I’m not Catholic, I just go to church here

100So the Rev. Michael Pfleger, last seen mocking Sen. Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of Barack Obama’s church, will be back at his parish by June 16. He was told to take a couple of weeks off from St. Sabina’s to reflect on Catholic rules regarding priests and politics. Those couple of weeks up, he’s been told he can go back.

Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mary Wisniewski reports on his impending return. The problems start with the headline and subhead:

Rev. Pfleger to return to St. Sabina with ‘no restrictions’
He’ll be back at St. Sabina, but he has to stay out of presidential politics

So which is it? Does he have “no restrictions” or does he have to stay out of presidential politics? Something tells me that headline won’t be winning any awards for clarity. Anyway, the story also raised more questions than it answered. At least for me:

At a three-hour Sunday mass filled with songs and dancing, pastoral associate Kimberly Lymore read a letter from Pfleger in which the priest wrote, “This has been a very painful time for me personally and for our church family.” . . .

Lymore said parish leaders were told by Cardinal George that Pfleger will continue as pastor of the church he has led for 30 years with “no restrictions” — other than not being able to mention publicly the names of presidential candidates or campaign for them. On hearing this, several parishioners called out “That’s all right.”

No priests are allowed to be involved in politics, that’s standard. Still, it is a restriction and one that was obviously emphasized for Pfleger. What other restrictions would even be discussed?

I would say that it should be explained what “pastoral associate” means for the female holding the position, but it looks like Chicago media, including Sun-Times religion columnist Cathleen Falsani, have discussed the issue before. Perhaps it’s old news there.

These two paragraphs were interesting:

Asked if it was fair that Pfleger was restricted from talking about the candidates, longtime parishioner Michelle Wong Scott said, “a lot of times, when you’re a member, you have to follow your leadership and do what your leaders tell you to do.” She said if Cardinal George had removed Pfleger permanently, the parish would have continued the work he started.

Two other parishioners, Rhonda Williams and Leslie Ross, who are not Catholic, said they would have left St. Sabina’s and followed Pfleger to a new church if he had been removed.

It’s the second paragraph that I didn’t quite understand. What does it mean to be a parishioner of a Catholic parish but not be Catholic? It would be much easier to understand in non-sacramental churches. But parishioners can’t take communion unless they’re Catholic and communion is central to the life of the parish, right? So what does it mean exactly? It would be good to have a bit more explanation.

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  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    “No restrictions” in this case probably means that he may perform all the normal functions of a parish priest/pastor, including presiding at/administering the sacraments, preaching, administrative functions, etc.

    But you’re right: the article needs to be clearer, since there is an apparent contradiction.

    The enforcement of closed communion in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States varies widely, often from parish to parish. It is not all that uncommon to find persons in positions similar to those of Williams and Ross. In fact, a few years back, in Milwaukee I believe, a Jewish man married to an RC woman was actually elected to their parish council. However, IIRC, the Diocese vetoed his serving in that capacity, and I don’t think the news coverage of this incident addressed whether or not he had been receiving communion.

  • Thomas

    It’s the second paragraph that I didn’t quite understand. What does it mean to be a parishioner of a Catholic parish but not be Catholic?

    The Catholic Church welcomes everyone, whether they can take Communion or (because they are not Catholic) cannot. That’s one way that they get new Catholics. Some Catholics who are “not in a state of grace” and therefore can’t take Communion still attend Mass. Even Rudy Guiliani could attend Mass. All of the above could join a parish. Seems pretty clear to me.

  • Dan

    It is standard for catechumens to attend the Liturgy of the Word and be dismissed just before the Liturgy of the Eucharist (I understand that this was the practice of the early Church, and that the practice fell into disuse but was revived in the 1970s). It is also not uncommon for non-Catholics who have an interest in the Church to attend Mass without receiving communion. This is sometimes a first step toward the Church, a first step toward becoming a catechumen.

    Where the parishioners quoted in the story stand, I don’t know. From what I’ve read, quite a bit wackiness of a decidedly non-Catholic nature goes on in Fr. Pfleger’s parish and so I wouldn’t be surprised if the parish has parishioners who have no particular interest in the details of Catholic teaching and no intention of ever seeking full communion with the Church.

  • Brian Walden


    Not being in a state of grace doesn’t make a person not Catholic. Similarly if a Catholic goes to a parish in the next town that doesn’t make them a parishioner there. So the sentence isn’t clear.

    I think the article might have meant that the women attend services at the parish but are not Catholic. I don’t know if a person can officially join a parish without being Catholic, maybe someone else knows this.

    When I joined my parish the form asked about a spouse and children and let you note whether they are Catholic, non-Catholic Christian, or neither. So my wife is on the books at my parish but as a non-Catholic. I don’t know if that makes her a parishioner or not (FWIW she wouldn’t call herself one). Maybe this is the relationship the women had to the parish. Even if that’s the case, the way it’s written is unclear.

  • Brian Walden

    Similarly if a Catholic goes to a parish in the next town that doesn’t make them a parishioner there.

