Why I Stand with Father Pfleger

Father Michael L. Pfleger stands during a march last year to protest the killing of George Floyd and the continuation of systemic racism. (Photo credit: John W. Fountain)
This is an extended version of a column that appears in Sunday's Chicago Sun-Times newspaper 

By John W. Fountain

I stand with Father Pfleger.

Oh, I hear you, dear Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, in purporting to be on the side of justice and transparency in your silencing and removing of the nationally renowned, longtime pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina while officials conduct a probe into allegations of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago.

Indeed I am among the multitude that believes that truth and justice--no matter how long delayed--must prevail. That we must, at all costs, protect the least of these: Our children.

I hear you, trust me, I do. Even as I stand painfully aware of the Catholic church’s well-documented ferrying of known pedophile priests from parish to parish while paying incalculable sums in settlements to sex abuse victims--including a reported more than $200 million by the Chicago Archdiocese.




"How often does the church’s hierarchy venture beyond its majestic gothic headquarters to touch the untouchable in Englewood?"  



I get it--the renewed vow of commitment after decades of the Catholic Church’s failure to shield the little children. To at last, in the 21st century, finally get it right.

I hear you. I just don’t trust you. I trust Father Pfleger.

I stand with Father Michael L. Pfleger.

For decades now, he has been a living, breathing, walking epistle of the love of Christ and his compassion for the least of these. He has embodied the prophetic voice and zeal of Dr. Martin Luther King and embraced a transformative social Gospel that has the power to renew, restore and revive lives and communities.

Indeed Pfleger has dwelled among us. We have witnessed him walk without wavering through the valley of the shadow of death, speak truth to power, fight against violence and racism that seeks to choke Chicago’s Black communities. 

We have witnessed his commitment to educating Black children. Witnessed him stand as a beacon of hope in the hood, even as the Archdiocese closes schools and churches. 

In January, it announced the planned closing of St. Elizabeth in Bronzeville, which merged with St. Monica Parish in 1924--Chicago’s first Black Catholic church whose development was led by Father John Augustus Tolton, born a slave and the first “universally recognized” Black Catholic priest in the U.S.

Is St. Elizabeth not worth saving? What about a good man’s name, established by more than 40 years of faithful selfless service to a community forsaken by a church that stands aloof?

When our children lay shot and bleeding in the street, it isn't archdiocesan officials who come to comfort our grieving mothers and fathers. 

How often does the church’s hierarchy venture beyond its majestic gothic headquarters to touch the untouchable in Englewood? Does it comfort the afflicted on 79th Street? Speak to us face-to-face, with love and reassurance--as friend, brother and ambassador of the blessed hope?

Father Pfleger does.

This is the man we know. A vessel of humanity, humility and hope, he has helped restore my faith in the Catholic Church.

More than 40 years ago, I lost faith at 17, when then Cardinal John Patrick Cody visited Providence-St. Mel School in my senior year to declare the archdiocese had summarily decided to shut it down and withdraw its financial support. And no matter how much we marched, begged, protested, the Archdiocese never budged—deserted poor Black kids on the other side of the tracks, where this small Catholic school was our lifeline, our refuge, our bridge to a better life. 

My class was supposed to be my school's last. But St. Mel survived, without the church, by the heart of a man named Paul J. Adams III, and has every year since 1978, sent 100 percent of its graduates to colleges and universities.

I have often wondered how much the church was paying then to settle lawsuits involving victims of abuse.

And yet, we’re supposed to trust the church now? Trust even that it will conduct its investigation of the allegations against Pfleger expeditiously, to treat Father Pfleger fairly, to be transparent and forthcoming in the status of the case and their findings? 

A church that itself still, after all these years, has not yet come fully clean?

I stand with Father Pfleger. Because Father Pfleger stands for us.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com