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Fr. Pfleger Appearance At St. Barnabas Draws Heated Reaction from Community

By Howard Ludwig | February 3, 2016 6:58am
 St. Barnabas Parish will host a group discussion on violence throughout Chicago on Feb. 27. The Rev. Michael Pfleger is one of three speakers set to take the stage from 6-8 p.m. The announcement caused a stir Tuesday on both online and among parishioners.
St. Barnabas Parish will host a group discussion on violence throughout Chicago on Feb. 27. The Rev. Michael Pfleger is one of three speakers set to take the stage from 6-8 p.m. The announcement caused a stir Tuesday on both online and among parishioners.
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BEVERLY — The Rev. William Malloy of St. Barnabas Parish spent a lot of time on his phone Tuesday answering questions about an upcoming panel discussion that will include the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

Malloy is pastor of the Catholic church at 10134 S. Longwood Drive in Beverly that will host the discussion from 6-8 p.m. Feb. 27. The topic of the evening is violence in Chicago.

The soft-spoken Malloy addressed concerns from parishioners, many wondering why Pfleger — a social activist and the pastor at St. Sabina Church — was invited to the parish and what topics would be covered.

"Nobody is neutral about Mike Pfleger," Malloy said Tuesday afternoon.

These same strong feelings about Pfleger also played out on neighborhood Facebook pages. Heated reactions included calls for St. Barnabas parishioners to withhold their weekly contributions, protests outside of the event and even parents to pull their children from the church's elementary school.

Malloy said he was aware of such talk but added that the people he had spoken with were mostly concerned by Pfleger's views on police. After all, a significant portion of the community at St. Barnabas is made up of police, firemen and their families, Malloy said.

"They think [Pfleger] is anti-police, and therefore this thing is going to be anti-police," said Malloy, adding that the topic for discussion is not law enforcement but rather violent crime.

In fact, St. Barnabas has a long history of supporting the Chicago Police Department, Malloy said. The parish hosted a special Mass for first responders almost one year ago. Shortly thereafter, students at the school raised $2,110 to buy bulletproof vests for police to replace those that had expired.

For his part, Pfleger made no apologies Tuesday for accepting an invitation to participate in the upcoming discussion organized by the "Thou Shalt Not Murder" campaign. The group is made up of about a dozen religious and community leaders from the 19th Ward who sought to create a forum to address violence in Chicago.

"Am I hard on the police? No, I am hard on bad police," said Pfleger, adding he's opposed to violence in all forms.

He was saddened by response to his participation by some in the community. Pfleger said he plans on speaking about violence as well as racism, which he believes is at root of many of the problems facing poor communities.

"Good if you are upset," Pfleger said to those opposed to him being included on the panel alongside the Rev. David Kelly, executive director of Precious Blood Ministries of Reconciliation, and Chicago Police Chief Eugene Williams.

The pastor from Auburn Gresham said he hoped those same feelings of outrage would translate to more people thinking about problems facing the poor. Pfleger said only through thinking and talking about these problems will solutions be revealed.

"We love to live in denial," Pfleger said. "But I believe that my job as a priest is to prick the conversation."

Malloy said he's looking forward to hearing from Pfleger and others on the panel. He said the discussion might include even more voices as well. Malloy has reached out to Archbishop Blase Cupich and others hoping they too will participate in the campaign.

"Thou Shalt Not Murder" was unveiled last month as an online petition drive. The goal was to have supporters sign on to make Easter Sunday to be a day without a murder in Chicago. It has since evolved to simply a show of support for those working to quell the violence in the city as well as a sign of public outrage towards the killings, said the Rev. Karen Mooney of the Beverly Unitarian Church.

Mooney and others involved in the campaign recognize that the Beverly area enjoys a relatively low crime rate. But ignoring the problems faced by surrounding communities will not sustain the safety here nor will it solve the problem of violence elsewhere, organizers contend.

"We are this little bubble," said Malloy, who would like to see the security enjoyed in his community extended throughout the city.

Malloy said he plans to craft a letter further explaining the campaign and the upcoming event to parishioners. He hopes this will answer any lingering questions as well as result in increased attendance.

Indeed, St. Barnabas hosted a similar discussion on racial issues and violence on Jan. 16 — just ahead of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Roughly 120 people attended event in the church hall.

Despite the outcry, Malloy said he never considered moving the event to another location. And while acknowledging that at Pfleger can be a polarizing figure, he hoped that ultimately the panel discussion will bring people together.

"I think maybe this is all a blessing in disguise," Malloy said.

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