Pfleger's Replacement: Suspension a "Slap in the Face"

By Christian Farr and BJ Lutz
|  Sunday, May 1, 2011  |  Updated 5:19 PM CDT
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Smith: Cardinal's Action "a Slap in the Face"

Fr. Andrew Smith

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The priest sent to take over for the now-suspended Fr. Michael Pfleger said he didn't feel comfortable following the cardinal's orders but did so because he took a vow of obedience.

During a Saturday evening homily that had him hitting the podium and his chest several times, Fr. Andrew Smith spoke to those he felt were "frowning" at him for moving from St. Ailbe to St. Sabina's.

"This ain't about me," he told the parishioners, many of whom don't understand Francis Cardinal George's decision to suspend Pfleger.  "They tried to slip and trip me in this nonsense."

Smith said he respected Pfleger, learned from him and felt the suspension was a "slap in the face for the African-American community."

Pfleger, the controversial south side pastor, was notified via letter on Wednesday that his pastoral duties at St. Sabina's were being revoked.

George said it was Pfleger's comments on National Public Radio last month that helped fuel his decision.

During an appearance on the "Tavis and West" program, Pfleger insinuated he would rather leave the Catholic Church than exit Sabina's for a principalship position at nearby Leo Catholic High School, as the cardinal wanted. Pfleger said he wasn't qualified because he was a priest, not an educator.

Though he's now thousands of miles away in Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul on Sunday, George took time to lash out at Pfleger.

"If your own personal faith is not adequate to the faith of the church, you can't lead a faith community," the cardinal told NBC News.  "That comment brings into question his sense of church and his idea of the Catholic faith."

He acknowledged that he admires Pfleger for what he's done for St. Sabina and the community and said it wasn't his ministry that was the problem.

"That's not at issue here," said George.  "All of that, in the Catholic setting, is an expression of our faith, and that's what has to be examined now."

Pfleger, sources said, has hired two canon lawyers to fight the suspension.

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