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UPDATED 02/07/12 8:39 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Effective this summer, the Rev. Michael Pfleger will begin sharing his pastoral duties at St. Sabina parish in the Auburn-Gresham neighborhood, but will take on a new role in developing anti-violence initiatives for the Chicago Archdiocese.
Francis Cardinal George announced Tuesday that effective July 1, Pfleger will begin sharing the pastorship of St. Sabina with the Rev. Thulani Magwaza, who will be promoted from assistant pastor to co-pastor. Magwaza interned at St. Sabina while attending the seminary.
A news release from the cardinal did not specify how this move would change Pfleger’s duties at St. Sabina, at 1210 W. 78th Pl.
Asked if the cardinal gave him any indication how long he would remain as pastor at St. Sabina, Pfleger said Tuesday night, “He said ‘You will remain at St. Sabina.’ There was no time limit, no time zone, no transition plan in place, there is none in place.”
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Illinois State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) is a longtime St. Sabina parishioner. She says she understands Pfleger himself suggested the co-pastoral duties, and Cardinal George signed off on it.
“My take from the letter is that Father Pfleger can be assured that his stay at St. Sabina is permanent,” Collins said.
Pfleger has also agreed to take on a new role within the Chicago Archdiocese, in which he will be responsible for developing anti-violence initiatives. His focus will be on stopping gun violence in particular, the Archdiocese said.
“The cardinal said, ‘Well, since you have been doing this, perhaps you could be the voice for the Archdiocese on the guns and on the violence,’” Pfleger said. “And I laughed at him. I said, ‘Are you sure you want me to be your voice?’”
The move prompted praise from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“I want to applaud the Archdiocese for picking Father Pfleger, because his voice – as it relates to violence, gun violence, and protecting kids – is something that both the president and I share,” Emanuel said. “His voice will be – not only his voice, his insights – will be important.”
Preckwinkle said, “I’m grateful for his past good work and I’ll look forward to working with him on our anti-violence initiative, if that’s the role that the Archdiocese has asked him to play.”
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As if to underscore the exception to church policy limiting the tenure of priests at parishes, Pfleger will also be helping out another longtime pastor at a nearby parish.
He also has been named the temporary administrator of St. Margaret of Scotland parish, 9849 S. Throop St., effective immediately. A new pastor will be named to St. Margaret of Scotland on July 1, and the current pastor, the Rev. Daniel Mallette, will remain as pastor emeritus.
Back on Dec. 1, Mallette, 80, survived a brutal attack by two robbers who invaded his room in the middle of the night as he slept soundly in the parish rectory. The robbers left him with broken ribs and facial lacerations, and made off with $600.
The case remains unsolved.
Tuesday afternoon, Mallette, who is still recovering from that beating, said he welcomed Pfleger’s help. He also spoke about the attack in detail for the first time.
“Boom, out of nowhere I got hit so hard and … then they hit me on the other side, yeah, that was the beginning,” Mallette said.
He said he was so dazed by the attack that he didn’t give his attackers the combination to the church safe when they demanded it.
“You couldn’t see them, because they were all in complete disguises and they said, ‘What kind of a priest are you? Your money means more to you than your life?’” Mallette said. “I felt, well, that’s rather a profound thought, you know?”
He said he eventually told his attackers about another safe in the basement.
“They dragged me by my ankles and pulled me down there, down these steps, bouncing my head,” he said.
Mallette, like Pfleger, has been on the South Side for decades. He marched with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., took part in the first protest against the church by Catholic nuns, and said he counts Pfleger as a loyal friend and indefatigable ally.
“You got a guy like Pfleger who’s just so full of energy and so full of drive,” Mallette said about news that Pfleger will be joining him at St. Margaret. “I just had feeling that when I was coming to after these guys beating the heck out of me, there was Pfleger, you know, at my bedside. … He was arranging this beautiful mass, here he was arranging a reward.”
Mallette said everything has been happening very fast and he prays it all goes well.
Last year, Pfleger was suspended by the cardinal for several weeks after threatening to leave the Catholic Church if he had to leave St. Sabina. <a href="“>At the time, Cardinal George had been talking about reassigning Pfleger to nearby Leo High School.
“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,” Pfleger said on the public radio program “Smiley and West” in April of last year.
George responded in the letter announcing Pfleger’s suspension, “If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and therefore are not able to pastor a Catholic parish.”