State Senator Collins: “Cardinal’s suspension is an abuse of power”
By Chinta Strausberg
Aides to Father Michael L. Pfleger, who later appeared on WVON’s Cliff Kelley show, said the popular priest is getting increased daily threats and hate communications including faxes, e-mails and calls from enemies who call the priest a “N” lover.
So earlier when a police officer tried to end their rally/press conference, held outside of the Cardinal’s home, warned them not to go back over to the Cardinal’s house, Vince Clark, the assistant to Pfleger, signaled the group to do just that. He was angry over the “disrespect” shown to Saint Sabina members and their Pastor.
On WVON’s Cliff Kelley show, the aides praised Pfleger for staying the course in the face of death threats, racially charged communications he receives every day and continued false accusations by the Archdiocese against Pfleger.
They were referring to a fax showing a face of a monkey with “Obama” written at the top with a line drawn through it saying “The Marxist Chimp Must Go! and addressed to “n” “A—Sniffing Moron Michael Pfleger” followed by words that cannot be printed addressed to Pfleger and his “filthy ignorant ‘N’s.” It concluded: “Without exceptions, Marxists are enemies of the United States Constitution! Death to all Marxists! Foreign and Domestic!”
The other was an e-mail from a Tom Harlen sent to Pastor Pfleger’s e-mail which said: “Hey racist, I see that you are finally losing your job. BWHAHAHAHAHA….”
Clark said when the officer tried on several occasions to break up the event, it was another instance of “the kind of disrespect both the church and Father Pfleger have had to endure for decades.” Clark felt the officer had crossed the line.
Mysteriously, a helicopter nosily hovered over the supporters sometimes making it heard to hear the speakers and left when the group began to disband.
After holding a rally/press conference, they later appeared on WVON. Clark was joined by Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), Isador Glover, the leader of the Parish Council, Rev. Dr. Kimberly Lymore, associate minister at Saint Sabina and Dr. Iva E. Carothers, general secretary for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference where Pfleger is a member.
They are very concerned about “all kinds of threatening communications “ Pfleger receives consistently and Glover said he was particularly disturbed with one communication he saw just before he came to the press conference. “It troubled me immensely,” he said.
Pfleger has often spoken about the thousands of hate e-mails, letters and faxes he has received from his foes including some who profess to be devout Catholics.
“We will stand by him. We will fight for him because what was done (to him) was unjust,” Glover told Kelley during the WVON interview.
Clark said Saint Sabina and its Pastor have had to endure insults from the Archdiocese level to racists who threaten and engage in racial rhetoric for decades; yet, they are mandated to pay the Archdiocese monthly payments even though the Archdiocese has not given them “a dime” since 1989.
On Kelley’s show, Clark revealed that Saint Sabina gives more than $40,000 a month to the Archdiocese. “We give a minimum of $40,000 a month to the Archdiocese. He said it’s a question of “the more you make, the more they take.” Pfleger’s aides said they are tired of the disrespect shown to Saint Sabina and their Pastor, Father Michael L. Pfleger.
But in 2007 when the church roof collapsed and they needed $500,000 to repair it, the Archdiocese refused to give Saint Sabina “a dime.” Clark and other Saint Sabinians are tired of being disrespected by the Archdiocese and its treatment of Father Pfleger.
Clark said “This all started on March 11th when the Cardinal said Pastor Pfleger had two-weeks to respond to whether he would become president of the Leo High School.”
Clark said Pfleger responded on March 18th by agreeing to place the Leo High School under the umbrella of Saint Sabina to “broaden and strengthen” the school. However, since then, Clark said, “there has been zero communication with the Cardinal. On yesterday, 38-days later (after the March 11th letter), we had the first conversation with the Cardinal and that was a suspension.” He was outraged that they learned about this from the media first rather than from the Cardinal.
Yesterday, Clark said the Cardinal called Pfleger around 9:30 a.m. and told him to bring Father Thulani Magwaza, the associate pastor, to his office for a 4:30 p.m. meeting. Clark said the meeting was ten-minutes late in starting; however, he began getting calls from the media at 4:30 p.m. asking for a reaction to the Cardinal suspending Pfleger. Clark said at that moment, Pfleger had no idea he had been suspended. ‘This is another level of total disrespect,” said Clark.
Also appearing on WVON’s Cliff Kelley show were Isador Glover, leader of the Saint Sabina Parish Council, Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16th) and Dr. Iva E. Carothers, general secretary for the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference where Pfleger is a member of this Conference.
