Chicago Archdiocese Asks Pflegler To Take Leave Due To Anti-Clinton Comments

CHICAGO (AP) -- Cardinal Francis George asked a Chicago priest on Tuesday to temporarily step down from his post to "reflect on his recent statements" regarding Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and her bid for the White House.

Last week, the Rev. Michael Pfleger mocked Clinton at Sen. Barack Obama's former church, saying the New York senator felt "entitled" to the Democratic nomination for president.

In a guest sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ, Pfleger pretended he was Clinton crying over "a black man stealing my show."

Pfleger's sermon, along with past controversial statements by Trinity's former longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, led Obama to resign his membership at Trinity. Pfleger apologized for his comments Sunday.

George asked Pfleger to take leave from pastoral duties at St. Sabina Church in order to "reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the church's regulations for all Catholic priests," according to a statement Tuesday from the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Officials have said the Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates.

The leave was effective Tuesday and was scheduled to last about two weeks, said Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Burritt.

"This is the Cardinal's way of hopefully relieving some of the pressure, to step away and reflect a little bit. That is the intent here," she said. "This has been a difficult week in light of everything that's happened."

Pfleger, who has promised George he would no longer mention any presidential candidates by name, did not believe "this to be the right step at this time," according to the statement.

"While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect," George said in the statement. "I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns."

A message seeking comment was left for Pfleger.

Hundreds of parisioners crowded a service at St. Sabina on Tuesday evening, asking George to reinstate Pfleger and requesting a meeting with the cardinal. Pfleger was not at the service, but Wright did attend.

Pfleger, a 59-year-old white priest at a largely black parish, has gained a reputation for impassioned sermons and activism. The Archdiocese said his temporary replacement is the Rev. William Vanecko, pastor of Chicago's St. Kilian Catholic Church.


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