Updated 5/23/11 at 9:13pm
Outspoken Catholic priest, Rev. Michael Pfleger, returned to the pulpit of St. Sabina Church on Sunday where he celebrated mass for the first time since his suspension.
Pfleger, who also celebrated his 62nd birthday on Sunday, received a standing ovation, but also apologized for his role in a high-profile standoff with the Archdiocese of Chicago during the past three weeks that left him banned from pastoral ministry and threatening to leave the Catholic church entirely.
Pfleger, the longtime pastor of the parish, was suspended last month after remarking during a National Public Radio interview that he would leave the church rather than be removed from St. Sabina Church, which he has headed for more than 30 years.
Previously, the Archdiocese had asked Pfleger to consider leaving the parish to take over leadership of a nearby Catholic high school.
In suspending Pfleger, Cardinal Francis George said if that was the priest’s attitude, he had already left the Catholic Church and therefore was "not able to pastor a Catholic parish."
Pfleger apologized for the remark Friday in a statement. He said he didn’t intend it as a threat to leave the priesthood, and he was committed to working with George to spread the Gospel.
The Archdiocese of Chicago announced Friday that it had reinstated Pfleger to full sacramental and pastoral ministry. Pfleger also said he will prepare a transition plan that he will present to George and the Priests’ Placement Board by Dec. 1.
"For the people of St. Sabina and the Church as a whole, I will do all in my power to foster healing for all," he said. "We trust in the healing power of God."
In reinstating Pfleger, George said the remarks made to National Public Radio seemed to place the priest outside the Catholic Church and constitute a threat to leave the priesthood. George said in a statement that he and Pfleger discussed how the church has been wounded and the need to find a way to heal the hurt and confusion.
"Father Pfleger’s statement, which he discussed with me, is a genuine step toward healing the hurt and clarifying the confusion," George said.
Pfleger has gained national attention for his protests of everything from gun violence to Jerry Springer’s television show. A white priest who runs a largely black parish, he has made racial equality a large part of his mission and appeared with major civil rights leaders.
He often wears African-style robes during services, and a mural of a black Jesus is behind the altar. Both of his adopted sons are black.
Pfleger has long appeared to have a strained relationship with the Chicago Archdiocese, which opposed his decision to adopt children. However, in his letter announcing the suspension, George said he has consistently supported Pfleger’s work for social justice and admired his passion for ministry.
Pfleger’s public comments have gotten him in trouble before. In 2008, he was suspended for nearly two weeks after mocking then-Sen. Hillary Clinton during her presidential run. Pfleger, who was preaching from the pulpit of President Barack Obama’s former Chicago church, pretended he was Clinton crying over "a black man stealing my show." He later apologized.
The latest disagreement stemmed from reports the archdiocese has wanted to put Pfleger in charge of a Catholic high school.