Controversial Chicago priest Father Michael Pfleger was suspended by the archdiocese on April 27 after making public statements threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish.
“If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish,” Cardinal Francis George wrote in a letter Wednesday suspending Fr. Pfleger's priestly faculties.
“A Catholic priest’s inner life is governed by his promises, motivated by faith and love, to live chastely as a celibate man and to obey his bishop,” emphasized the cardinal. “Breaking either promise destroys his vocation and wounds the Church.”
Fr. Pfleger's recent comments added to his controversial stance in the Church, given his public support for President Obama's presidential campaign as well as for mocking remarks against Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her run for office in 2008.
In April of last year, he made waves for speaking in favor of women and married priests during a Divine Mercy Sunday homily.
Fr. Pfleger recently told media outlets that he would leave the Catholic Church if the Chicago archdiocese “removed” him from his role of pastor of St. Sabina's Parish to serve as president of the nearby Leo High School.
The priest has led the parish since 1983.
Cardinal George said in his April 27 letter that the priest's comments grossly misrepresented the facts, given Fr. Pfleger's initial openness to working at the school.
“Several times in recent years you have told me that you do not want to remain as Pastor of Saint Sabina Parish for the length of your priestly ministry in the Church,” the cardinal wrote. “Each time we discussed the subject, it was clear that there was no other assignment that would make equally good use of your talents in ministry.”
“Some months ago, however, an opening at Leo High School for the presidency of a fine school very important for the mission of the Church gave us the possibility of offering you a transfer that would keep you in the neighborhood and among the people to whom you have dedicated much of your life.”
“As you know, this was an honest offer, not driven by pressure from any group but by a pastoral need in the Archdiocese. You promised to consider what was a proposal, not a demand, even as I urged you to accept it.”
However, Cardinal George added, even “as these conversations began or were being planned, our private conversation was misrepresented publicly as an attempt to 'remove' you from Saint Sabina’s.”
“You know that priests in the Archdiocese are 'removed' only because they have been found to have sexually abused a minor child or are guilty of financial malfeasance,” he said. “In all other cases, priests are reassigned, moving from one pastoral office to another.”
The cardinal wrote that he “deeply” regretted Fr. Pfleger's public remarks that have “brought you to a moment of crisis that I pray will quickly pass.”
“This conflict is not between you and me,” he clarified, “it’s between you and the Church that ordained you a priest, between you and the faith that introduced you to Christ and gives you the right to preach and pastor in his name.”
Although “I have consistently supported your work for social justice and admired your passion for ministry,” Cardinal George wrote, “I am asking you to take a few weeks to pray over your priestly commitments in order to come to mutual agreement on how you understand personally the obligations that make you a member of the Chicago presbyterate and of the Catholic Church.”
“With this letter, your ministry as pastor of Saint Sabina Parish and your sacramental faculties as a priest of the Archdiocese are suspended.”
The cardinal then named the Rev. Thulani Magwaza, the associate pastor at St. Sabina, as administrator during the suspension and the Rev. Andrew Smith, a priest at St. Ailbe Parish, as his assistant.
Fr. Pfleger did not react publicly the suspension, but one leader of the parish expressed anger at the decision.
“He was ambushed,” said Kimberly Lymore, who is listed as “associate minister” on the church's website directory. Lymore told the Chicago Sun-Times on April 28 that Fr. Pfleger has “given his life to this community” and is “upset,” and “in shock, just as we all were.”
Cardinal George emphasized in his letter to the priest that if “you now formally leave the Catholic Church and her priesthood, it’s your choice and no one else’s.”
“You are not a victim of anyone or anything other than your own statements,” he said. “To avoid misrepresentation and manipulation on anyone’s part, this letter will be released to the parish, which is to publish it in its entirety, and to the media after it has been delivered to you.”
“You remain in my prayers, and I hope I remain in yours.”