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Chicago Priest Given Reprieve

February 13, 2002

CHICAGO (AP) _ An activist Roman Catholic priest who has taken on drug dealers, corrupt police officers and the tobacco industry has been given a temporary reprieve by church officials who initially wanted him moved from his South Side parish.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, the white leader of a largely black parish, has been arrested some 40 times, generating national headlines and irritating some of his superiors in the Catholic hierarchy.

Church officials originally told Pfleger, 52, he’d be moved in the fall when his term at St. Sabina ended. But on Tuesday, Pfleger said his term as pastor was extended for a few years after he met with Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George.

The reprieve will allow the church to find Pfleger’s successor. Until then, Pfleger said he’ll take it one day at a time.

``My desire is to stay a priest and my desire is to continue pastoring at St. Sabina,″ he said at Tuesday evening Bible study class.

The Archdiocese of Chicago did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

Earlier, archdiocese officials had said they were following church policy limiting pastors to two _ and occasionally three _ six-year terms at the same church. Pfleger has spent more than 18 years as St. Sabina’s pastor.

``Hundreds of Chicago priests, year after year, are transferred according to this policy,″ the archdiocese said in a statement.

Pfleger said he feels there are unique situations where exceptions should be made.

``I really do believe that I’m called to be here,″ he said.

His supporters say Pfleger has transformed their parish and community.

``I think it’s horrible to get rid of a man who’s always trying to help everybody,″ said church member Beatrice Snowden. ``He’s a blessing.″

Pfleger has campaigned against alcohol and tobacco billboards in his community _ painting over and tearing them down _ and paid neighborhood prostitutes for their time so parishioners could share their faith with them.

Last year Pfleger accused the Southside Catholic Conference of racism after the mostly white athletic league voted against admitting St. Sabina. The school was eventually allowed into the league and the students played their first game in December.

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