With the best picture Oscar this week going to “Spotlight,” the movie on the Church cover-up of priest abusers in Boston, it’s not been a terrific week for Catholic priests’ reputation.
But if you want to read about a very unusual priest — famous or infamous, hero or outlaw, depending on your perspective — check out this week’s New Yorker profile of Michael Pfleger. He’s a white priest who’s spent 40 years living and working in Chicago’s largest African-American Catholic church in one of the city’s most dangerous and gun- and gang-infested neighborhoods.
He’s also a showman whose preaching brings tears to the faithful’s eyes. He’s a social justice activist who’s been arrested over and over for protesting against guns and the sale of drug paraphernalia. He’s adopted children. One of them was gunned down by stray bullets.
You may have seen Pfleger at a CNN town hall meeting featuring President Barack Obama. “I happen to be from one of those cities where violence is not going down,” Pfleger told CNN and the president, who knows him from his own Chicago organizing days. “There have been 11 killed in seven days in Chicago.”
As The New Yorker reports, Pfleger’s a militant priest who’s dedicated his life to his parishioners, not only transforming their church, but also opening a food pantry, a job training center, and apartments for low-income residents and the elderly. He’s constantly angling for grants to fund after-school programs, hiring former gang members to negotiate feuds, and paying witnesses to name assailants who others are too afraid to identify. He expects parishioners to tithe 10 percent of their income. And he’s named his cocker spaniel “Justice.”