Pfleger Shocked By Suspension From Ministry

UPDATED 04/28/11 11:28 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) — Forty years of ministry, and more than 30 at St. Sabina parish, are in doubt now for the officially suspended Rev. Michael Pfleger.

Pfleger has not spoken publicly about the issue, except during an address to parishioners Wednesday night when he said he “found out from the media” that he had been suspended by Francis Cardinal George.

But as CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, St. Sabina parishioners are furious, and a couple of busloads of those parishioners headed several miles north Thursday morning to protest in front of the Cardinal’s Residence, 1555 N. State Pkwy.

The parishioners gathered for a prayer circle at the foot of Lincoln Park, across North Boulevard from the Cardinal’s residence.

George issued the suspension letter to Pfleger on Wednesday, stating “your ministry as pastor of St. Sabina and your sacramental faculties as a priest of the Archdiocese are suspended.”

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Regine Schlesinger reports

The cardinal took particular issue with Pfleger’s repeated statements in both local and national media that George was trying to remove him from St. Sabina and transfer him to Leo High School as president.

“Our private conversation was misrepresented publicly as an attempt to ‘remove’ you from Saint Sabina’s,” George wrote. “You know that priests in the Archdiocese are ‘removed’ only because they have been found to have sexually abused a minor child or are guilty of financial malfeasance.”


Earlier this month, Pfleger told the public radio program “Smiley and West” that if it came to a choice to become president of Leo High School, to become pastor of another Catholic church, or to leave the church, he would look at the third option.

But he also said he wanted to stay in the Catholic Church. In his letter, George said that Pfleger had told him on several occasions that he did not want to stay at St. Sabina’s for the rest of his career.

In the letter, George said the opening at Leo High School “gave us the possibility of offering you a transfer that would keep you in the neighborhood and among the people to whom you have dedicated much of your life and also give you a position from which to continue to espouse the cause dear to you: education in the African American community.”

George went on to say that Pfleger left open the possibility of serving at Leo, but that Pfleger’s public comments dictated otherwise.

“That process has now been short-circuited by your remarks .. that you will leave the Catholic Church if you are told to accept the assignment other than as pastor of St. Sabina. If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and therefore are not able to pastor a Catholic parish.”

At the protest Thursday, two Sabina parishioners said the loss of Pfleger from St. Sabina would be devastating.

“I’m supporting my pastor. I don’t like what’s going on, but I’m still going to support my pastor,” said parishioner Lonny Washington.

When asked if parishioners envision a time when Pfleger would no longer be the pastor at St. Sabina, parishioner Reginald Morris said: “Yes, there will be a time when that will occur. That goes without saying. The problem here, I think, is the issue of timing, and there’s not an orderly transition.”

Back at the St. Sabina parish in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, parishioners were equally upset.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, many people who poured into the St. Sabina rectory, at 1210 W. 78th Pl., do not belong to the church. Some do not even go to church.

But they said they turned out anyway because they live in the community, and feel strongly about Pfleger’s positive influence to the area.

Many headed to the protest at the Cardinal’s residence afterward, but first, they prayed and shared concerns with one another. They said they are united behind Pfleger, and will do whatever it takes to get him back on the pulpit.

“I just know by Father Pfleger being here, he’s helping his community and the people in it, so it’s like at the end of the day, he should want to support that, and anybody who wants to be behind him should support that,” said neighborhood resident Isaiah Wilson.

“We love him, and we’re going to support him any way we can, you know,” said parishioner Robin Hayward. “Ultimately, it’s left up to God.”

Robert McClory, a former priest who’s written a biography of Pfleger, warns that part of the Cardinal’s legacy is just as much on the line, as Pfleger’s.

“I don’t think the Cardinal wants to have in his legacy that he tried to bust up the strongest and biggest black Catholic church in Chicago,” said McClory.

Rev. Jesse Jackson Weighs In
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is also talking about the issue, saying he regrets Cardinal George’s decision to suspend Pfleger.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Lisa Fielding reports

Jackson even compared Pfleger’s mission to that of Mother Theresa and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He’s in the tradition of activists who walk amongst the people, sleeps amongst the people, he’s not afraid to communicate. He doesn’t just ride there, he lives in the neighborhood,” said Jackson. “He’s an authentic gospel preacher.”

