CHICAGO – An activist Catholic priest who made headlines when he mocked Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign was suspended by the Archdiocese of Chicago on Wednesday because of a disagreement over a proposed transfer from his South Side church.
The Rev. Michael Pfleger recently has said he would leave the church rather than be removed from St. Sabina Church, where he has been pastor for more than 30 years. Cardinal Francis George earlier this year offered Pfleger the presidency of a Catholic high school near the church.
"If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish," George wrote.
The cardinal said that while he has been suspended from his priestly duties, Pfleger retains the office of pastor while temporarily without permission to function.
Telephone calls to Pfleger for comment on the archdiocese's action were not immediately returned. However, in a statement read outside St. Sabina, associate pastor Kimberly Lymore said Pfleger has "given his life to this community." She said Pfleger is "upset," and "in shock, just as we all were."
Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Burritt said no further information would be released.
Pfleger has gained national attention for his protests on everything from gun violence to drug paraphernalia to Jerry Springer's television show, and he has often appeared with major civil rights leaders.
Pfleger, who is white and runs a largely black parish, also has made racial equality a large part of his mission. He often wears African-style robes during services, and a mural of a black Jesus is behind the altar. Both his adopted sons are black.
It has long appeared he has had a strained relationship with the Chicago Archdiocese, which opposed his decision to adopt children. However, in his letter, George said he has consistently supported Pfleger's work for social justice and admired his passion for ministry.
"Many love and admire you because of your dedication to your people," the cardinal wrote, adding he regretted his public remarks brought him to a moment of crisis that he hopes will quickly pass.
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.
The latest disagreement stemmed from reports the archdiocese has wanted to transfer Pfleger to a high school. George said even as discussions about the transfer were going on, they were being misrepresented as an attempt to remove Pfleger from St. Sabina.
George pointed out only priests found to have sexually abused a minor or are guilty of financial malfeasance are removed from a parish. In other cases they are reassigned according to policies in place for forty years.