First services at St. Sabina without Pfleger

May 2, 2011 4:26:34 AM PDT
Fr. Michael Pfleger returned to his church on the South Side Sunday, but not to say Mass.

Cardinal Francis George suspended the controversial St. Sabina pastor after some comments he made about his future in the Catholic Church.

While some remain angry over the cardinal's decision to suspend Pfleger, others see the decision as pivotal for the priest's future and the future of the Catholic Church.

Sunday at St. Stabina's was Youth Day, and while the church was without Pfleger, he was not forgotten.

"Thank you Father Mike for your love; thank you Father Mike for all you do for our young people. Thank you," said Fr. Thulani Magwaza, an associate pastor at St. Sabina.

Although it was St. Sabina's associate pastor and not the suspended head of the church who delivered Sunday's sermon about appearances, the embattled priest did periodically "appear" to parishioners from behind a partially closed door. St. Sabina's Youth Minister Cinque Cullar spoke with him.

"I couldn't really judge where his mood was, but I can tell he's very mixed emotions," Cullar said.

On Wednesday, Cardinal George temporarily removed Pfleger from his duties because of comments he made about plans to leave the Catholic Church if he were reassigned. Recently, the cardinal had urged Pfleger to leave his church and take a new assignment leading Chicago's Leo High School. Pfleger refused to do that.

In the meantime, Cardinal George assigned the Rev. Andrew Smith to assist with church duties at St. Sabina. Smith, originally from St. Ailbe, conducted Saturday night mass at St. Sabina, his first since Pfleger was suspended.

"We are gonna be unified, we're gonna get past this," said Smith. "Father Mike, [Francis] Cardinal George, we're gonna work it out. We're the Church."

Cardinal George was in Rome Sunday for the beatification of Pope John Paul II. ABC7's Alan Krashesky asked him how much time he would give Pfleger.

"I asked him to reflect a bit so some time is necessary but it's up to him basically," said Cardinal George. "We'll be in conversation at some point I hope."

The Chicago Archdiocese's personnel policy states that "A pastor will serve no more than two consecutive six-year terms as pastor" in a specific church. Pfleger has been pastor of St. Sabina for 30 years. The policy mandating six-year terms was enacted after a 1972 vote by what was then the Archdiocese's Council of Priests, and became a national policy the next year. The policy was put in place in part to keep pastors from becoming too entrenched.

Still, many Pfleger supporters like Gwendolyn Meeks say he should not have to leave. She has written a letter to the cardinal.

"Whenever someone in the black community is doing something good for the black community, it seems like it's always disrupted or dismantled and we don't appreciate that," Meeks said.

Other Pfleger supporters say the pastor has been a positive influence on a struggling community often impacted by crime and poverty, and to remove him would be hurtful. Some even silently protested with a walk.

Meanwhile, long time parishioner Pat Obi does not want to see his church torn apart.

"It would definitely not speak well of the Catholic Church if in fact this community falls apart," Obi said.