    Sorry, just to clarify, I meant that if a Catholic who’s a member of one parish attends another one that doesn’t make them a parishioner of the other one. I didn’t mean that a Catholic can’t join a parish which they don’t live in the boundaries of (although I think it may sometimes require special permission).

  • Stephen A.

    So, when is Trinity UCC going to lose its tax exempt status?

    Under the IRS code, electioneering from the pulpit is simply not allowed, and clearly, this was electioneering. Democrats back during the Iowa primary did not hesitate to ‘rat out’ preachers who expressed their views, even when they did it OUTSIDE the pulpit. This, however, is an undeniable case of abuse.

    Where’s the media outrage over a blatant church/state issue? (snark)

  • Martha

    From reading the various goings-on, it seems very much like St. Sabina’s has become Fr. Pfleger’s personal church with his own little congregation devoted to him personally.

    It sounds as if intervention by the Bishop is long overdue, but even if he does finally give Fr. Pfleger a belt of the crozier, there is going to be a great deal of trouble with the locals.

    Personally, I think Fr. Pfleger thinks he’s – well, I don’t know what he thinks he is. The counterpart of a black Baptist preacher? I’ve seen a photo of him and whatever kind of robe he’s dressed in, it’s not Catholic vestments as I know them.

    (And of course, now I want to find that picture, I can’t).

  • Brian Walden

    At a three-hour Sunday mass filled with songs and dancing, pastoral associate Kimberly Lymore read a letter from Pfleger in which the priest wrote, “This has been a very painful time for me personally and for our church family.” . . .

    Wait a minute, this needs to be explained. Was this a Mass? The article said that Fr. Pfleger would be back on June 16. If there was another priest there saying Mass, the dancing was certainly illicit (I’d also be interested in know exactly when in the service Kimberly Lymore read the letter). If this was just a prayer service where Lymore distributed pre-consecrated hosts then there’s no intrinsic problem with dancing, but it shouldn’t have been reported as a Mass (and isn’t there a deacon handy to run such a service)?

  • Brian Walden

    Also, a stylebook question. This sentence jumped out at me:

    Pfleger is white, while most of his parishioners are African-American.

    It just seemed like a wierd juxtaposition of “white” and “African-American”. If Fr. Pfleger is white wouldn’t his parishioners be black, or conversely if his parishioners are African-American wouldn’t Pfleger be European-American (or wherever his roots are)? If stylebooks shy away from use color to describe race, why is white commonly used to describe Caucasians?

    And just out of curiosity what would be the correct way to refer to a black member of St. Sabina’s who’s a French citizen.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    They might be catachumen. Or they might not be. My Orthodox parish has quite a few attendees who are not Orthodox, but are married to someone who is. They don’t approach the chalice, of course. Neither are they members. But we love them and pray for their salvation, and they probably think of our parish as their parish, too. I bet this is what is going on at St. Sabina’s with the the people who are non-Catholic parishoners. But, you are right. The reporter should have clarified.

  • Peggy

    The issue of the status of the non-Catholic parishioners was discussed at Amy W’s blog on this story. It is possible for a person to apparently attend (and maybe register as a parishioner?) but not be a Catholic eligible to receive sacraments. Whether the Catholic regulations regarding communion reception are followed at St. Sabina’s is a different story…

  • Grupetti

    Or as many might say at Willow Creek [1]:

    “I’m Catholic, I just go to church here.”

    [1] Willow Creek is sometimes referred to as Chicago’s largest Catholic church.

  • Michael

    If stylebooks shy away from use color to describe race, why is white commonly used to describe Caucasians?

    Because the AP style errs on letting people define themselves in the way they find appropriate. As African Aemrican has become a preferred descriptor by, well, African Americans, it is the preferred descriptor. The AP also allows for the use of the term Black. Since almost no white people describe themselves as Caucasian or Eureopan America, those descriptors are not in common usage. Caucasian can be used in some situations.

  • Jimmy Mac

    I don’t know of one Catholic who is a member of a parish that isn’t her/his geographical parish and sought out “permission” to do so. The parish I attend includes about 90% of people from a different parish boundary; about 50% who don’t live within the city; and about 30% who live in another diocese!

    We are truly an intentional parish and no one seems worried about the lost of his/her immortal soul by not getting someone’s “permission.”

  • mim

    >But we love them and pray for their salvation

    Matt, do you pray for the salvation of your fellow parishioners who are Orthodox? Or do Orthodox Christians think that they are the only Christians? Just wondering; I’m a Western Christian and I don’t know much about Orthodox theology.

  • Mick

    Chances are they are just on the rolls of the parish. Often, you can sign up as a parishioner at a parish, regardless of whether you have received all the sacraments. It probably depends on the Pastor. I worked with a young lady who was not baptised but joined a Catholic parish so that she and her lapsed-Catholic husband could be married in the Church (to appease his parents). When I asked her how she could do that, she said “anyone can sign up as a member of the parish.” I doubt a lot of parishes cross-check against baptism/confirmation records.

    Really, what happens when you register for a parish is that you get envelopes for the collection.

  • Brian Walden

    Michael, thanks, that makes sense.