Members of St. Sabina Catholic Church marched in front of the home of Chicago's top Roman Catholic leader today. They protested Cardinal Francis George's decision to suspend their outspoken priest, Father Michael Pfleger.
Two busloads from St. Sabina started out in front of the Cardinal's home, but police said they couldn't protest there, and shuffled them across the street to a park. They bowed their heads in prayer.
The parishioners came to ask the Cardinal to meet with them and to lift Father Pfleger's suspension. The Cardinal suspended Pfleger after he reportedly said he'd consider leaving the Catholic church, rather than accept a transfer to serve at a Catholic high school.
In a letter, Cardinal George said that violated Pfleger's vows to obey, adding, "If that truly is your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church, and therefore are not able to pastor..."
He asked Father Pfleger to take a few weeks to pray over the situation. In the meantime, Father Pfleger will keep the office of pastor, "but without permission to function."
But St. Sabina leaders said the Cardinal took Pfleger's remarks out of context.
Isadore Glover Jr., who chairs the parish council, said there's a succession plan underway for Pfleger to mentor a priest who will replace him in a few years.
"It is not Father Pfleger or his remarks that have short-circuited the process, but rather the Archdiocese who has never honored the St. Sabina transition planning process," Glover said.
Associate minister Dr. Kimberly Lymore said Pfleger feels hurt, angry and disrespected.
"This has hit us like a ton of bricks, but we are not down, and we are not lifeless," she said.
The church leadership said the parish was devastated. They said media learned about the suspension Wednesday afternoon before the parish or Father Pfleger did.
Pfleger's assistant, Vince Clark, said Pfleger and the church's reaction was: "Shock, devastation, we all feel the same pain, we were blind-sided yesterday."
Clark said St. Sabina's the only place many parishioners feel welcome as African-Americans in the church.
"You can't just put a rent-a-priest in St. Sabina church and think you're going to have business as usual," he said. "That's not it, the people there want more. They want to be black and Catholic without giving up either one."
He predicted some members will leave St. Sabina if Pfleger does.
His wife, Cheryl, is one of them. She said the situation has been going on too long, and she'd "absolutely not" stay if the priest is compelled to go.
"You pray and you pray things will get better, but it gets to the point at which you become outraged," Cheryl Clark said.
The Archdiocese of Chicago had no further comments today. They directed people back to the Cardinal's letter released Wednesday, saying it "provides extensive and clear information."