Father Michael Pfleger's own words were taken out of context, and the letter announcing his suspension contained a number of points that warranted clarification, the leadership of St. Sabina's Catholic Church said Thursday.
Following a prayer and a chorus of "Our God is an Awesome God," more then 100 parishioners of the south side church gathered outside Francis Cardinal George's Gold Coast mansion to express outrage over Pfleger's suspension and to demand it be lifted.
"It's devastating. And if the cardinal has been listening to and reading some of the things that people in the community have to say, I'm pretty sure -- I pray, I really pray and hope -- that his heart is challenged," said Isadore Glover Jr., the chairperson of the St. Sabina leadership council.
Pfleger's pastoral duties were revoked Wednesday in a letter from the cardinal. George last month revealed he wanted Pfleger to exit St. Sabina and take over leadership of nearby Leo Catholic High School. Pfleger resisted, indicating he felt that he wasn't qualified because he wasn't an educator but a priest.
"If they say 'You either take this principalship or pastorship there or leave,' then I'll have to look outside the church," Pfleger said earlier this month on the "Tavis and West" public radio program.
George cited those words in Wednesday's letter, but in doing so, church leadership said the pastor's comments were taken out of context.
"He is not saying that he wants to leave the Catholic Church, but if his options are to become the president of Leo High School or to leave the priesthood, he would be forced to look outside the church," said Glover.
"Consistently Fr. Pfleger has stated that he wants to stay in the Catholic Church and he wants to pastor. Becoming the president of Leo High School does not present that opportunity, nor does he feel qualified. He is not an educator but he is ordained to be a priest," said Glover.
Additionally, church leaders said the archdiocese seemed to abandon a succession plan put into place when the Rev. Thulani Magwaza, Sabina's associate pastor, was brought in from South Africa in 2009.
"Not once in the year and a half that Fr. Thulani has been there, has there been a discussion of the status succession planned with Fr. Pfleger or Fr. Thulani," said Glover. "Why is this plan not being respected?"
Many parishioners, and indeed many even outside the church, believe the cardinal's actions are short-sighted.
"Fr. Pfleger has become implanted. He has become embedded, not just in St. Sabina, but in the whole south side black community. They seem him as a pastor of the people," said author Robert McClory, who wrote the book Radical Disciple: Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church, and the Fight for Social Justice.
Others applaud the cardinal's actions, saying Pfleger's more than 30 years at Sabina's breaks the rules. Most priests stay just 12 years at a parish.
Neither George nor Pfleger have commented publicly since the suspension. George is preparing to travel to Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II.