Fr. Pfleger takes temporary leave

June 3, 2008 9:12:56 PM PDT
Francis Cardinal George has asked Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina's Parish to take a leave for a couple of weeks following his recent remarks on Sen. Hillary Clinton. Pfleger will step back from his obligations and pastoral duties for a couple of weeks, according to Cardinal George. The leave of absence became effective Tuesday.

"Fr. Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time. While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the Church's regulations for all Catholic priests," said Cardinal George in a statement on the Chicago Archdiocese Web site June 3.

On Sunday, May 25, Father Pfleger, a supporter of Barack Obama, made disparaging remarks about Senator Hilary Clinton while speaking as a guest visitor at Trinity United Church of Christ. A video of that sermon was posted online in which Pfleger called America 'a sin.'

Pfleger apologized in a written statement: "These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them."

Earlier, Obama wrote: "I am deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric."

Following the sermon, Cardinal George released a statement: "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."

Pfleger has served as pastor at the St. Sabina Parish on Chicago's South Side for more than 25 years. It is considered one the most vibrant, predominantly African-American Catholic churches in the country.

Recently, Obama resigned his 20-year membership at Trinity United Church of Christ, which first came under fire following controversial sermons by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Pfleger's statements as a guest speaker at Trinity United Church of Christ tuned the spotlight back on the church.

Members of the St. Sabina congregation have called for an emergency meeting Tuesday night in defense and in support of Pfleger.

He is the embodiment of the term activist priest. Pfleger has led countless rallies and marches, most recently in favor of stricter gun control laws in the state. He has been involved in plenty of controversy over the years, but the controversy over his remarks about Clinton has gotten national attention.

"And then out of nowhere came Barack Obama, and she said 'Oh, damn, where did you come from? I'm white. I'm entitled. There's a black man stealing my show!' Pfleger told the Trinity congregation.

Pfleger said in an interview with the Sun-Times Tuesday, "This is a dangerous time in America. You have to whisper your thoughts."

The fiercely loyal congregation at St. Sabina largely seems to disagree with the cardinal's decision.

"He speaks God's word. And obviously God told him to say that. I mean, I couldn't figure out any other reason," said Danica Meeks, Pfleger supporter.

"If they take him out of there, all the people's going to follow him wherever he goes," Pfleger supporter James Elerby said of the congregation's loyalty.

The archdiocese has assigned Father William Vanecko to oversee St. Sabina during Pfleger's absence. Vanecko also happens to be Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's brother-in-law. Vanecko said that the cardinal's office has asked him not to say anything at this point.

Statement released by Francis Cardinal George on June 3:

"To put recent events in some perspective, I have asked Father Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina's Parish, to step back from his obligations there and take leave for a couple of weeks from his pastoral duties, effective today.

Fr. Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time. While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the Church's regulations for all Catholic priests. I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns.

I hope also that the life of St. Sabina's parish may continue in uninterrupted fashion. Fr. William Vanecko, Pastor of St. Kilian's parish, will be temporary administrator of St. Sabina's and will assure the full complement of ministerial services during this period. I ask the members of St. Sabina's parish to cooperate with him and to keep him and Fr. Pfleger in their prayers. They are in mine."


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