Members of Saint Sabina are furious over the suspension including Collins who said, “The way that the Cardinal responding (to the Parish Council’s March request for a meeting) was in complete disregard and disrespect” to the church. This is total abuse of power,” Collins said.
“I believe this is a personal thing with him because it was a total disregard for what we wanted for a transition…. This goes back to plantation politics where people gave you a dictum…” and there was no participation.
Glover said the Cardinal has given Pfleger two-weeks to “pray and reflect “on his suspension. However, Collins said, “It’s the Cardinal who needs to pray and reflect.”
Referring to the Cardinal’s April 27th letter, Collins denied that Pfleger precipitated this suspension. “The way the whole letter was addressed it was almost saying that you precipitated this…that Father Pfleger caused this. No, that was not the case. The Cardinal framed it to put Saint Sabina on the defensive…,” said Collins.
Dr. Carothers said, “Across this nation and denominations, there has been support coming in from across the nation…. She objected to this “unprecedented punishment” of Pfleger and admitted the suspension “is quite baffling.”
They are “very upset and deeply concerned” over the Cardinal’s April 27, 2011 suspension of Pfleger that appears to be based on an April 6, 2011 interview Pfleger had on the NPR with Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West.
Contradicting the Cardinal’s letter of suspension, Glover said, “It is not Father Pfleger or his remarks that has ‘short-circuited’ the process but rather the Archdiocese who has never honored the Saint Sabina transition planning process. “
Glover said contrary to the Cardinal’s letter, “A copy of the letter was released to the media at 4:25 p.m. yesterday prior to the scheduled 4:30 p.m. meeting with Father Pfleger and Father Magwaza. The church received copies of the letter from various media outlets.
The Cardinal suspended Pfleger for a few weeks to give him time 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.”
While allowing Pfleger to maintain the title of Pastor but suspended him of his ministry as pastor of Saint Sabina and his sacramental faculties as a priest. Cardinal appointed Father Thulani Magwaza to run the church along with Father Andrew Smith who is at Saint Ailbe Parish.
Saint Sabinians are furious. Referring to the Cardinal’s letter, Glover pointed to the Cardinal’s allegation that “several times in recent years you (Pfleger) have told me that you do not want to remain as Pastor of Saint Sabina Parish for the length of your priestly ministry in the Church.”
Glover took issue with that saying, “Contrary to what is mentioned in this letter, Father Pfleger has said on a number of occasions that he wants to remain in the Catholic Church, but he doesn’t wants to remain in the Catholic Church, but he doesn’t want to stay at Saint Sabina for the rest of his life without a plan for succession because he wants Saint Sabina to survive.”
Glover made it clear to reporters that in September of 2009, Father Thulani Magwaza, who is the associate pastor at Saint Sabina, came from South Africa “with an understanding that in three to four-years he would succeed Father Pfleger as pastor which was suggested by Father Pfleger and personally arranged by Cardinal George and the Bishop of Father Thulani’s Diocese in South Africa.
“Why is this plan not being respected”? asked Glover. “Not once in the year and a half that Father Thulani has been here has there been a discussion of the status of the succession plan with Father Pfleger or Father Thulani,” Glover told WVON.
Calling into the Cliff Kelley’s show, was activist Mark Allen who said Pfleger did not deserve to have a personnel decision released to the national media. “We have to prove we have an insult level,” Allen said. “The cardinal has an obligation to sit down and meet with people.” He said people must keep the pressure up on the Cardinal to communication with the Saint Sabina leadership. “He owes us and Father Pfleger an apology,” said Allen.
Annoyed that the church has been accused of leaking information to the press about these issues, Glover set the record straight. “We want to make clear that the initial release of the information concerning the March 11th meeting apparently came from someone in the Chancery. It is not Father Pfleger or his remarks that has “short-circuited’ the process” as the Cardinal alleged, “but rather the Archdiocese who has never honored the Saint Sabina transition planning process.”
Further disputing the Cardinal’s April 27 th letter, Glover said, “A copy of the letter was released to the media at 4:25 p.m. yesterday prior to the scheduled 4:30 p.m. meeting with Father Pfleger and Father Magwaza. The church initially received a copy of the letter from various media outlets.”
Kelley asked what does race have to do with Pfleger’s suspension because he is not a person of color. Collins quipped: “He’s not of color but he is of our kind. It’s not about color. It’s about the heart and the spirit in which he ministers….
