The Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church says the fight over his suspension as pastor of the South Side church will pick up steam May 4 when Cardinal Francis George returns from Rome, where he attended the beatification ceremonies for Pope John Paul II.
Pfleger said the Chicago Sun-Times will publish a letter of support Wednesday from parishioners of St. Sabina.
On Thursday, the controversial priest told a group of journalism students from Columbia College Chicago -in his only interview since his suspension last week- that the basis for the Chicago Archdiocese’s action was a “lie.”
Pfleger made his comment during a 30-minute interview in the church rectory one day after he was suddenly summoned to the Archdiocese and handed the letter of suspension.
According to the Cardinal’s letter, the Archdiocese action was the result of Pfleger’s statements during a public radio interview with Tavis Smiley and Cornell West last month. Pfleger said his remarks were taken out of context.
The Cardinal and priest have been locked in a standoff for months over Pfleger’s future. Cardinal George has asked the longtime priest to take over the leadership of St. Leo’s Catholic High School just a few blocks east of St. Sabina.
“Right now, I’m suspended. It says in his [the Cardinal’s] letter, for a few weeks to pray over my obedience,” Pfleger said.
According to a copy of the Smiley and West’s interview, the priest said if the Archdiocese choices were the St. Leo job or leaving the church, then he would have to “look outside the church.”
“What I said was, I do not feel qualified or prepared to become president of a high school,” Pfleger told the Columbia students last week. “I don’t know anything about running a high school. That is a disaster in motion.”
“I want to remain in the Catholic Church,” he said. “I’m not an educator, but I am ordained to be a priest.”
As Pfleger talked with the Columbia students last Thursday, his supporters were riding buses to the Cardinal’s Gold Coast mansion to protest his suspension.
The interview was scheduled weeks earlier, and Pfleger, who’s declined to talk to the media, said he kept the appointment because his “bond is his word.”
According to a statement released by St. Sabina’s leadership, the Rev. Thulani Magwaza of South Africa came to St. Sabina in 2009 with the understanding that he would succeed Pfleger as the parish priest in three or four years. Cardinal George made Magwaza St. Sabina’s pastor, pending the outcome of Pfleger’s suspension.
Pfleger said he’s worried that leaving prematurely, without a plan for his succession, could damage St. Sabina’s growth and survival.
St. Sabina’s is the largest Catholic Church in the African-American community of the Archdiocese of Chicago, according to Pfleger.
He said he will do whatever the Church asks of him. However, if he is forced to leave, “there are other things I can do. I have been asked by universities to teach,” Pfleger said. “But what I really want to do is pastor.”
*Tom Smith contributed to this story