UPDATED 04/29/11 11:22 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – A new priest was ordered to move into the rectory at St. Sabina parish to replace the suspended Rev. Michael Pfleger Friday morning, a decision that church representatives said was a “slap in the face.”
The Rev. Andrew Smith called the church around 8:30 a.m. to announce that he would move into the rectory, at 1210 W. 78th Pl., in 20 minutes, according to a e-mail news release from the church. He said he had been ordered to do so by Francis Cardinal George and his immediate subordinate, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, according to the release.
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The church and its administrator, the Rev. Thulana Magawaza, had not been notified that Smith was moving in, a release from the church said.
“Again, the Saint Sabina Family has been disrespected and slapped in the face by the Archdiocese of Chicago,” the church release said.
Members of the church leadership had even stronger words at a later news conference.
“There’s been absolutely no communication at all, with us, with the Cardinal,” Vince Clark, assistant to Pfleger, told reporters. “I don’t think a wealthy white parish would be treated with the level of disrespect that the largest African-American Catholic church in the Archdiocese of Chicago has received. This is nothing short of plantation politics.”
Cardinal George issued a letter to Pfleger on Wednesday, announcing that the St. Sabina pastor was to be suspended for his comments in which he talked about leaving the Catholic Church if he was transferred from St. Sabina to a post at the helm of nearby Leo High School.
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.”
Pfleger was also suspended in 2008, after making racially charged comments about then-U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton when she was running in the Democratic presidential primary against eventual winner Barack Obama.
At that time, the church said, the Rev. William Vanecko was temporarily brought in to replace Pfleger, who in turn was eventually reinstalled. But Vanecko was never ordered to move into the rectory.
“Is the message that they’re sending is that the faith community of St Sabina is incomparable of continuing the ministry of St Sabina?” the church release said.
Smith told CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot that he had his reservations about going to St. Sabina, and liked his assignment at St. Ailbe Church, 9015 S. Harper Ave.
But, the Chicago Police officer turned priest said, “The church says we have to take a vow of obedience. When the Cardinal says go, you’ve got to go.”
Smith will assist Magawaza, who is the associate pastor.
“When we preach the good news, we preach the good news,” Smith said Thursday. “It’s not about me. It’s not about Mike Pfleger. The church is Jesus Christ’s church.”
“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.”