Fr. Pfleger, Meet Msgr. Lisante

There are two issues with the criticism of Fr. Pfeger.

First, should priests be political in the first place? There, I believe they cannot avoid it — after all, all Catholic social teaching is, in some basic sense, political — but should steer clear of partisanship, which — in the US context at least — means endorsing certain candidates. The problem with this approach is that the priest in question will find himself embracing the whole unsavory ideology. This post presents an example.

This brings me to the second issue: why is this criticism focused almost uniquely on those priests who support Democrats in general, and Obama in particular? I’ve already talked about the hypocritical approach between the treatment of Wright and Pfleger on the one hand, and Hagee and Parsley on the other (not forgetting the original exponents of “God punished America with 9/11”, Robertson and Falwell). Of course, some in the media caught on somewhat belatedly to this disconnect– but you read it here first!

But let’s get back to the specific issue of Catholic priests. We all now know about Fr. Pfleger. But how many of us have heard of Msgr. Jim Lisante? Have a listen to the link below which shows his address (supposedly an invocation) at a New York state Republican party event. There he is, standing behind the podium with the emblems of the Republican party, dressed in clerics. This man made a mark a while back at a similar event when he told the audience that while the two GOP candidates for governor had their differences “on any day of the week, they beat hands down, Eliot Spitzer.” At the current event, Lisante brags about that speech, dubbing himself a prophet.

And he goes on. He calls the Vice-President “magnificent” (clearly, he is not aware that torture is an intrinsically evil act). He spouts some pro-war nationalist propaganda about US troops fighting for America’s freedom (I would like to know which ones). This is all lead-in to his attack on Barack Obama. His criticism of Obama is that he wants to change the USA! Wow. How in God’s name could a Catholic priest oppose such a notion? Again, it is sheer partisanship, and utterly opposed to Catholic teaching.

But it gets worse. He then leads the congregation in prayer, as follows: “Lord… please tell Sen. Obama that maybe change is a good thing and that maybe he should think about changing his favorite preacher.” At this point, he smirks and waits for the applause line in response to his oh-so-clever quip. Think about this. This man, a priest, is using the sacred act of prayer to make a cheap partisan joke. How revolting. But the prayer has not ended, for he calls on God to “see that the change we embrace comes from Arizona and not Illinois.”

Msgr. Lisante’s behavior is scandalous. I would like to know what his ordinary thinks about this. In the Pfleger context, Cardinal George made the following statement, which I think is quite sensible: “The Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates. Consequently, while a priest must speak to political issues that are also moral, he may not endorse candidates nor engage in partisan campaigning.” For that is really the issue. There is nothing wrong with a priest saying that Obama’s position on abortion is out of line with Church teaching. But he cannot tell people to vote for McCain on that pretext, and he should also mention the areas where McCain is out of line. But note that Lisante did not even mention abortion. He instead runs with the memo from RNC: attack Obama through his association with his pastor. Indeed, Lisante’s true religion seems to be based on nationalism rather than the redemption of Christ. Like I said, a scandal. 

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  • Michael Iafrate


  • Jillian G.

    This jerk needs to be reported to the IRS. Sounds like he’s auditioning for Chaplain of FauxNews or a primetime slot at EWTN or Relevant Radio. Clearly, Pfleger’s not the only nut out there.

  • Zach

    Funny, Michael (MM too), you don’t see some contradiction between your previous post and the comments MM is making here?

  • Christopher

    I’ve been thinking about this question in relation to Fr. Pfleger and Cardinal George’s admonishment to him:

    The Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates. Consequently, while a priest must speak to political issues that are also moral, he may not endorse candidates nor engage in partisan campaigning.
    Racial issues are both political and moral and are also highly charged. Words can be differently interpreted, but Fr. Pfleger’s remarks about Senator Clinton are both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply.
    To avoid months of turmoil in the church, Fr. Pfleger has promised me that he will not enter into campaigning, will not publicly mention any candidate by name and will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests.

    Q: Should a Catholic priest be permitted to publicly display personal support for this or that party or candidate?
    Does this contravene the position that the Catholic Church does not [formally endorse] a political candidate?
    Or are we to understand Cardinal George’s prohibition on Fr. Pleger as an individual punishment and not a absolute “gag rule” upon clergy expressing their public preference for this or that candidate?
    A few weeks ago Archbishop Chaput published a column in First Things (Thoughts on “Roman Catholics for Obama ’08”) — in which he referred to his personal involvement with the Democratic campaign for Jimmy Carter in 1980, while serving Holy Cross Parish in Thornton.
    Would Morning Minion’s criticism of Msgr. Lisante apply to Chaput? Would he have issues his personal distate for Chaput’s involvement with the campaign?
    In our present time, I can think of multiple examples on both sides of the political divide — Fr. Pavone writing a column praising Senator Brownback as “a man you want to know if you care about human rights” (“Whether you’re talking about the poor in Africa or the unborn child scheduled to be killed by abortion, you will find an advocate for them in Senator Sam Brownback”), at a time when Brownback was running for president. McCain is now supporting John McCain (Vox Nova has — rightly, IMHO — taken issue with the totality of his “pro-life” record, pointing out deficiencies with respect ot ESCR).
    Moving to the left, you had the late Fr. Drinan, outspoken supporter for “abortion rights” and counseled Senator Kerry on his campaign. Reviewing the list of Obama’s “Catholic advisory committee”, one can pick out several priests and religious who are formally affilliated.
    Q: Would Cardinal George’s prohibition apply to them?
    My issue with Pfleger was not so much that he spoke publicly endorsing Obama per se (I can think of several priestly contributors to St. Blog’s who have done so), but rather his personal accusation that Hillary Cllinton (followed by a general accusation toward critics of Obama in general) was in fact a racist.

