April Ryan talks with Father Michael Pfleger of the Saint Sabina parish in Chicago, Illinois about newly elected Pope Francis’ possible impact on the black community. Plus, the outspoken father gets real with the crew about sex abuse in the church and how it is time to “close that chapter” in the church.
APRIL RYAN : Good morning, everyone. Well, yesterday it was all about that white smoke coming out of the Vatican chimney and then the appearance of the new Pope. Well, the Roman Catholic Church has its new Pope. Seventy-six year old Jorge Bergoglio is now Pope Francis the first. Joining us this morning to find out more about the new Pope is the maverick pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, Father Michael Pfleger. Good morning, Father.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Good morning, April. How are you doing?
APRIL RYAN : I’m fine.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Tom, how are you doing?
TOM JOYNER : Hey, Father Pfleger, how are you doing, man?
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: I am great, man.
APRIL RYAN : Well, Father, we understand that you’re doing some great work over there in Chicago, but before we get into all your work, Pope Francis donned his papal vestments yesterday, but before he came Pope he was an Argentinian Pastor who would catch public transportation and lived in a flat. He wasn’t in a Cardinal’s mansion. He also cooked his own meals. And those who knew him say he’s down to earth and he’s for the people. How important is this for the Catholic Church, to focus on minority parishioners, particularly Hispanic and those of African descent like yours and your very own church?
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Well, I think that’s real important. I’m so encouraged that they had the courage to choose somebody who is very simplistic, who is very humble, but also has a long track record on being a voice for the poor. I think in a church that sometimes is so known, I mean, you watched the last two weeks in all the news and you see all the opulence of Rome. And you see the Vatican, and the Michael Angelo’s, and you see all this drama. And all these robes. And here’s a guy that comes out and says I want a wooden cross, I like riding the bus, I cook my own meals and we need to be more concerned about the poor. And of course he’s a Jesuit that has a long track record of being an order that’s committed to justice, in their order and in the world. So I’m very encouraged that a voice like that needs to be sitting in the chair of St. Peter and raises those issues in a world were poverty is so great and injustice and war are so real, I am encouraged that this guy is going to come out and be a voice that we need in the church for a long time.
APRIL RYAN : So as the Bible says, the least of these, he will be a Proponent for the least of these around the world.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Absolutely. And I think that his experiences and his lifestyle, you know, of humility and humbleness, and his track record in, and Argentina has been to really challenge the priests there to be concerned about the least and concerned about the poor. And he’s also been on some of the bishops’ meetings over the last number of years. He’s always been the one who’s talked about justice issues. So I think that voice, sitting at the top, hopefully is going to shake the church up, give it some new direction and bring up its values that used to be foundational to us, and foundational to the world, but across the world we don’t hear much about the poor, we don’t hear much about the least. And I think he’s going to be, I think he’s going to raise some issues and cause us to wrestle with some stuff that have been ignored for too long.
SYBIL WILKES : Do you think that elephant in the room is going to be addressed, Father?
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Pardon me?
TOM JOYNER : The elephant in the room?
APRIL RYAN : The sex scandals.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Well, I don’t know how he cannot. First of all maybe he’s going to read that report that they come up with that nobody read, and I hope it comes out, but I was really, I said the elephant was going to be really addressed if the butler came out and he was the new Pope. If the butler came out, then there was a whole lot going on in the room. But I think his track record is he’s going to address issues that have been forgotten. And he has a very good track record in Argentina. People who have been with him there say this man is strong, he’s bold. He’s humble, but he’s not at all afraid of tackling the hard issues.
APRIL RYAN : But how do you think he will address those sex scandals? Because a lot of those issues were left over from the Pope emeritus now.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Well, I think he’s going to come in realizing that the previous Holy Father not only didn’t tackle them, he avoided them. He ran from them. And I mean making some statements during the years was not good enough when you’re not doing anything to really make sure across the world that this issue is not going to be covered up anymore and not going to be ignored anymore. So I think he has no choice. I think whoever came in, unless you got somebody who was right from Rome or Italy, I think this is a bold move of taking a person from Latin America, taking a person who has a whole different outlook of what his ministry has been, I think he’s going to come in and be very strong.
TOM JOYNER : Father Pfleger, one last question.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Yes, sir?
TOM JOYNER : I asked Father Clemons, my other favorite priest.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Yes, sir?
TOM JOYNER : He was on a couple of weeks ago talking to Roland. And I saw the HBO special dealing with the sex scandals in the church.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Mea Culpa?
TOM JOYNER : Yeah.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Yeah.
TOM JOYNER : Yeah. And I asked Father Clemons had he seen it. He said yes. But he said he didn’t believe any of it.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Well, I don’t know, I love George. But I’m not so sure.
TOM JOYNER : I do too. And he when she said my mouth just fell open. He said, I didn’t see it, I don’t believe it.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Well, I’d like to not believe it, but to be honest, Tom, I think that the church has operated with an arrogance for a long time that kind of says; hey, don’t challenge us, don’t question us. And in the desire to keep that arrogance and to kind of keep that we’re okay, and we’re fine, don’t touch us, don’t look at us, that a lot has gone uncovered, a lot has gone ignored. And I think the world has come to the Catholic Church’s door for the last 20 years and said; you know what? You’re going to deal with this. And I think that this Pope is going to force the church, from the beginning of his papacy, to do that, to say this is over. We’re going to take a chapter of this book and close it because we’re going to deal with this head on.
SYBIL WILKES : Do you have a sense of how close the Cardinal Turkson came to being the next pope?
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: How close he what?
SYBIL WILKES : How close he came to being chosen as pope?
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: No. You know, anything that’s as quiet as only you can find in white smoke, there ain’t text, ain’t no email, nobody was Tweeting it. And I looked at the white smoke real clear and there was no numbers in it. So I think we had to say that he, it took what? Four or five votes? I think it took a while but I really think that the guys in that room saw that the church really needs a shift, that’s my hope and my belief that they were convicted, that we need something really different, and I think this may be the guy who can do it. I look forward to what he brings.
TOM JOYNER : Alright, Father Pfleger.
APRIL RYAN : Is there a possibility in the future? Is there a possibility in the future that we could have a …
SYBIL WILKES : Of a black pope?
APRIL RYAN : Yes.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, there’s been African popes before.
SYBIL WILKES : Yeah, we had three. Yeah.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Exactly. And I’m praying that, you know, this is opening a new door. When you come to the Americas I’m hoping that this guy is going to set a pace. And he is 76 so we may not have to wait too long.
TOM JOYNER : From the Southside of Chicago, Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church, good job, April.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Take care, Tom.
APRIL RYAN : Thank you, Tom.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Take care, April.
APRIL RYAN : Thank you, Father. Peace be with you.
FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER: Peace be with you. Good bye.