UPDATED 03/17/11 10:45 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – It’s hard to imagine the outspoken and controversial Rev. Michael Pfleger anywhere but his beloved St. Sabina parish, but that’s apparently what could be happening soon.
Pfleger’s fate was still not known Thursday night. Parishioners attended a meeting about the future of St. Sabina.
“He’s a wonderful pastor,” Marguerite Dawson told CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman. “He’s really changed my life since he’s been here. I don’t want to get emotional. I just can’t imagine St. Sabina without him.”
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During a meeting last week, Francis Cardinal George reportedly asked Pfleger to leave St. Sabina for the presidency of struggling Leo High School.
Earlier this week, Pfleger told CBS 2: “I can neither confirm nor deny that at this point. That’s not something I can respond to at this point.”
Pfleger was asked if there are discussions ongoing between him, Cardinal George and the Archdiocese about leaving the parish.
“I’m in discussions with the Archdiocese but you know those are private conversations at this point and I can’t comment at this point about those conversations,” Pfleger said.
Pfleger has been at St. Sabina since 1981 which is far longer than priests are normally permitted to stay in one parish.
Pfleger hinted about a new battle in last Sunday’s sermon, “And let me say real clearly today I love being your pastor and I love being your shepherd, but you’re looking at a man who made a choice hold onto God, wherever God takes me.”
On Wednesday night, families at Leo High School, which struggles with declining enrollment, said they would love to have Pfleger. But they were surprised to find out that Pfleger had been offered the job.
Andre Hester said, “My son, my grandson come outside with nothing to worry about because of him, because of this church, what he’s doing over here…. Why would you move him?”
Emotions also ran high at a St. Sabina parish council meeting Wednesday night. One man told CBS 2 a statement would be released later Thursday.
“I don’t know what the statement is,” said parishioner Sam Williams. “Am I upset? Yes. I’ve been going to church here for over 20 years.”
Other St. Sabina Church officials are also protesting.
In a statement released Thursday morning, the leaders of the St. Sabina Faith Community said they realize Pfleger will not serve as pastor of the church forever, but they still think it’s a bad move to take him away right now.
“Considering the current state of the economy, we believe that removing him at this time would be devastating to both our parish and the Auburn-Gresham community,” the statement said. “We also know that it is Father Pfleger’s desire to remain as pastor of Saint Sabina. Further, we feel that as leadership we should be granted the respect of being involved in any process of succession planning for the future of our parish.”
The Superintendent of Catholic Schools says Father Pfleger would bring much to the ministry at Leo should he join that community.
Pfleger spoke with his church members at Thursday’s meeting, but was open-ended about his future.