Cardinal suspends outspoken Catholic priest Father Pfleger

April 27, 2011

By Lynette Kalsnes and Natalie Moore

Download Story

The head of the Archdiocese of Chicago has suspended an outspoken South Side pastor.

Father Michael Pfleger is known as a charismatic and popular priest with a gift for preaching, who's campaigned against alcohol and tobacco bill boards, gun shops and racism. But he's also gotten heat for some controversial actions, like his mocking of Hillary Clinton that led to a leave of absence in 2008.

Father Michael Pfleger reportedly had threatened to quit the Catholic Church if he was made to take an assignment running a Catholic school and leave St. Sabina Catholic Church, where he's served for three decades.

In a letter released Wednesday, Cardinal Francis George said that violated Pfleger's vows to obey.

The Cardinal said, "If that truly is your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church, and therefore are not able to pastor a Catholic church."

The Cardinal also said Father Pfleger had publicly "misrepresented" their discussions about the possible reassignment to the school.

He told Father Pfleger, "This conflict is not between you and me; it's between you and the Church .... If you now formally leave the Catholic Church and her priesthood, it's your choice and no one else's. You are not a victim of anyone or anything other than your own statements."

He asked Father Pfleger to take a few weeks to pray over the situation while his ministry is suspended. That means Father Pfleger keeps the office of pastor, "but without permission to function."

In the meantime, the Cardinal appointed St. Sabina's associate pastor to minister, and Father Andrew Smith from St. Ailbe Catholic Church to help.

Father Smith said, "It's a difficult situation, and Father Mike has done a lot of good things."

He said he wished Father Pfleger well.

But Father Smith also described the Cardinal as "a very good man," and said the church, like any institution, has rules and regulations.

Elaine Albert lives in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, where St. Sabina is located. She said Pfleger has done important work such as trying to stop gun violence.

"He has supported and been a tremendous priest throughout our neighborhoods and he helped us tremendously. And just the thought of him not being here would be very, very bad," Albert said.

Father Pfleger could not be reached for comment.