  • Christopher

    “McCain is now supporting John McCain” — sorry, typo; that should read: Pavone is now apparently supporting John McCain. Would appreciate an edit.

  • X-Cathedra

    These are examples ON BOTH SIDES of “getting too into politics.” Most members of this blog have pointed out the need of Catholics to transcend commitment to political parties; here we have two troubling failures to do so.

    Pax Christi,

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    Funny, Michael (MM too), you don’t see some contradiction between your previous post and the comments MM is making here?

    I don’t, but I’m happy to entertain your suggestion as to why you see a contradiction.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    Most members of this blog have pointed out the need of Catholics to transcend commitment to political parties…

    There is that “transcendence” language again…. :)

  • X-Cathedra

    As in irreducible to either political party’s ideology. Did you take it to mean transcending the political realm?

    Pax Christi,

  • Morning’s Minion


    These very questions have been on my mind too. First off, I think your interpretation of George’s response to Pfleger is too narrow. It is clear that the language of the cardinal’s ruling would certainly apply to Msgr. Lisante, and most probably to Fr. Pavone. LIke I said, I would like to know what his ordinary thinks (is he in the archdiocese of New York?)

    Personally, I disagree with the posturing of Drinan as much as with the others, because it’s the partisanship that bothers me. Lisante is an extreme example — he plays the part of a typical Fox News demagogue without even mentioning Catholic social teaching. And yes, I have criticize some of the Catholic priest bloggers for partisanship in the past too.

    There is, of course, a fine line. As Michael I rightly pointed out, priests cannot simply “transcend politics”. And I could even see a case for the Church supporting a particular party founded on Catholic principles. There is precedent here. But still, in the real world, no party is going to reflect Catholic teaching in totality. It’s just human nature. And I think the Church has been badly burned in the past when it hitched itself too much to Christian Democratic parties. But in the US, this is a non-starter, as both parties are so radically opposed to a true Catholic anthropology.

    But I digress. Fundamentally, I agree with George: priests should steer clear of partisan allegiances. And while I admire Jimmy Carter, and greatly esteem Bobby Kennedy, I think Chaput was wrong– only in his capacity as a priest– to work for them. Of course, he and others were right to fight for the core causes that motivated them: civil rights, justice, and end to the Vietnam war. In fact, priests are duty bound as witnesses of Christ to fight these causes. But there is a fine line that should not be crossed in doing this.

  • Henry

    First of all, politics does not belong in the pulpit, it should be about the pastor or priest preaching law and gospel which points us to the cross and Christ Crucified and the forgiveness of sins, at least this is the way that it is done in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. No politics at anytime, just Christ Him Crucified. Lutherans have an understanding of the Left Hand and Right Hand Kingdoms.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    First of all, politics does not belong in the pulpit…

    You can’t get politics out of the pulpit. There is no apolitical faith. No neutrality.

    No politics at anytime, just Christ Him Crucified.

    The crucified (i.e. executed by the state) Christ is inherently political. When we say Jesus is Lord, we are making a theo-political proclamation.

    Lutherans have an understanding of the Left Hand and Right Hand Kingdoms.

    There are, of course, Catholic versions of this way of thinking. But by and large, Catholics do not agree with Lutherans on this point.

  • Henry

    When we are in church, we are in the Right Hand Kingdom of God, Lutheran understanding of this kingdom is that Christ comes to us in the Word that is preached and his Very Body and Blood in the bread and wine of Communion. In the Right Hand Kingdom, we serve God in our various Vocations by serving our fellow man.
    If a pastor or priest wanted to discuss politics, it shouldn’t be from the church’s pulpit but in the fellowship room.

  • Michael J. Iafrate

    This, of course, depends on one’s meaning of the word “politics.” See my previous post here:

  • digbydolben

    I wonder why Catholics are so bent out of shape with priests joining the political debate in the interests of Christian faith and morality, when it is precisely THAT which is the Roman Church’s ancient tradition. Besides, the POPE has no intention of staying out of “politics”:

    …and I beieve that, once this encyclical is published, we will have all sorts of “conservative” Catholics snorting out William F. Buckley’s famous dictum: mater, si, magister, non!

  • Katerina

    But it gets worse. He then leads the congregation in prayer, as follows: “Lord… please tell Sen. Obama that maybe change is a good thing and that maybe he should think about changing his favorite preacher.”


