This month, Chicago Catholics will have to determine what is the “Christian” thing to do – allow a radical “pastor” to spew hate speech at a Catholic forum designed to bring people together, or rescind his invitation given that his venomous rhetoric in no way reflects the views of the Catholic Church or the people attending the event?
The individual in question is Michael Pfleger, a so-called “Catholic” priest who has served as pastor of St. Sabina‘s in Chicago for over 25 years. During that time, he has developed a reputation for making death threats against those who disagree with him, calling on his followers to engage in “civil disobedience” (such as laying down in the streets to block traffic), prancing around on stage to scream at and mock others, routinely accusing everyone else of “racism”, and inciting his followers to engage in violence. Some of his supporters claim he is a “Christ-like” figure and it would be “unChristian” to ban him from speaking at a Catholic event about gun violence.
The Archdiocese of Chicago stated several years ago that they had resolved the controversy over Pfleger by having him agree to a “transition plan” where he would slowly step out of the spotlight and serve as “co-pastor”. They stated he would have equal responsibilities with another priest until that priest eventually took the reins of the parish. Since that time, there has been zero evidence that Pfleger is slowly “standing down”. A quick visit to St. Sabina’s website and one can find tons of material on “senior pastor” Michael Pfleger, with virtually no mention of the other priest that supposedly now has “equal responsibilities” at the parish. Nor can find one find much material on the other priest’s public activity, although Pfleger remains in the news headlines routinely.
Pfleger’s latest in a long line of outrageous activities came this week when he hoisted a ‘Chi-raq’ flag above the U.S. Flag at his church, in reference to Spike Lee‘s latest fictional film where women withhold sex from men until they agree to stop gun shootings in Chicago. After a sea of complaints, Pfleger eventually pulled down the Chi-Raq flag, but then hoisted the American flag upside-down at half-mast. Pfleger’s disrespect of the U.S. Flag even caused some of his staunchest supporters to object to his actions. On his facebook page, parishioner Oliver Hart wrote “Father Pfleger I usually support you but that flag. Those colors I don’t get it why not use the Chicago flag? Plus using the term Chiraq, the gang bangers support that not tax paying Chicago citizens”. Another parishioner, Bridget Krieman, commented: “With much respect Father, I seriously can’t believe how much you have gotten away from teaching the word of God and so far into promoting Spike Lee and this craziness of a movie… It is not helping anyone but Spike with more media and more $$$$”
Things came to a head earlier this month, when the southwest side parish St. Barnabus announced that Pfleger would be a guest speaker at a February 27th panel discussing gun violence. Parishioners of St. Barnabus noted that Pfleger’s rhetoric has frequently involved anti-police tirades. Many feel this is an insult to the community, since a significant portion of St. Barnabas is made up of police, firemen and their families. St. Barnabas also has a long history of supporting the Chicago Police Department. For example, the parish hosted a special Mass for first responders almost one year ago. The students at the school raised $2,110 to buy bulletproof vests for police to replace those that had expired. In response to the statement that the forum would be a “neutral event” and not take sides on the solution to neighborhood violence, those against Pfleger noted that the radical preacher is never known to give “neutral” statements. Even Fr. William Malloy, the pastor of St. Barnabus, conceded “There is nothing neutral about Mike Pfleger.” He told reporters: “They think [Pfleger] is anti-police, and therefore this thing is going to be anti-police.”
Pfleger and his defenders will often claim those objecting his presence must be trying to championing gun rights and “silence” other points of view. In fact, objections to Pfleger usually do not involve the political issues he wishes to discuss or even the positions he takes, but rather his tone and rhetoric. For example, a valid case could be made that its censorship if one banned a Catholic priest from making public comments that he disagrees with gay marriage and believes that its morally wrong. On the other hand, if a Catholic priest were to stand outside a gay pride parade with a bullhorn and call on his followers to “drag” gay marriage proponents from their homes and “snuff” them, a perfectly valid reason could be made for banning the priest from speaking because he is inciting violence and making hateful comments towards others. The same standards should apply to Pfleger – while he has every right to make speeches opposing private firearm ownership and say that using guns is morally wrong, he does not have the right to incite violence and spew hatred against those who do own guns. Pfleger has a long history of engaging in such behavior, such as a 2007 rally where he called for the murder of a gun shop owner, calling on his followers to “snuff” the man out like a “rat”.
Likewise, whether Pfleger’s positions agree or disagree with most Catholics does not change the fact that his tone is hateful. Many faithful Catholics would agree with Pfleger’s position against gangster rap, where he has stated many times that he does not believe teenagers should listen to rap music that glorifies murder or promotes promiscuity. However, that does not give Pfleger the right to bully and threaten record stores in the neighborhood who sell such CDs. Pfleger has engaged in such tactics before. On the flip side, many faithful Catholics do not support Hillary Clinton’s values and do not wish to see her elected President, However, that does not give Pfleger the right to publicly mock Hillary from the church pulpit and demonize her as a racist. Pfleger has engaged in such tactics before.
Simply put, despite Pfleger’s claims to the contrary, his long record in Chicago shows that he believes in using violence to end violence. His incendiary tone and rhetoric are not only dangerous and deadly, but they are flatly against Catholic teaching. Pfleger’s vicious tone and intimidating tactics extend even to those who take his side. For example, there was a story in the news recently where Chicago musician Chief Keef announced that he would do a benefit concert for the family of a toddler struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Such a charitable act in response to senseless killing would seemingly be something that Pfleger would happily support. Instead, Pfleger viciously lashed out at Chief Keef online, telling him to “shut up”. Pfleger blasted this comment over the internet: “we don’t need a concert…we need PEACE……7 DEAD and 24 SHOT this weekend and he wants to do a concert…..Chief Keef….SHUT UP!!!!!” Pfleger continued to accuse Keef’s event of being an empty, meaningless act. After being harassed repeatedly, Chief Keef eventually canceled the Benefit Concert due to Pfleger’s bullying.
For Chicago Catholics who agree that Michael Pfleger should not be given a forum to spew hate speech, you can make your voices heard by signing an online petition against Pfleger, or by contacting St. Barnabus directly. The parish can be found online at http://www.stbarnabasparish.org/contact/contact.aspx, the phone number is (773) 779-1166, and the pastor, Fr. William Malloy, can be emailed directly at email@example.com . For their part, many parishioners of St. Barnabus have stated that they will pull their children from the parish elementary school, walk out of the event if Pfleger arrives, and withhold donations to the parish unless he is dis-invited to the event. Some have even threatened to the picket the event if Pfleger speaks. Will you stand with them, Chicago Catholics?