Skepticism is the default position of journalists who don’t know what to think. A news figure comes along who’s a square peg that fits none of the reporters’ round holes. He’s unorthodox, he’s controversial, he’s not given to explaining himself to others, and he’s in a line of work—religion, say—where most reporters feel out of their element. To this sort of news figure a seasoned journalist brings a kind of skeptical tentativeness. Here’s what he’s saying and doing, but each story hints, who knows if he’s for real?
Without knowing much about Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church beyond what I read in the papers, I’ve always had my doubts about him. Some of those reservations surely rubbed off from the coverage. Pfleger is a white showman in black Chicago, and what kind of trip is he on? He’s a controversial Catholic, a noisy, headline-making Catholic, but what does he really believe? Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger, an engaging recent documentary by Bob Hercules, left my questions unsettled because film observes much better than it explores. But now there’s a book, Radical Disciple, by former Reader staff writer Robert McClory—that finally puts Pfleger in focus. The book project, incidentally, had nothing to do with the documentary project, but McClory’s publisher liked Hercules’s title so much that they got his permission to borrow it.
McClory thinks Pfleger is a great priest.