Supporters of Rev. Michael Pfleger protested outside of Cardinal Francis George's Chicago mansion Thursday, outraged that the cardinal decided suspend Pfleger from the Archdiocese of Chicago.
The suspension came after Pfleger 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 in a letter to Pfleger released to the media Wednesday.
Parishioners, neighborhood activists and other supporters of Pfleger say the cardinal should have spoken to the pastor before announcing his suspension to the media.
“He was ambushed,” said Associate Pastor Kimberly Lymore, told the Chicago Sun-Times outside of St. Sabina Thursday, adding that Pfleger has “given his life to this community.”
Community activist Mark Allen, who helped organize Thursday's protest in front of the cardinal's mansion, echoed Lymore's remarks in an email to HuffPost Chicago.
"It was an absolute insult for Father George to have Father Pfleger getting calls from the media notifying him through their questioning," Allen wrote. "Cardinal George should apologize for this 'I GOTCHA' strategy, for Father Pfleger or NO ONE in this kind of delicate position deserves to be awakened by media calls informing him that he was suspended."
The tension between Rev. Pfleger and the cardinal has been brewing for awhile. Earlier this month, Pfleger appeared on the nationally syndicated Tavis Smiley show with Dr. Cornel West, and said the Catholic church needs to rethink some of its positions in order to get out of the "sad state" it's in.
He also said conservative Catholics and the National Rifle Association were to blame for his clash with the cardinal.
"I continue to get in trouble because I believe we ought to be talking about married priests, we ought to be talking about women priests," Pfleger said. "And we ought to open up our eyes to where we came from instead of where we’re now at in the Catholic Church worldwide."
The Chicago Tribune spoke to Dwight Hopkins, a professor of theology at the University of Chicago, who said Pfleger's vocal disobedience likely led to the suspension.
"If a priest disobeys the cardinal, the highest representative up to the pope, they disobey a direct line back to Jesus Christ," Hopkins told the Tribune. "The cardinal is saying that Father Pfleger has removed himself from the Catholic Church because he refuses to obey."
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.
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.
South Side residents were outspoken about their love for Pfleger Thursday.
"He has supported and been a tremendous priest throughout our neighborhoods and he helped us tremendously," Auburn-Gresham resident Elaine Albert told WBEZ. "And just the thought of him not being here would be very, very bad," Albert said.
Pfleger has yet to comment on the suspension.WATCH parishioners react to Pfleger's suspension here:
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