US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Pfleger, George, and a management consultant?

By Megan Sweas | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

It looks like Cardinal George, Father Michael Pfleger, and St. Sabina Church may live happily ever after, but all parishes might have something to learn from this rather public debate about a pastoral transition.

Robert McClory describes in NCR the lengthy discussions last week that resulted in Pfleger’s reinstatement at St. Sabina Church along with an agreement that the church would have a transition plan by December 1 (so maybe just happily ever after until December?). Pfleger had been suspended after saying on Tavis Smiley, “If they say you either take this principalship of a high school or a pastorship there or leave, then I have to look outside of the church.” As McClory and Bryan Cones argued in this blog, the sooner the situation was resolved, the better for everyone involved.

Over the past few years, we’ve heard more and more stories of parishes in transition around the country. Some parishioners reported in "Men of the same cloth?” that they struggled when a younger pastor came in. In our upcoming July issue, we have a story on parish management in which an expert recommends parishes have a transition committee preparing for pastor changes.

It seems that many of the church’s strongest parishes have pastors who stay for years, like Pfleger has at St. Sabina’s. There may be a danger of becoming too dependent on one personality, but it also takes a long time to create the family that Pfleger said he missed so much. It takes time to create ministries that reach out to the communities around them. Having written about St. Sabina’s anti-violence campaigns, I am impressed at how well Pfleger ministers to and empowers others.

St. Sabina is in a unique position as a vibrant Black Catholic parish with a dynamic leader. The archdiocese and the public, therefore, are granting a great deal of attention to the eventual reality that the church will one day need a new leader.

What the past few month’s debacle has shown, though, is that even in a prominent parish, the church does not know how to create a smooth leadership transition. As the sources of our upcoming July story say, the church could use some good management consulting, for the good of the whole church and especially for all the parishes that suffer through bumpy pastor changes.