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Parishioners React to Pflegers Suspension

citizen | 5/3/2011, 2:30 p.m.
by Thelma Sardin...
Parishioners at the Faith Community of St. Sabina pray for its youth members during mass on Sunday, May 2. The Sunday church service was the first since Rev. Dr. Michael L. Pfleger was suspended by Cardinal Francis George last Wednesday for remarks he made about a possible reassignment to Leo Catholic High School on a national radio talk show. (Photo by Thelma Sardin)

by Thelma Sardin

Sundays church service at the Faith Community of St. Sabina was the first Sunday mass since Rev. Dr. Michael L. Pflegers suspension last Wednesday. Pfleger was temporarily removed by Cardinal Francis George for comments he made on a national radio show in April. On the show, Pfleger said he would possibly leave the Catholic Church if he was mandated to become president of nearby Leo Catholic High School.

Parishioners are emotional about Pflegers suspension.

I feel very saddened by the fact that hes been here for more than thirty years and changed the community and the neighborhood. And all of sudden they just tell him to leave, said James Theuri, four year church member.

Pflegers community work also resounds with his flock.

Father Pfleger has done a lot for the neighborhood. Ive seen a big change and hes a very good pastor, said Anthony Reed, a long time parishioner.

One parishioner believes that Georges actions were exaggerated and Pfleger was taken out of context.

I think its just very sad that things had to escalate to [this point]. ...I think [it] should have been more negotiating and more talking, said Veronica M.

Fr. Thulani D. Magwaza, St. Sabinas associate pastor, presided over Sunday's mass. Magwaza thanked Pfleger for his service to St. Sabina and the Auburn Gresham community. "Thank you, Father Mike, for your vision. Thank you, Father Mike, for your love. Thank you, Father Mike, for all you do for our young people, he said.

Pfleger did not address the media on Sunday, but he did watch the three hour service intermittently from a doorway behind the altar.

According to Vince Clark, Pflegers assistant, the pastor is still coping with the suspension. Hes still in shock, still feeling a lot of pain, Clark said.

Clark said it was hard for Pfleger not to participate in Sundays service. This is his church family. He wants to participate in praise and worship whenever he has the opportunity to do so. It was very difficult for him.

On Friday, Rev. Andrew Smith from St. Ailbe Parish moved into the St. Sabina Rectory which was called a slap in the face by parishioners. Smith said his arrival were orders from Cardinal George who has also made Magawaza, administrator of St. Sabina. Smith has been appointed Magwazas assistant.

Smith told ABC 7 News on Saturday night that he expects to be at St. Sabina two to three weeks, and emphasized that Pfleger is still the pastor.

Cardinal Francis George told WGN-TV that his discussion with Pfleger about him possibly leaving St. Sabina was a preliminary conversation.

George said that his discussion with Pfleger became public when Pfleger made comments on national radio.

The whole thing got lost in a public dispute which also could have died if it had not been for remarks made by Pfleger himself who brought his own faith into question and his relationship with the church. So thats where we are now. He has to clarify what his faith is how he sees himself as a Catholic and a priest and then we will go forward.

Last Wednesday, after Pflegers suspension St. Sabina parishioners and supporters protested outside of Cardinal Georges Gold Coast residence. George was in Rome for Pope John Paul IIs beatification.

According to the Associated Press, Pfleger's public comments have gotten him in trouble before. In 2008, he was suspended for nearly two weeks after mocking then-Sen. Clinton during her presidential run. Pfleger, who was preaching from the pulpit of President Barack Obama's former Chicago church, pretended he was Clinton crying over ``a black man stealing my show.'' He later apologized.