Updated 3/18/2011 at 4:45 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Rev. Michael Pfleger, the outspoken and controversial pastor of St. Sabina church, confirmed Friday that Cardinal Francis George wants him to leave his parish after nearly 30 years to head up nearby Leo High School.
“It’s obvious at this point that I have been asked to move,” Pfleger said at an anti-violence rally at the Daley Center on Friday.
“All I can say is that I’ve written a response on what the cardinal’s requests were and I’m turning it over to him and I leave it up to the cardinal at this point,” Pfleger added, saying he’s still waiting to hear back from the Archdiocese.
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Sources had told CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine earlier this week that Pfleger had been asked to make the move, but until Friday, Pfleger had declined to confirm or deny anything.
Several Howard University students organized Friday’s rally at the Daley Center with Pfleger. The group has been staying at St. Sabina during their spring break.
The event was intended to be a student demonstration about controlling assault weapons — a key issue for activist Pfleger — but it became a show of support for the priest they called their mentor. Rally coordinator Melech Thomas said he and the other Howard University students are deeply saddened that Pfleger might be moved.
“Here’s a man that has sought to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with God,” Thomas said.
Pfleger has been at St. Sabina since 1981, which is far longer than priests are normally permitted to stay in one parish. Sources close to Pfleger say he may have suggested a compromise — taking over the presidency of Leo High School as the Cardinal requested but remaining at St. Sabina, Levine reports. There is no indication the cardinal would accept that compromise.
Members of St. Sabina have protested the possible move for Pfleger.
“He’s a wonderful pastor,” St. Sabina parishoner Marguerite Dawson said Thursday. “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.”
In a statement released Thursday, 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 has said that the cardinal does not comment on private discussions with priests, but said Pfleger “would bring much to the ministry of Leo High School” if he joined the staff there.