Fiery Chicago priest put on brief leave

politics | Jun 09, 2008 | By Joseph Grieboski

After a recent meeting with His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, the leadership of St. Sabina's parish announced that Fr. Michael Pfleger – the longtime pastor who was suspended after politically-tinged commentary from the pulpit of Barak Obama’s former church – would return to the post next week. Suspension of the controversial priest lasted only seven days.

In a sermon last month, Pfleger mocked Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ and said the New York senator felt "entitled" to the Democratic nomination for president because she is white. "I believe she just always thought, 'This is mine. I'm Bill's wife. I'm white, and this is mine,'" Pfleger preached. "And then outta nowhere came, 'Hey, I'm Barack Obama.' And she said, 'Oh, damn! Where did you come from?'"

The Pfleger inferno put Trinity back in the news, just as the Wright revelations were receding. Already rocked by episodes of then-Pastor Jeremiah Wright's radical rhetoric, the Rev. Otis Moss III invited Fr. Michael Pfleger to speak at Trinity. The debacle was the last straw for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama who then quit the church permanently. Pressure built on the church in the wake of the remarks widely seen as hate speech.

Last week, Cardinal George released the following statement: “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.” But on Sunday morning, St. Sabina’s associate minister Kimberly Lymore said Pfleger will be permitted to return to his parish on June 16.

Lymore read a letter from Pfleger in which the priest said, “This has been a very painful time for me... Let this be a teaching moment for us to hear from the Lord.”

Pfleger's only restriction, said Lymore, would be that he couldn't talk about political candidates. Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Burritt told reporters that all priests are bound by that rule.

Joseph Grieboski is President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy and Secretary General, Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom. He is also Foreign News Editor of The Cutting Edge News.



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