“Saint Sabina is a place where we celebrate Christ,” she said. “We celebrate our Catholicism with a cultural authenticity that is both spirit-filled and word-based and it celebrates who we are as African Americans,” said Collins.
She said Pfleger modeled his ministry not only of Jesus but also that of Dr. King, on social justice and he ministers to those who are hurt, lost and hopeless.”
Glover praised Pfleger for calling the church “the spiritual hospital for anyone to enter those doors.”
And, Clark said, “Father Pfleger has raised the bar so high that we are not willing to take less or anything.”
He added, “Saint Sabina is not a place where you can just send a rent-a-priest. It’s a unique place not to say that we are better than any other black Catholic Church, but Saint Sabina is not a place where you can send just a rent-a-priest into Saint Sabina Church.”
Angered over the suspension of Pfleger, Clark said, “I don’t know of a priest who has been accused or suspended for molesting a child or for stealing church money yet they suspended Father Pfleger on freedom of speech for something he (the Cardinal) misinterpreted, not for doing anything wrong,” Clark said. He said a lot of times pedophile priests are promoted or “it’s covered up.”
Cliff said it has been reported by many that “Cardinal George has done a very poor job in cleaning up priests who abused children.” The disparity in the treatment of black Catholic Churches and their counterparts is troubling to Saint Sabina and Father Pfleger who has often been the victim of “unjust” treatment by the Cardinal, according to Pfleger’s aides.
“I feel more like a step child than a person with full citizenship.” Clark has a message for the Cardinal: “Just because you have the right to do something does not mean that you always do the right thing.” “Saint Sabina is a very unique place. We have an exceptional Pastor who does great things. I would say to the Cardinal that just because you have a right to do something, does not mean that you always do the right thing,” said Clark.
Dr. Carothers said, “One of the affirmations of his ministry and the importance of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina was reflected in the fact that some 35 students from Howard University crossed all different majors and from all over the country came a few weeks ago to be mentored by Father Pfleger and to develop a campaign against gun violence.
“When you think about the fact that from an Historically Black institution from the nation’s capitol that students will give up their spring break to come to this community to study tells a lot about the prophetic ministry of Father Michael Pfleger,” Carothers said. Her message to the Cardinal is: “Silence makes a mighty noise which is an African proverb and our community is insulted by the lack of appropriate and respectful response to the wishes of Saint Sabina.”
In closing, Senator Collins said that Father Pfleger has had a profound impact on her life. Once disillusioned with the Catholic Church, Collins credited Father Pfleger for “calling us back into a safe haven. Not only was he instrumental in bringing me back into my faith, but also he was also instrumental in helping me in deciding my voice and vocation in public service.
“I believe as a 25-year member of Saint Sabina, I believe to remove Father Pfleger from Saint Sabina will not only stunt and stifle his spiritual gifts but it will also destroy this inspirational, individual, and a powerful prothetic and influential ministry. This is personal. This will destroy a man who has dedicated his life to upholding the dignity of the African American community,” said Collins.
Glover said, “I know the Cardinal made a statement that said our Pastor is suspended. I don’t know where that came from or what is the root of all of that. I am going to pray very hard for the Cardinal that his heart is changed…. I’ve always learned to walk with faith, and I truly believe that this situation will work out in the best interest of our Pastor. So, I will not only pray for the Cardinal George but also our Pastor so he can be upheld.”
Reached later, WVON’s talk show host Santita Jackson said is also praying for peace between the Cardinal and Pfleger. The problem as she sees it is that “You have two approaches to worship…. African Americans have a personal style of worship and the Catholic Church has an institutionalized style to church.
Jackson said the Catholic Church “is not dependent upon a personality whereas ours is. In African American churches, you have to deal with cultural sensitivity. Generally speaking, culturally, we are an extremely personal and personable people,” she explained.
“We have personal relationships with our pastors and our pastors are not fired. They retire. Pastors develop life-long relationships with their congregation and their community.” In an institutionalized church, Jackson said that is not the case.
“I am in prayer for Cardinal George and for Father Pfleger who continues to mean so much to our community and our church. Much can be learned from the ark of his career,” Jackson said.
“I appreciate the challenges facing Cardinal George because the Cardinal has put the perseveration of an institution ahead of the perpetration of a particular parish,” said Jackson.
She said parishes like Saint Sabina “have particular challenges that people like Father Pfleger are best suited to serve and 12-years are not enough. We need Father Pfleger, and we need this storm to past in peace and love because Father Pfleger matters and the Catholic Church matters,” Jackson said.
Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host.