CHICAGO (CBS) — The Rev. Michael Pfleger has not spoken with the mainstream media about his suspension this week, but he did open up about it to some Columbia College journalism students.
As CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports, Pfleger reportedly has been on the St. Sabina campus. He hasn’t made any appearances, but the journalism students spoke with him before a protest in his name Thursday.
“You could tell that what’s been going on in the last 24 hours has really been taking a toll on him,” said Columbia journalism student Cassandra Norris. “He was shell-shocked. That was basically his feelings. He was not expecting to be suspended, and that’s the extent of his comments on that.”
Norris and her classmates had an appointment with Pfleger at St. Sabina before the suspension. Pfleger did not cancel.
Francis Cardinal George issued a letter to Pfleger on Wednesday, announcing that he was to be suspended for his comments in which he talked about leaving the Catholic Church if he was transferred from the St. Sabina pastorship to a post at the helm of nearby Leo High School.
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine, who is in Rome, reports that Cardinal George is expected to meet with Chicago reporters at least twice over the next four days. But a spokesman said the Cardinal will not answer any questions about the Pfleger controversy.
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.
“I want to try to stay in the Catholic Church. If they say, ‘You either take this principalship at the high school or the pastorship there, or leave, then I have to look outside the church,” he said.
George responded in the letter, “If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and therefore are not able to pastor a Catholic parish.”
George also said in the letter, “To avoid misrepresentation… this letter will be released to the parish… and to the media after it has been delivered to you.”
But on Wednesday night, Pfleger said that did not happen. He told parishioners, “At 4:30 this afternoon, I found out from the media that I was suspended.”
He said the same to the Columbia students.
“The media knew before he did. That’s all he told us,” Norris said.
In her article for the campus paper, Norris said she will include comments Pfleger made that “he loves his job. He is first and foremost a priest.”