As you probably have heard, we in Chicago are having a little controversy over Father Michael Pfleger. I won’t recount the entire story, but it could be summarized something like this:
1. White activist priest gives controversial sermon at Black protestant church.
2. This is one in a long history of actions that made the priest controversial.
3. Cardinal George places controversial priest on leave.
4. Parishioners complain, newspaper headlines abound, radio talk-show hosts offer opinions.
5. Stay tuned…more to come.
As someone who lives in Chicago, I’m tempted to shrug my shoulders and wonder why all the fuss over something controversial. We do controversy a lot in Chicago.
But something in one of the local newspapers stuck me as emblematic of how poorly the news media understand the Church. The Chicago Sun-Times asked readers to vote whether the priest should return to his parish. In other words, did Cardinal George do the right thing in removing him?
Like most people who read the newspaper, I don’t really know Father Pfleger. Yes, I know of him because he has a record of activism. But I don’t know his skill as a spiritual director. I don’t know whether he is a sensitive and helpful confessor. I have never seen him celebrate Mass and I could hardly presume to judge his heart.
I’m not qualified to cast a vote on his fate – the Cardinal is. And while a newspaper poll may provide a collection of opinions, it isn’t how a Cardinal makes a decision.
The Cardinal makes a decision because he has the responsibility to protect the Church and the faith – and by protecting them to preserve truth and the ability of the Church to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
The Church is a theocracy, not a democracy. So the Cardinal really does make his decision based on what he believes is the right thing to do – I expect after a great deal of prayer.
Newspapers like to ask readers to vote on issues. And if the issue is “should the White Sox trade so-and-so” or “should bars be allowed to stay open all night” I can accept the practice.
When it comes to the assignment of priests, I don’t have a vote and that’s the way it is supposed to be. I have faith that the Cardinal and God will work it out – without taking a poll.
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