Jackson says Pfleger has dedicated his life to the church and he’s earned the trust of his people.

“He has a huge following and he’s earned the trust of the people. He’s preached to them, he’s presided at funerals, he’s walked the streets, he’s so necessary and he’s needed there. We hope that somehow these men of God can find reconciliation and redemption.”

Jackson said he and Pfleger even went to jail together for their cause. They were arrested for trespassing at a gun shop in 2007.

Jackson says he regrets his friend’s suspension and can only hope Cardinal George will reconsider.

Cardinal George has not made additional comments since issuing his letter to Pfleger. He is flying to Rome Thursday afternoon for celebrations and ceremonies surrounding the beatification of Pope John Paul II this weekend.

  • Gregory Lewis


    • T

      “I really believe that I just always thought, ‘This is mine! I’m Pfleger, I’m white, and this is mine! I just gotta get up and step into the plate. And then out of nowhere came, ‘Hey, I’m Associate Pastor Father Thulani or African American Priest Father Andrew Smith!’ and I then said, ‘Oh, damn! Where did you two come from? I’m white! I’m Pfleger and I’m entitled! There’s a black man stealing my show! AND I’M SAYIN THAT I’M STAYIN EVEN IF IT KILLS THE PARISH!’

  • Timothy Fitz

    If Father P’s followers are so upset, why don’t simply stop going to the church? Nothing gets the Catholic church’s attention like empty collection plates.

    • Savon

      I was thinking the same thing.

    • Mary Rehak

      The Catholic Church is NOT all about money, non catholics believe that, but those of us in the faith know we are not all about Money! Besides, the Catholic Church is the Biggest Charitable organization in the World! Which is why we are considered a Universal Church… What do you do to contribute to making our world a better place?

  • Gregory Lewis


    • Mary Rehak

      I agree with you Gregory.

  • Just Saying

    Avg Joe you are a disgrace to your mother…learn to spell and educate yourself before you attempt to bash someone!! God be with you because you will need him on your journey of IGNORANCE!!

  • Will

    Wouldn’t it be nice if “Avg Joe” could learn how to spell LIAR before calling someone a liar? Then again, maybe in your ignorance you meant to call him a LAIR!

  • Lew

    I love how no one is looking at the whole letter, especially Pfelgers blind faith followers. Pfelger told George he wanted to do something else in private conversation. But I am sure he never said that to his followers. He was trying to play both sides and got caught and exposed for the manipulater that he truly is.

  • A.Semmes

    Thank you Avg Joe-your comments reminded me of the reason I am a Christian…”Judge not” … AND “love thy enemies”…no one is BETTER than anyone else.WE ALL have our spiritual beliefs and we should act on them.

  • Moe

    If he was a true Catholic/|Christian, and he is soooo good, why is he afraid to go elsewhere and help other people? Like it or not, the rules are to go where your boss tells you to go as in any business. Most priests are transfered after 12 years, he has been there almost three times that….ADIOS!

  • southside

    Ego is a powerful thing. It is always about what Fr. P. thinks. Now he is playing the victim. A horrific example of a Christian and a Leader to his flock. He needs to man up and take the new challenge…the hero worship will follow. Jesus wouldn’t recognize his actions as being remotely Christian.

  • Frank John Reid

    Surely Fr. Pfleger knows the difference between “leaving the priesthood,” and “leaving the Church.” He could do the first, and still be a social leader (or whatever he thinks himself), but to petulantly threaten to leave the Church because he isn’t catered-to means he doesn’t believe in it anyway. I don’t doubt that many careerists (and even some idealists who need an instrument) stay in the priesthood long after they lose their faith, but this guy’s ego got so big he can’t even be pragmatically calculating. It’s sad.

  • he not part of the CLUB

    Father P never raped a young child and he not part of the club……… sugar coat all you want, this is the real reason…..

  • Bill

    No one is bigger than the flock(church).This man let his ego get in the way of the church mission.The church has supported him(literally and actually).His mission is not more important than the totality of the churches mission.The church has a right to utilize their priests as they seem necessary.By the father claiming he’s a victim,that’s a stretch!He’s been well taken care of!He tried to blackmail the church by threatening to leave the church!Good-bye father and if you want to really feel your flocks pain,go and get a real job!!!Then you can truly relate!You crossed the line and now you don’t want to take responsibility for your selfish act!What are you teaching your flock when you aren’t taking responsibility for your own actions!The church has been more than patient with you.You have stayed at your church longer than the majority of the priests out there!Why should you be treated different???Because you think you are????EGO EGO EGO!!!!!!!!

