Cardinal Francis George has reinstated controversial Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger. The St. Sabina pastor said he did not intend a public remark to be a threat to leave the priesthood and that he was sorry for how his comment appeared.
“I am committed to the priesthood and the Catholic Church,” Fr. Pfleger said in a May 20 statement. “I believe all who know me know well that I want to be a Catholic priest. I have spent the last 36 years of my life trying my best to preach the Gospel, be a voice for justice and the poor, and build up the Church.”
He said he and the cardinal recognized that the Church has been “hurt.” Fr. Pfleger pledged to do “all in my power to foster healing” for the people of his parish, St. Sabina’s, and for the Church as a whole.
Cardinal George said the statement was “a genuine step toward healing the hurt and clarifying the confusion.”
“Many people have been personally affected by these events, including the people of St. Sabina Parish, and I hope that our statements now will bring the peace necessary to strengthen the mission of the Church,” the cardinal continued, saying he was “personally pleased” to restore Fr. Pfleger to his sacramental and pastoral ministry.
Fr. Pfleger celebrated Mass at the parish on Sunday, his 62nd birthday.
“I want to thank Francis Cardinal George. I thank him for lifting the suspension; I thank him for our conversations,” he said. He also expressed remorse several times to his parishioners.
“I love being a Catholic priest and I love being in the Church,” he added. “Like any family we fight, we disagree.”
The priest is a long-time social activist who is known for supporting gun control and preaching against violence. In 2008 Cardinal George asked him to go on a two-week leave of absence after he publicly mocked then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama’s rival in the Democratic primaries.
In April the priest had told media outlets that he would leave the Catholic Church if the Archdiocese of Chicago “removed” him from his role of pastor at St. Sabina’s Parish to serve as president of the nearby Leo High School.
Fr. Pfleger has been pastor of the parish since 1983.
In his May 20 statement, the priest said Cardinal George has asked him to prepare a transition plan for the future of St. Sabina. Fr. Pfleger will present the plan to the cardinal and the archdiocese’s Priests’ Placement Board by December 1.
“Cardinal George and I are committed to work together to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ in his Body, the Church,” he said.