Mind you, 99.99% of the time, I would disagree with Cardinal George on just about anything with regard to the Church. I think he's got blinders on in a great many areas, and he's too theoretical for his diocese. The church has lots of problems, and the administration often fails to address problems until they are forced to do so.
But in this case, Cardinal George is right.
There are 3 vows that most religious take when they are accepted into a vowed community: Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.
The Catholic Church has a requirement that priests be moved every so often. Even with the priest shortage, the various dioceses will try to shake things up. Even in my community - they did that a few months ago by moving two priests - Priest A went to St. Something, and Priest B, formerly the pastor of St. Something, went across town to Priest A's church, Holy Smokes. I obviously made those names up, people, but the point is, our diocese just switched two of 'em around. It was time.
Fr. Pfleger has failed to lead his congregation. He has failed in the most basic task that Jesus taught: servant leadership. Yes, he was instrumental at St. Sabina --- he brought that church back. That's a great testimony to his leadership.
The next best testimony to his leadership is to move on and go lead somewhere else. Can he honestly tell Cardinal George that St. Sabina will fall apart without him? Can he honestly in his heart say that there isn't a troubled parish somewhere that he couldn't help?
Can St. Sabina's congregation say in all truthfulness that they will leave en masse if he's transferred? And if they can, then how strong is their faith in the Church as opposed to their faith in Fr. Pfleger? When you get baptized and agree to join the Catholic Church (if you join as an adult, you agree ... babies are just baptized by their parents), you pledge your faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not the guy in the cassock standing there.
Cardinal George floated the idea of Pfleger being the president of a Catholic high school. What better position for a true leader to be in? Think of the way he can energize and motivate the young students at that school. And for pete's sake: it's in the same neighborhood as St. Sabina. I think that's a mistake, but I'm not in that position, so I can't say what's up, unless Cardinal George thinks this is a "kinder, gentler" move for Pfleger.
Now, according to today's Chicago Tribune, Pfleger is threatening to "go preach at other churches." And he's saying that his lawyers tell him that the Cardinal was not following canon law by suspending him. Really? Is he so delusional as to think that Cardinal George wouldn't have thought all this through? If you agree with nothing else, you can see that George is a pedant. He makes sure every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed.
I know that in some denominations, it's not uncommon to see a pastor who's there for decades. In one of our Baptist churches in town, one reverend who is very much respected in our area was there for over 45 years. But that doesn't mean the Catholic Church should do the same. I believe the Church's policy of moving religious is a good thing: you are not your assignment. You are not the center of that universe. You are a disciple of Jesus, and he didn't stay in any one place very long either.
Heck, my favorite priest (so much a favorite that Kid #2 is named after him) got moved after TWO YEARS to Guam!! Of course that was while he was serving in a Naval chapel on a base, and they moved them every 2 to 3 years. That was normal. But that doesn't mean we didn't mourn the loss just as much as any congregation.
And let's talk a little about this concept of servant leadership. Pfleger actually meets many of the criteria for a successful servant leader: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, growth and building community. It's an old concept, going back to 490 BC, where Lao-Tzu writes: The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware...The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!'
Following the concept of servant leadership tends to give a leader more authority versus power.
The concept was "revivied" in a way when a man named Robert Greenleaf wrote an essay in 1970 called "The Servant as Leader." I remember taking a class for my MA where his subsequent book was the centerpiece. I attended a Catholic university, and part of our "mission" classes (everyone has to take these to graduate) include classes on social justice and social responsibility. We turn out students who are hopefully aware of their place in the world, and that they have to leave the world a better place than when they got there.
Where Pfleger went wrong is that he assumed "power" was the issue. It was a power struggle between him and the various cardinals in the hierarchy. Where the Diocese of Chicago got it wrong was that they left him there lo those many years. He should've been moved out of St. Sabina after a maximum of two "terms" (which would've been anywhere from 12 to 16 years total in one parish) and he should never have been allowed to stay there. He's been there since 1981, and he was ordained in 1975. Being at the parish that long is just not done.
Has he done good things? Obviously. But has he also thumbed his nose at the Church? Yes. Adopting children in direct opposition to his Cardinal's orders is just one of the problems. The kids obviously needed a good home, and that's great. But before those kids, the collar was there.
And it's not a collar that stifles you. It's a collar that reminds you of your vows. Reminds you who your Ultimate Boss is. And why you need to be reminded. And reminds you again that you are living a specific life, with a specific mission. Your mission is to go out and preach The Word. To everyone. Not just your parish.
You really aren't supposed to be the end-goal. You're the rudder, steering your parishioners toward their goals. You're not the ultimate achievement of your flock. A good leader is "invisible" to the process. Again, he's done great things. So now it's time to go do those great things elsewhere.
Well, Fr. Pfleger. Go.