Rev. Michael Pfleger, the firebrand pastor of St. Sabina’s Catholic Church, is being given additional duties outside his South Side parish but isn’t leaving there, the Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday.
Instead, Pfleger will remain at St. Sabina’s but will share the pastor’s duties there. He will also become temporary administrator of a Southwest Side church whose pastor, Rev. Daniel J. Mallette, was brutally beaten and robbed in December. And Pfleger will help develop new anti-violence initiatives for the archdiocese.
“Effective immediately, Fr. Pfleger has been named the temporary administrator of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish,” a written statement from the archdiocese said. “Additionally, Fr. Pfleger has agreed to take on a new responsibility in serving as the archdiocesan representative for newly developing anti-violence initiatives that will include a particular focus on issues surrounding gun violence.”
The statement said Cardinal Francis George was announcing the new duties after consulting with Pfleger. Pfleger was planning to address his changed role in a media conference Tuesday evening, aides said.
As of July 1, Pfleger, the longtime pastor of St. Sabina’s, will be co-pastor there with the Rev. Thulani D. Magwaza, who is now associate pastor.
Mallette, the pastor at St. Margaret of Scotland, will remain as pastor emeritus, but “a new pastor for St. Margaret of Scotland will be named on July 1,” the archdiocese said.
Mallette’s ribs were broken, and he was left with a black eye when two masked intruders broke in to his Southwest Side church in the middle of the night in early December, woke the 80-year-old priest, told him to shut up, beat him and forced him to open a safe and stole $500 meant for the poor – and, when they were done, asked that he pray for their souls. Which he did.
Mallette, who marched with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, has helped keep St. Margaret’s one of the city’s most ethnically and racially diverse Catholic churches since 1977.Asked Tuesday whether he was happy with his new role as pastor emeritus, Mallette sighed and laughed. “I guess, yeah – whatever my boss says,” Mallette said. He said he believes he’s been treated fairly by the Cardinal, that he gets on well with Pfleger and expects that the new arrangement “will work fine.”
But asked whether his preference was to remain pastor, he paused for a long time before answering, “I don’t know, I’m too weary to say. Did Ozzie Guillen want to stay manager of the White Sox – who knows?“I would be a good cardinal or archbishop,” he joked.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle applauded the archdiocese for choosing Pfleger to help develop anti-violence initiatives in general and ways to combat gun violence in particular.
The mayor called Pfleger on Tuesday to congratulate him.
The appointment comes at a time when the city and county are joining forces on anti-violence strategies and community stabilization initiatives with an ambitious goal of cutting violence in half by 2020. Together, the city and county spend $3.5 billion annually on criminal justice and law enforcement.
“His voice, as it relates to violence, gun violence and protecting kids is something that both … [Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle] and I share,” Emanuel said of Pfleger Tuesday.
The mayor noted that, when he went door-to-door to promote the city’s earlier curfew for kids under 12, it was in Auburn-Gresham while accompanied by Pfleger.
“While he is intimately involved in his neighborhood and in his congregation, his voice, his activity, his energy and his ideas carry beyond his congregation and we’re a better city for it,” Emanuel said.
Preckwinkle thanked Pfleger for his commitment to “the African-American community that he’s served for a very long time.
“I’m grateful for his past good work and I’ll look forward to working with him on our anti-violence initiative, if that’s the role that the Archdiocese has asked him to play,” she said.
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) – a St. Sabina parishioner – also welcomed the Cardinal’s decision. “I’m pleased with the outcome, and congratulate the Cardinal in recognizing the positive contribution that Father Pfleger has made to the Catholic Church as an institution, his contribution to the city and to the greater community,” she said.
Collins said it “was a wise decision to make based on the engagement that Father Pfleger has exhibited on [gun crime] in addition to other issues that he’s addressed over the years.”
“I think it’s consistent with his mission and ministry to social justice.”
Pfleger has led headline-grabbing campaigns against tobacco and alcohol billboards and the sale of drug paraphernalia in inner-city neighborhoods and against suburban gun shops.
He also has challenged rappers whose lyrics he says degrade women, has picketed “The Jerry Springer Show” for doing the same and blasted radio shock jock Howard Stern as sleazy and disrespectful of African Americans.
Most recently, Pfleger made news last month when he criticized ABC-TV’s reality televisions show “The Bachelor,” saying: “This whole concept, I mean, how sick is this that 25 women are throwing their bodies and their hearts at this one man, who is having all these little romantic runs with the different women here and there, and the women are doing whatever they gotta do to try and get him. How degrading is this for women?”
Pfleger has long been at odds with George, who briefly suspended him from his duties at St. Sabina last spring.