CHICAGO — Sen. Barack Obama sought to extinguish a burgeoning controversy over another Chicago minister who supports him, denouncing the comments of a Catholic priest who said “a whole lot of white people [are] crying” because a black man was within reach of the Democratic presidential nomination.
The remarks by the Rev. Michael Pfleger, a white minister known as “Chicago’s renegade priest” for his liberal social activism in the city’s black community, came from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ, the same church where sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright came under scrutiny from critics who called them anti-American and racially divisive.
Pfleger, pastor of predominantly black St. Sabina’s Catholic Church, who fiercely defended Wright even as Obama eventually rejected his support, sounded similar themes Sunday in a guest sermon at Wright’s church.
Saying he was seeking to “expose white entitlement and supremacy wherever it raises its head,” Pfleger mocked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York for appearing to weep at a campaign appearance before the New Hampshire primary in January, saying she was crying because “there’s a black man stealing my show.”
“She always thought, ‘This is mine. I’m Bill’s wife, I’m white and this is mine,’” Pfleger said in his fiery sermon.
As the racially mixed congregation responded “Amen!” and “Yes, sir!” Pfleger pretended to cry and shouted: “And then out of nowhere came him, Barack Obama. And she said: ‘Damn! Where did you come from?! I’m white! I’m entitled! There’s a black man stealing my show!’
“She wasn’t the only one crying!” he said. “There was a whole a lot of white people crying!”
Then, sensing that he may have gone too far, Pfleger added: “I’m sorry. I don’t want to get you in any more trouble. The live streaming [video] just went out again.”
All sides respond
After conservative commentators and Fox News Channel latched onto Pfleger’s remarks, which received wide circulation on YouTube and conservative political blogs, Obama released a statement late Thursday repudiating the priest, who resigned from the campaign’s pastoral advisory committee several months ago.
“As I have traveled this country, I’ve been impressed not by what divides us, but by all that unites us,” he said. “That is why I am deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn’t reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause.”
Pfleger issued a separate apology Thursday, saying his remarks were “inconsistent with Sen. Barack Obama’s life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Sen. Clinton or anyone else who saw them.”
Clinton's chief spokesman Howard Wolfson decried the remarks and called for Obama to further distance himself from them:
“Divisive and hateful language like that is totally counterproductive in our efforts to bring our party together and have no place at the pulpit or in our politics,” Wolfson said late Thursday. “We are disappointed that Senator Obama didn’t specifically reject Father’s Pflegler’s despicable comments about Senator Clinton, and assume he will do so.”
By Alex Johnson of msnbc.com and Mary Ann Ahern of NBC station WMAQ of Chicago.