CHICAGO (CBS)— Worship services were held Saturday for the first time at St. Sabina since the suspension of its pastor, Michael Pfleger.

A priest brought in to help handle his absence delivered the homily and admitted the circumstances were not ideal.

“Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not trying to hurt anybody. I was called by the Lord,” Father Andrew Smith told parishioners.

Smith did not ignore the elephant in the church: Cardinal Francis George’s suspension of the defiant Pfleger on Wednesday. Pfleger had publicly threatened to possibly leave the Catholic Church if he was transferred from his longtime, largely African-American parish on the South Side. Pfleger said leaders were trying to install him as head of nearby Leo High School, a position he does not want.  

Smith said the matter is “an administrative issue that Father Mike and the Cardinal have to resolve.” The former Chicago police officer said he was told he would serve at St. Sabina for a few weeks. 

“As a priest, I took a vow of obedience and that’s why I’m here at St. Sabina. I hope my stay here will be very brief,” Smith said. 

Even if Smith win’s over St. Sabina parishioners, he risks disappointing members of his current church, St. Ailbe’s, who hold him high in regard. 

In Rome, meanwhile, George was eager to give his side of the story to CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine as the Cardinal attended this weekend’s ceremonies to beatify late Pope John Paul II.

Before all the escalating rhetoric, Pfleger might have been able to stay at St. Sabina, the Cardinal said. He said church officials could have determined that the priest’s abilities were best used there on a permanent basis.

“If it became clear that there was no place where his talents could be exercised, except in that milieu, where he’s been effective for so long, well, then, that would be a good move,” George told Levine.

George said publicly releasing his suspension letter to Pfleger was meant to clear up any confusion about why he had taken action.

A Pfleger letter to Cardinal dated March 19 was distributed to St. Sabina parishioners Saturday. In it, the priest proposed putting Leo High School under the wing of St. Sabina but with someone else in charge of the school.

The Cardinal said he hopes to have future discussions with Pfleger. On Friday, he said technically Pfleger is still pastor of St. Sabina.

The Saturday service at St. Sabina’s usually has about 40 attendees. This weekend, more than 100 people showed up, with many sitting in an overflow area.

On Sunday, there will be a major unity service at 10 a.m. Father Pfleger would likely have presided over that service.

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