The latest political storm to hit the presidential election campaign has unfortunately been stirred up by the actions of a Catholic priest.
Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, preached a highly controversial and clearly outrageous sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ. Father Pfleger spoke from the pulpit at the Protestant church last Sunday and delivered a racially charged and deeply partisan attack upon candidate Senator Hillary Clinton.
The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, swiftly rebuked Father Pfleger, stating that his “remarks about Senator Clinton are both partisan and amount to a personal attack.” Cardinal George went on to state that Father Pfleger’s days of partisan politics are over and that the priest “will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests.” The Clinton campaign called the sermon “divisive and hateful.” Senator Barak Obama quickly distanced himself from Father Pfleger stating, that he was deeply disappointed in the priest’s “divisive, backward-looking rhetoric.”
Father Pfleger is no stranger to controversy; rather, he appears to have thrived on it over the last years. He has led protests against the Jerry Springer television show, stores that sell drug paraphernalia and gun shops. Father Pfleger has been arrested for civil disobedience protests and for smearing red paint on alcohol and tobacco billboards. His ministry in the African-American Parish of St. Sabina is known as much for its outreach to the impoverished community as it is for the antics of its pastor. However, the latest publicity stunt by the showman Father Pfleger crossed the bounds of Church discipline as well as common sense.
The Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church strictly prohibits priests from having an “active role in political parties.” The Catholic Church and Catholic priests have every right to comment and challenge politicians and civil leaders on moral issues. Defending human rights, human life, marriage, immigrants and the poor is a proper role for any Catholic pastor. However, the Church is not and can never be a partisan force in the world of politics, nor should her pastors enter into the partisan politics of campaigning for one candidate over another.
As this highly-charged campaign season continues in the coming months, Catholic priests, especially Father Pfleger, should remind themselves of the wise consul of the late Pope John Paul II who, when speaking to the priests of Zaire in 1980 stated: “Leave political responsibilities to those who are charged with them. You have another part, a magnificent part; you are leaders by another right and in another manner, participating in the priesthood of Christ.” We urge Father Pfleger to leave behind his profane participation in partisan politics and return to what he was truly ordained to do, share in the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ.