St. Sabina Services Proceed Without Pfleger; Cardinal Defends Priest’s Suspension

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.

  • Kathleen

    All Priests take a vow of obedience & they know if they’re called to go somewhere new, then they must go. Father Pfleger had no right to make threats about leaving the Catholic Church. If location means more to him then his faith, then he isn’t needed! He obviously has gotten too comfortable & I’d be looking at what other reasons he has for wanting to stay there so bad. The Cardinal was right in what he did!

    • princess purgatory

      Exactly…..sounds like he needed a change.

  • Ninah

    I think that all of this mess could have been avoided if Pfleger would not have run screaming to the media everytime someone suggested a change where he was concerned. Simply put, most ADULTS would have gone to the boss with reasons and community backup QUIETLY and stated his reasons for wanting to stay there. It seems like the Cardinal just wanted Pfleger to show him some respect and civility, and not act like he had a vendetta against the Cardinal.



  • Jennifer

    I find it funny that he thought a threat to leave would hold some wieght, It’s as if he’s Jesus or something. How can the whole catholic religion go on with out him. Very arrogant and not very God like. Is that what Jesus would do, Pfleger??

  • Raymond Prudente

    February 2004,CNN-It reveals that 4,450 of the 110,000 roman catholic clergy have been accused of molesting minors.
    February 2005, Dr. Kathleen McChesney of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the crisis is not yet over because thousands of victims across the country are still reporting the abuse.
    In 2004, at least 1,090 allegations of sexual abuse were made against at least 756 catholic priests and deacons in the United States.
    In August 2008, Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese announced it would pay $12.7 million to settle 16 claims of sexual abuse involving 10 former priests and a school principal. The Chicago church has settled more than 100 cases.

    What is over is the denial that this problem exists, and what is disturbing is the reluctance of the church hierarchy to deal openly with the public about the extent of the problem. They sacrificed children for many, many years instead of protecting them. Every priest take an oath of celibacy. Every priest who has sex violates that oath. It’s a shame, its a bad name on the Catholics but there are lot of good ones out there like Fr. Mike Pfleger. Cardinal George is silent about the matter and failed to monitor, investigate and suspend abusive priest. When church leadership systematically conceals sexual abuse, the public becomes distressed. In fairness, Cardinal George should resigned or been removed. It won’t happen. Sexual abuse of children are generally considered the most heinous. But public opinion pressured the church to act “WITH DESTRUCTIVE SEVERITY.”

    • Laurie

      Cardinal George has been far from “silent about the matter” of priest sex abuse. He has been the most transparent and forthcoming of all church officials. (Altho, granted, that’s not hard, considering how secretive they’ve been forever.) He is the only President of the US Conf of Catholic Bishops to release his deposition about the issue. In it, he admits being naive and wrong, but never deliberately dishonest.

      And your statistics are telling: Just 4% of Catholic Clergy have been accused. We know that some – (Cardinal Bernadin for one) were false accusations. In the population at large, 3-9% or adults are found guilty or abusing a child… teachers, coaches, babysitters, childcare workers… As always – the church is just a microcosm of the society at large. sad, but true.

      Fr. Mike is a different issue altogether. He has wavered from adherence to cannon law time and again. He seems like a genuine man of God, to be sure – and a great support to the people he serves. He just isn’t doing so in the manner of a Catholic Priest.

      Fr. Mike reminds me of another famous Chicago Michael: very good at what they do… but don’t call it what it isn’t… No matter how he dressed or where he went to work – Michael Jordan was never really a baseball player.

  • tc

    the catholic church runs itself like a government.i have been a catholic my whole life and i will not be dont need religion to be connected to
    your has made all these rules etc.they have a good thing at st sabina
    and fr pfleger should be left alone.

    • Right

      people at st. sabina will continue to go for the handouts and to be told that nothing is their fault.

    • Bill C.

      I think you may have Catholic in name only, since your comments don’t reflect catholic teaching or experience.

      Bill C.

      • Tom Foley

        I’d suggest that most are only Catholic in name… me included.

  • Anthony Galloway

    Are we really blaming Pfleger, when the Catholic Church has yet to deal with the pedophiles under its wings. I’ve seen the pedophiles dealt with with more tolerance.

  • Anji

    I just heard today, that Pfleger has given an interview to “student journalists” and hinted that he’s considering a lawsuit. If true, what is this man thinking? He needs to be given a looooooong time out from his duties.

    • Raye Onyekwere

      What charges would be filed against the Catholic Church….. they said they would have considered leaving Father Pfleger at his normal location if his talents would be better served there….as a Catholic priest he is supposed to be obedient and go where the church tells him to go….once he calls himself a Catholic priest its like a contract that has to be upheld, he can’t pick and choose which parts of priesthood he wants to follow just because at the moment the rules aren’t in his favor.

  • elliott marks

    These religious leaders at the end of the day are just men. Just like politiians it’s OUR colletive job to chose wisely lest our leaders may be leading us straight to hell.

  • Shayne Watts

    As much as I like Fr Pfleger and the work he has done at St Sabina, he is wrong for disobeying the Cardinal. This has been like a poker game..this time the Cardinal won. Priests take a vow of obedience to their bishop…he is not bigger than the Church or God…the congregation should also realize that.

  • Hawkeye

    Pfleger is an awful priest. We all saw examples of that during the Obama/Clinton presidential primary. Its about time Cardinal George acted.

  • Laurie

    I’d like someone from St. Sabina to explain to me why only their priest is above the rules. My children wept as we said goodbye to our Pastor last year – and so did he.. HE had rebuilt a nearly closed parish and school in a multicultural neighborhood, and brought many diverse populations together…. but he went, as he was asked. No one went to the press and screamed racism or “plantation politics.” AND – if Fr. Mike is so wonderful, wouldn’t it be most Christ like of him (and them) to allow him to touch other lives outside their own small neighborhood? Are the parishioners of St. Sabina the only ones who are entitled to such an amazing man? Should no one else in Chicago benefit from his passion or teachings? Why are you the only ones deserving??

    • FNL fan

      St. Sabina’s parisoners will tell you that their priest was blind-sided .. and it’s not fair that Carindal George is picking on him

  • Tom Foley

    Look, sex abuse and Fr. Mike’s issues are two entirely different issues. However, if all priests are supposed to be “obedient”, then why the double standard on discipline between the two? Shouldn’t there be a letter to the media each time a priest is suspended for abusing a child? Apparently, the church doesn’t see it that way and often moves problem priests around.

    Further, in mainstream society, what’s a more serious charge? A vocal disagreement with boss or molesting children? One might get you fired while the other will get you prison time (if convicted). So why are these two being treated almost as polar opposites in the Catholic Church?

    To be honest, with how lazy many Catholic priests are these days, it’s refreshing the Fr. Mike has so much energy for his community. The Catholic church would be much better off if they embraced that energy for the good of the flock.

  • Yahira

    Foley, you are the lazy catholic.. eating a lot and being so heavy. Please.. father Pfleger wast working so hard and that is why he is being kicked out of the Catholic Church. Wake up… Jesus is coming and the good will be called evil and the righteous bad. This are the sighs of the times.
    Father Pfleger should be a candidate for sainthood.. I will certainly vote for him and surely he will be nominated.
    Dont you think so??

  • Costella

    Me too. I will make him a saint in a second because he proved to be a faithful sevant of the living God. We all know the ACLU is trying to making a devil and all those who speak evil of him are doing nothig to save souls or to serve faithfully to the Catholic Church.
    God bless him for what his done and stop making excuses for being so lazy.

  • JTA

    Anthony, you really don’t know a thing about which you speak, do you ? How long are ignoramuses like you going to continue to harp on a problem that has already ceased to be a problem ? In 2010, SEVEN (that’s *7*) credible cases of abuse were reported. Compare that to public schools, and get back to us. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, kindly shut your yap.
    Michael Pfleger has not acted like a Catholic priest in obedience or theology for a very long time. He needs to move on down the road now. He bluffed and blustered for many years, but his luck has finally run out. Buh-bye.

  • DexInfo

    I am neither a Catholic nor a member of St. Sabina But I know Fr.Pfleger to be a good man. His adoption of St. Sabina in his heart has accomplished impossible improvements for that entire community once rundown, gang-ridden and hopeless. Fr.Pfleger garnered energy from the people in the community that wanted good schools for their children, good businesses and safety for their children to and from school. The Catholic church REFUSED to help that particular neighborhood even as they received the tithes and offerings from those same people. Fr. Pfleger gave them hope as the Bible said he should. People worked hard to better themselves; their homes and the surrounding area of the church. One of the best African-American libraries in the USA is located at St. Sabina and Cardinal George did nothing to assist in providing it. At St. Leo & Quigley, several young men have been abused but Card. George has been silent about it. If Fr. Pfleger had gone to St. Leo, who do you think was going to be blamed publicly for the abuse there? Just as Cardinal George, by his own admission released the letter to the press, don’t you believe he was not trying to set Fr. Pfleger up for the debacle at St. Leo. I stand behind Fr. Pfleger because I know what a crook Cardinal George really is. There are several Catholic tragedies all over Chicago that George has covered. Let’s start with St. Bernard’s church and school and all the nuns who died there. The Chicago Catholic Church doesn’t play by the rules from the Vatican, they make them as they go along to George’s whimsy.

  • Amigwyn

    So he doesn’t want to listen to his boss. Wow, I wish I got so much publicity when I told my boss I didn’t want to take on the responsibilities of a laid off co-worker. Needless to say, like many others during this time, I am doing the job of three people with no more pay or benefits. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to survive. If he feels like he can quit on his faith, his God and his soul, then let him. That is between him and his God. Just as my issue was between me and my boss. Such silliness in the media sometimes.

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