Nation of Islam; “Thurgood Marshall Award”, National Black Prosecutors Association; “Monsignor Egan Social Justice Award”, DePaul University, “I Am A Man Award” from the April 4th Foundation in Memphis, TN, “Rosa Parks Award” from the SCLC and the “Unsung Hero Award” from the Wade’s World Foundation, according to the website.
Fighting racism, poverty and violence, he’s currently the face of an anti-violence protest movement in Chicago.
“We will disrupt the flow of traffic because gun violence has disrupted the lives of Chicagoans. We want our city to act vigorously to bring about systemic change and real solutions….for our children! Join us!”
2. Pfleger Has Defied Church Rules. He’s Adopted & Raised Children, Supports Women as Priests & Was Suspended From Delivering Sacraments But Was Reinstated After Refusing to Leave His Parish
St. Sabin’s website’s bio reads, “In 1981, Father Pfleger became the proud adoptive father of an eight-year-old son, Lamar. In 1992, he also became the adoptive father of Beronti. In 1997, he became a foster father to Jarvis Franklin, who was tragically killed as a result of gang crossfire, May 30, 1998.”
The church objected to these adoptions.
In 2011, the Archdiocese of Chicago temporarily suspended Pfleger from administering sacraments except for an emergency, and from his other duties as parish priest because they wanted him to leave the parish and to instead take a position at a catholic school. He refused to leave his parish and was later reinstated.
Pfleger said in a sermon that it was just women with Christ as he died on the cross and that male apostles had left him: “They had turned their backs on Him. They had left the One they had been with for three years, 24/7, and they ran away from Him when He most needed them. Only John, at the foot of the cross, and the women. That’s why there should be women priests. That’s why there should be married priests. That’s why there should be women bishops and women cardinals,” he was quoted as saying.
Pfleger apologized but said he was forced to do so.
Pfleger has been the subject of a 2009, ‘Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger.’
3. A Social Activist, Pfleger Has Courted No Small Amount of Controversy From Beefs With Jerry Springer & Howard Stern, Inviting Controversial Pastors to Preach & Criticizing Hillary Clinton’s ‘White Privilege’ During the 2008 Presidential Campaign
“There are many who dislike Pfleger, the white radical leftist priest and pastor of a large black congregation. He’s a showman, yes, and at Mass, there’s usually a band and a troupe of dancers near the altar. So Pfleger isn’t exactly what Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin might call an ‘orthodox Catholic.’ But I’ve known Father Mike for a long time. He cares about his people,” wrote Kass.
Pfleger went after Jerry Springer’s show which he said was “…glorifying violence every day …calling a woman a ho and a bitch is sick. This is not normal behavior.” He was upset about the staged fights and advocated for a boycott of advertisers. He also went after Howard Stern for what he said was a racist billboard that featured a “confrontational black fist raised in the air against a white background along with the caption, ‘Let freedom ring. And let it be rung by a stripper.” A disrespect to The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. And, Pfleger has called out misogynistic rappers on billboards. But he’s had a lot of support from some rappers including Chance.
Pfleger, a friend of Barack Obama’s an a volunteer member of the then Senator’s Catholic Advisory panel, mocked Hillary Clinton in a sermon during the 2008 campaign when the Secretary of State was running against Obama. Pfleger wiped pretend tears from his face and mimicked Clinton: “I’m white. I’m entitled. There’s a black man stealing my show,” he said. He later apologized but Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George insisted Pfleger take a few weeks of leave from the parish.
4. Pfleger Has Done Outreach to Prostitutes & Drug Dealers. He was Criticized For His Approach to Anti-Gun Activites
Pfleger’s idea was to buy time from prostitutes as a way to reach out, help them with counseling and to evangelize. He was again criticized by the Chicago Archdiocese. He was quoted as saying, “How is what I’m doing not part of the gospel? The church leaders talk about evangelization. Well, if this isn’t evangelization, I don’t know what is.”
He used the same modus operandi with drug dealers; paid for product never received and instead took the opportunity to provide assistance.
The priest was arrested with Jesse Jackson during the protest of a Chicago gun store that it was discovered had sold thousands of weapons that were connected to gun crimes.
5. Pfleger Caught Flack When he Went After White-Only Catholic Athletic Conference For Racism. As Pastor, he’s Created Myriad Programs For the Community
Pfleger said the Southside Catholic Conference was racist after not allowing his parish in the athletic league because it said his chruch wasn’t safe for students and parents from other neighborhoods.
Pfleger said: “Racism continues to be alive and well both inside society and inside the church. To be denied admission on the sole premise that certain coaches and parishes feared for the safety of their children is illegitimate, ridiculous and insulting. It is very troubling that the conference would insinuate that we would place their children in harm’s way.”
The league reversed its decision.
He developed a program called ‘Operation Empowerment’ that trained congregants to “inspect neighborhood stores for poor conditions. He also developed a team of church members who, rather than have the prostitutes arrested, went out and paid prostitutes for their time so they could talk about how they could turn their lives around.”
Pfleger is the founder of the Employment Resource Center, the Ark Youth Center, Saint Sabina Social Service Center, Thea Bowman Spiritual Advance Center, Samaritan House for the homeless, Saint Sabina 80-unit Elders Village and the Beloved Community, Inc., the website says.