    This is horrible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Christopher


    Besides, the POPE has no intention of staying out of “politics”:

    Indeed, he asserts himself regularly by speaking out on such topics as the sanctity of marriage, the evils of abortion, human cloning and embryonic stem cell research;
    he expresses his concern over events in the Middle East and the evils of war — I would
    expect no less of the Holy Father.

    I beieve that, once this encyclical is published, we will have all sorts of “conservative” Catholics snorting out William F. Buckley’s famous dictum: mater, si, magister, non!

    I’ll simply borrow the words of a former commentator on VN:

    “Perhaps we should wait and see what the encyclical actually says — not to mention wait and see how the people being criticized actually respond to the encyclical — before we start condemning people for not abiding by it.”

  • Morning’s Minion


    Nobody is arguing that priests should stay out of politics. Quite the contrary. But they should certainly refrain from expressing allegiance to a secular political party. As for ancient tradition, Lisante’s ode to America sounds very much like the pagan Roman civil religion that many of our Christian forefathers refused to accept– and paid the price of martydom.

  • kalle anka

    so why is it a problem for priests to come out one way or another on political parties or candidates. you could argue that the true problem is that the church (certainly the head of the catholic church) is infallible, or at least forces this principle with its members. hence, any command from the church would have to be followed in the voting booth. so if you want to give your flock some freedom of choice, as the church, you can’t pronounce yourself. but, now here comes the catch. if you are infallible, and you have an opinion on politics, aren’t you failing your flock if you don’t tell them. i guess you save yourself by restricting infallacy to only certain areas, but that in itself was always a bit of a conundrum for me. what i fully agree with, though, is that priests who don’t share my political beliefs should stay quiet :-)

  • digbydolben

    Kalle Anka:

    The pope is “infallible” on next to nothing that most of these “conservatives” or “liberals” writing here wish to say he is infallible regarding. He is only “infallible” regarding formulations of faith, i.e. dogma, and almost nobody here is interested in arguing about such things as the “real presence” of Christ in the sacrament, etc.

    On matters such as social justice, fair employment practices, etc. (like the things I and others are writing about–matters of daily moral practice), he is “infallible” only in terms of general moral guidance. He is NOT entitled to overrule individuals’ consciences (see Newman’s “Letter to the Duke of Norfolk”). What this means is that Catholics MUST “listen” to his opinions and his moral guidance regarding general principles, but they MAY NOT be read out of the Church if they make a private decision in, say, the voting booth that–for instance–the war in Iraq is a greater offense against the “sanctity of life” than abortion, and cast their votes with that in mind.

    Catholics, however, are NOT entitled to PREACH against the decision(s) of the local “ordinary” (i.e. bishop) that the sin of abortion is a GREATER sin, and, thus, a more consequential moral evil than the government’s persistence in an offense against “just war” teachings. And that is just what the Catholic laity (wisely) does all the time–as, for example, in our ignoring of the preposterous ban against contraception.

  • Zach

    St. Thomas Aquinas:

    Whether a Man Is Bound
    to Correct His Prelate?

    We proceed thus to the Fourth Article:—
    Objection 1. It would seem that no man is bound to correct his prelate (normally an abbot or bishop). For it is written (Exod. xix. 12): The beast that shall touch the mount shall be stoned,* and (2 Kings vi. 7) it is related that the Lord struck Oza for touching the ark. Now the mount and the ark signify our prelates. Therefore prelates should not be corrected by their subjects.

    Obj. 2. Further, a gloss on Gal. ii. 11, I withstood him to the face, adds: as an equal. Therefore, since a subject is not equal to his prelate, he ought not to correct him.

    Obj. 3. Further, Gregory says (Moral. xxiii. 8) that one ought not to presume to reprove the conduct of holy men, unless one thinks better of oneself. But one ought not to think better of oneself than of one’s prelate. Therefore one ought not to correct one’s prelate.

    On the contrary, Augustine says in his Rule: Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger. But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.

    I answer that, A subject is not competent to administer to his prelate the correction which is an act of justice through the coercive nature of punishment: but the fraternal correction which is an act of charity is within the competency of everyone in respect of any person towards whom he is bound by charity, provided there be something in that person which requires correction.

    Now an act which proceeds from a habit or power extends to whatever is contained under the object of that power or habit: thus vision extends to all things comprised in the object of sight. Since, however, a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his prelate, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect. Hence the Apostle says (1 Tim. v. 1): An ancient man rebuke not, but entreat him as a father. Wherefore Dionysius finds fault with the monk Demophilus (Ep. viii), for rebuking a priest with insolence, by striking and turning him out of the church.

    Reply Obj. 1. It would seem that a subject touches his prelate inordinately when he upbraids him with insolence, as also when he speaks ill of him: and this is signified by God’s condemnation of those who touched the mount and the ark.

    Reply Obj. 2. To withstand anyone in public exceeds the mode of fraternal correction, and so Paul would not have withstood Peter then, unless he were in some way his equal as regards the defense of the faith. But one who is not an equal can reprove privately and respectfully. Hence the Apostle in writing to the Colossians (iv. 17) tells them to admonish their prelate: Say to Archippus: Fulfil thy ministry. (2 Tim. 4:5) It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Gal. ii. 11, Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.

    (from a commentator on another website)

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