    • Mary Rehak

      Thank you Bill! You have hit the nail on the head. His is about one man’s ego, and NOT about doing the work of the Church. Father Pfleger, if you are reading or listening, your job is to share the Faith, The Dogma, the The Catechism of the our Lord and HIS Church. You have not taught your parishioners well, you have not extended to your flock the Truth, because if you had, your parish would understand why you need to leave. You have worked well to bring people to the truth, now it is time to help them understand why you must leave, because it is GOD”S WILL, not your’s. Because your Cardinal has asked, and now told you to leave and take another assignment, and dear Father, you can visit. He did not request that you move across state lines.

      I will pray that you will find the courage to share with your flock the truth and share your light, with your new assignment, as you do what is right. May God keep you and Bless St. Sabina Parish.

  • Mike P.

    He was a breath of fresh air when every other parish seems to have had the mandatory kid blower.

  • Mack

    He carries himself more like a baptist preacher

    • No Way

      Hey, don’t offend the Baptists. I am not Baptist, but I can’t think of any Baptist that act they way he does.


    Religulous…. Watch It, Learn….. You are all Brainwashed – Religion does teach good and that a good thing but really……..come on people….

    • Absolut

      What is “religulous” ?

  • Ninah

    Whatever happened to going where he’s needed? We have had multiple priests in my neighborhood. One even more dedicated to his community that Fr. P., but when it was his time to move on, he explained it to us and we had to accept it.

    Correct this statement if I’m wrong, but Isn’t he supposed to follow the path of Jesus? Jesus went where he was needed, to teach people the word of god. Jesus didnt stand in one place and unite only one community, he brought everyone together through his travels and his work. Father Pfleger has forgotten that.

    And Jesse Jackson needs to stay out of issues that he doesn’t understand. Jackson calls him an activist. HE’S A PRIEST FIRST, ACTIVIST SECOND.

    • Mary Rehak

      Amen! But please Capitalize God.

  • Maxine

    Anyone that knows Pfleger knows he is committed to St. Sabina and the people in the community (a low-income, African American, high crime area). He was made pastor to the church (that was targeted for closure) over 30 years ago and took the church from a membership of less than 100 to membership in the thousands. He’s worked with local pastors, community leaders and businessmen to help transform west 79th street into a viable CBD (central business district). He crusades to eliminate drug dealers and gang violence and works with the police too look for solutions. Why wouldn’t Pfleger be a model for other Priests to follow??? I suspect he is being persecuted because of the flock that he Sheppard’s.
    Why does the Catholic church turn its back on Black Catholics in the city of Chicago? They only have one humble request – that Father Pfleger be left to serve his remaining years as the pastor of St. Sabina. The media stated that Cardinal George (or a representative of the cardinal) said that Pfleger secretly has asked to be removed from the church. Anyone that knows Pastor Pfleger knows that this farthest from the truth!!!! If a representative from the cardinal’s office made this statement, then he has lied to the faith community of St. Sabina, to catholic community and has lied in the presence of God. I hope that Cardinal George will take responsibility and correct this grievous mistake!! Father Pfleger is truly a man of god!!

    • Ninah

      What about the other “low-income, African American (Hispanic,etc.) high crime areas that need a leader like him. As I said before, he is supposed to follow the path of Jesus, who went where he is needed. You state that he took the church from a membership of less than 100 to the thousands. He has done his job in the community. Keep in mind that people don’t go to church to see the priest. They go to church to hear the Word of God no matter who delivers it. He is not a model for other priests to follow. He isn’t supposed to be. JESUS is the model that priests are supposed to follow. Go into the community, turn people back to the Word of God and move to the next community. At this point, Father Phleger is playing the Martyr. Once again bad press for the Catholic Church because the bad guy is taking a priest from a community that thinks they need him. If he wants to be a great leader for the church, his actions must reflect his words. Go where he’s needed. According to the letter, that’s not far away.

      • Ninah

        Sorry, I spelled his name wrong. I meant Father Pfleger.

