Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, has responded to a Chicago priest’s comments deriding Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton and advocating the candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, her opponent for the Democratic presidential nomination. Cardinal George said he regretted the remarks, calling them a partisan “political attack.”
Father Michael Pfleger spoke on Sunday at Obama’s Chicago church, Trinity United Church of Christ, saying Senator Clinton cried in public before the New Hampshire primary because she thought being white entitled her to the nomination, according to a video posted on YouTube.
"And then, out of nowhere, came 'Hey, I'm Barack Obama,'" Pfleger said at the church. "And [Clinton] said, 'Oh damn, where did you come from? I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show!' "
The priest’s energetic speech started a controversy after a video of it was posted on YouTube. The video has since been removed from the video sharing site.
Cardinal Francis George in a statement published on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s web site said the Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates.
“Consequently, while a priest must speak to political issues that are also moral, he may not endorse candidates nor engage in partisan campaigning,” Cardinal George said.
“Racial issues are both political and moral and are also highly charged,” he continued. “Words can be differently interpreted, but Fr. Pfleger’s remarks about Senator Clinton are both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply.”
The cardinal said that Father Pfleger has promised him that he will not “enter into campaigning” or publicly mention any candidate. The priest also promised to “abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests.”
On Thursday evening Father Pfleger apologized for his remarks. The priest said in a statement posted on his church’s web site, "I regret the words I chose on Sunday… These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them."
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, commented on the priest’s remarks and his apology.
“Father Pfleger’s tirade would be inexcusable anywhere, but it is even more offensive when it happens in a church,” Donohue said. “It does not matter that it was not his own, nor does it matter that it happened in a church that has a record of allowing demagogues to exploit it. When churches become forums for political rallies, both religion and the First Amendment are corrupted.”
Donohue said Father Pfleger and Obama have had “long-standing ties,” claiming that as a state legislator Obama had secured state monies for social programs at Father Pfleger’s parish, St. Sabina’s Church. Donohue also questioned Obama’s choice to associate with the priest, who Donohue said has had a “troubling history.” He cited the priest’s “welcoming” of anti-Semitic preacher Louis Farrakhan to speak in his parish and his remarks at an anti-gun rally urging the crowd to hunt down a gun store owner “like a rat” and “snuff” him.
Obama rebuked Father Pfleger’s remarks, saying in a statement, “As I have traveled this country, I've been impressed not by what divides us, but by all that that unites us. That is why I am deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn't reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause.”
Prior to the controversy, the Obama campaign’s web site included laudatory remarks from Father Pfleger and identified him as pastor of St. Sabina’s Church. The priest said he was concerned by poverty, justice, education, and heath care and he advocated the end of the war in Iraq. He said:
“The faith community has to be a prophetic voice to bring us to where we ought to be as a country. Its voice should call every individual to be their best and not assimilate into anything less. Obama is calling back those who have given up and lost hope in the political system both young and old in the belief that we can fix it. He has the intellect for the job and I haven’t heard anyone since Robert F. Kennedy who is causing such an emotional and spiritual awakening to the political possibilities.”
The Obama campaign has removed Father Pfleger’s remarks from its website.