Father Michael Pfleger
Radical Catholic Priest
Michael Louis Pfleger (born May 22, 1949) is a Roman Catholic priest and social activist in Chicago, Illinois.
Pfleger’s social activism has brought him attention throughout Chicago and beyond. He has often collaborated and associated with African American religious, political and social activists such as Jeremiah Wright, Joseph Lowery, Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, and Louis Farrakhan.
On March 28, 2008, Pfleger invited Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama, to deliver a blessing at Saint Sabina during a visit by poet Maya Angelou. Wright had been criticized by political pundits for making what they considered anti-American statements in a sermon, but Pfleger came to Wright’s defense. “I wanted him to come here so he could see that people really stand with him and support him while he’s under all this attack. America, unfortunately, has been really cheated of knowing the real Dr. Wright,” said Pfleger. In a statement on Saint Sabina’s website, Pfleger wrote, “Dr. Wright is one of the great biblical scholars of our country and the best of preachers in the prophetic tradition. Dr. Wright has been shamefully demonized by 30 second sound bites that have tried to re-define him into someone other than who he is.”
Controversy during 2008 presidential election
On May 25, 2008, Pfleger gave a sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ, then the church of Presidential candidate Barack Obama, where he mocked Hillary Clinton, Obama’s opponent for the Democratic Party nomination. Pfleger imitated Clinton by saying, “I really believe that she just always thought, ‘This is mine. I’m Bill’s wife. I’m white, and this is mine. I just gotta get up and step into the plate.’ Then out of nowhere came, ‘Hey, I’m Barack Obama,’ and she said, ‘Oh, damn! Where did you come from? I’m white. I’m entitled. There’s a black man stealing my show!'”
After hearing about Pfleger’s remarks, Obama said he was “deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric”. Pfleger later released a statement through St. Sabina that read, “I regret the words I chose Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Sen. Obama’s life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Sen. Clinton or anyone else who saw them.” On May 31, 2008, Obama resigned his membership in Trinity Church, saying that his campaign had caused the church to receive excessive media attention. On June 1, 2008, Pfleger released a longer apology to the St. Sabina parish regarding the incident and its aftermath.
On June 3, 2008, Cardinal George asked Pfleger to take a temporary leave of absence from St. Sabina. George said in a statement, “I have asked Father Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina’s Parish, to step back from his obligations there and take leave for a couple of weeks from his pastoral duties, effective today. Fr. Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time. While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the Church’s regulations for all Catholic priests. I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns.” Pfleger resumed his parish duties on June 16, 2008.
(Originally published October 20th, 2008)