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‘In shock’: Cardinal George suspends Rev. Michael Pfleger

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Cardinal Francis George suspended Rev. Michael Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina Catholic Church and barred him from performing Catholic sacraments over public statements Pfleger made about a possible reassignment.

In a letter from George to Pfleger released to the media on Wednesday, the Cardinal said Pfleger’s public remarks that he would leave the Catholic Church rather than accept a position outside of St. Sabina led to his decision.

“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.

Pfleger didn’t speak publicly Wednesday, but St. Sabina church leaders said they are upset at the Cardinal’s decision and offended that Pfleger had to learn about his suspension through the media.

“He was ambushed,” said Associate Pastor Kimberly Lymore, flanked by more than a dozen church leaders outside the church. Lymore said Pfleger has “given his life to this community.” She said Pfleger is “upset,” and “in shock, just as we all were.”

Lymore said Pfleger was given the letter at 4:30 p.m., “and Cardinal George did not want to discuss it.”

George and Pfleger have been at odds publicly several times in recent years over the duration of Pfleger’s time at St. Sabina, where he has been a priest for more than 30 years--much longer than priests are typically allowed to stay at one parish. The latest dispute surfaced in March when George offered Pfleger the president’s job at Leo High School, a Catholic school near St. Sabina. Pfleger did not want to go and Sabina’s parishioners said they did not want him to leave.

“My life is in God’s hands,” Pfleger preached during mass on March 20. “What happens at St. Sabina’s is in God’s hands.”

But in the letter, George wrote to Pfleger, “Several times in recent years you have told me that you do not want to remain as Pastor” of St. Sabina “for the length of your priestly ministry in the Church.”

On Wednesday, Lymore said the Cardinal had not responded to several requests in recents weeks to discuss the issue.

An outspoken activist against violence and racism, Pfleger was suspended from his pastor position in June 2008 after a video surfaced during the presidential campaign in which he claimed Hillary Clinton was upset because Barack Obama was “stealing (her) show.”

In 2008, however, George did not suspend Pfleger’s “sacramental faculties,” like the ability to perform marriages, hear confessions or consecrate the Eucharist. Those were suspended Wednesday “as a priest of the Archdiocese,” the letter said.

In the letter, George wrote he didn’t think the conflict was personal.

“This conflict is not between you and me; 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,” said George. “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.”

The letter was released to the media and St. Sabina parishioners “to avoid misrepresentation and manipulation on anyone’s part,” George wrote.

George had been scheduled to preside at a service honoring Pope John Paul II on Wednesday night before flying to Rome for the pope’s beatification. That service was canceled Wednesday morning.

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