  • Amanda

    He should be the leader of St. Sabinas church because everyone likes him and he has done a great job. We know the AClu does not like him and many others because he is in line with the Bible and the teachings of the Lord Jesus Chirst.
    Please keep him in the ministry. He is needed so badly. Instead of removing him he should be commended for a such a wonderful job he is done. Send him to Rome to see the beatification of Johm Paul II that will uplift his spirits and will make him more efficient in his job.
    What church is he gona join if he is removed?
    Is this a waste of talent from the church?

  • Karen Turkowski

    Fr. Pfleger may have helped St. Sab ina’s when he first arrived there, but along the way, it seems his interests have become diverted – to himself and not the good of the parish and those he’s supposed to serve.

    What happened to the vost of OBEDIENCE that reglisous are to take when ordained? Did Pfleger have his fingers crossed? Also, humility and respect for authority and principles just don’t seem tob e his vocabulary because they don’t serve Pfleger imself. I agree his ego has overwhelmed him and perhaps the best for all would be for him to leave the priesthood – whatever he currently thinks himself to be.

    • Karen T.

      My comment is supposed to read “What happened to the VOW of obedience? Lost something in the transitopm/ Sorry.

      • Maxine

        What ever happened to serving the “least of your brothers”? This is what Jesus Christ was all about! The community needs him. I am not sure where people get the idea that he is full of EGO. He is full of conviction for what he believes in…which is Christ the Lord! He has very little in earthly possessions. The last time he was suspended from the church, he slept in a homeless shelter. If that is not following the teachings of Christ and illustrating humility, then I don’t know what is!!! It takes quite a bit of humility not to have a roof over your head. He will give anyone who needs it the shirt off of his back.

        The people are asking for him to saty at St. Sabina. Cardnial George has no good reason for removing him. I wish the church concentrated on removing the child molestors from the church!


    Maxine – Get a grip on reality and quit crying racism. At least Fr P taught his sheeps that over hte years. He should be removed. Like every other parish, priests don’t stay there long. He has used his 30 years there to become a publicity hound just like our friend Jesse. As long as they’re on camera and saying how the whites have victimized them they’re happy. Good Riddance!!!




    Let’s just call this what it is.Pfleger is a white “Jesse” or “Al” wanna be. All men of God,no matter the religion,do their work without grandstanding on TV or in the newspapers. Let him be a community organizer,the Catholic church certainly doesn’t need him. Maybe he can get a position in the New Black Panther Organization,they seem to share the same feelings about America.

  • TNB

    Pfleger has turned into a typical black making lots of noise, waiving his arms all over the place, and otherwise just causing trouble. It’s obvious they are just trying to keep him quiet and stop causing so much controversry. Well again like any typical black that doesn’t like being told what to do, he makes a big stink and now he is going to loose his mansion and his followers.. He brought this upon himself ( both the transfer and getting kicked out ).

    • Tired of Morons Who Post Irrelevant Comments

      I’m curious….can you elaborate on what a typical black is?

      • TNB

        mult-generation welfare recipient
        1 in 4 chance of being in jail
        fatherless family
        government handouts
        I’m gonna get mine attitude
        blame everyone else for their problems
        when you don’t get what you want, get louder
        ignorant / no education
        I could keep going…and going.. and going…

  • Bertha

    I have had 4 pastors and there were a couple I just did not want to leave but when they became a priest they knew that this was the policy and it is also what I know is the truth–a priest is expected to move one. Fr. Pfleger has been at St. Sabina too long. He does not think of himself as a pastor but as the church—he has a very big ego. The Christian community of St. Sabina can still be strong if they rally around a new pastor—handing on to one man as a god is not a good indication of what the church is about—they should cherish the love they received from their pastor but they must also honor the efforts of a new priest—it really works. I have experience it at my own parishion. St. Sabina does not need Fr. Pfeger–they are the church–and they cam be wonderful without a priest who has too big an ego for a priest.

  • Maxine

    There is no hard and fast rule that says that a Priest has a time limit on how long he should serve a church. Only Priest who sexually abuse children are required to leave. So why are they forcing him to leave Saint Sabina? Churches in impoverished communities can be given special consideration.
    As far as the media goes, the media follows/calls Pastor Pfleger. He doesn’t go looking for the ABC, NBC and FOX news. Often the media come’s to his Sunday service. Sometimes he has respectfully asked them to leave if church service is being disrupted.

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