Chicago's archbishop, Cardinal Blaise Cupich, was forced to apologize to the city's Jewish community after controversial priest, Fr. Michael Pfleger, invited the virulently anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, to deliver a speech from the pulpit of St. Sabina church.
Fr. Pfleger, who is often at the center of controversy and well-known for his outspokenness on social justice issues, says he invited Farrakhan after Farrakhan was booted from Facebook, as a way of demonstrating his commitment to preserving the freedom of speech. The idea was to allow Farrakhan to refute allegations that he preaches hatred against the Jewish people.
Pfleger praised himself for extending the invitation ahead of the event Thursday night, labeling himself a “defender of free speech.”
But Farrakhan's address was far from unifying. As he ascended the platform at St. Sabina's last week, Farrakhan railed against "Satanic Jews" and referenced the sorting of Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz into lines destined for Nazi work camps and those destined for gas chambers. Farrakhan claimed that he was imbued with the divine right to label some Jews "good" and some bad.
"I stand on God's word," Farrakhan told the crowd, according to Haaretz, adding that he knows "the truth" and that his mission is to "separate the good Jews from the Satanic Jews."
After complaints from the Catholic and Jewish communities alike, the Archdiocese released a vague statement on Friday, distancing themselves from Pfleger's event and insisting that Pfleger neither consulted with nor informed Archdiocesan official before inviting Farrakhan to speak. The Archdiocese also condemned "hatred," though without referencing anti-Semitism directly — similar to the way the Women's March avoided any mention of anti-Semitism after its leadership was accused of its own cozy relationship with the nation of Islam.
The event involving Minister Louis Farrakhan at St. Sabina Parish is not sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich was not consulted before Fr. Pfleger announced the event.
The framers of our Constitution included freedom of speech in the First Amendment because they knew that it was essential to a healthy democracy. Without this sacred right, injustice goes unchecked. This is precisely why it must never be abused.
There is no place in American life for discriminatory rhetoric of any kind. At a time when hate crimes are on the rise, when religious believers are murdered in their places of worship, we cannot countenance any speech that dehumanizes persons on the basis of ethnicity, religious belief, economic status or country of origin. We are all part of the human family, and we owe it to one another, our children — and our creator — to act that way.
Cardinal Cupich, who is typically tolerant of Fr. Pfleger's antics, being heavily involved in social justice issues himself, appeared to notice that the Archdiocese statement was unsatisfying to Pfleger's critics and issued one of his own late Friday night, condemning Farrakhan's anti-Semitism in no uncertain terms.
“Minister Farrakhan could have taken the opportunity to deliver a unifying message of God’s love for all his children,” Cupich said. “Instead, he repeatedly smeared the Jewish people, using a combination of thinly veiled discriminatory rhetoric and outright slander.
"Antisemitic rhetoric — discriminatory invective of any kind — has no place in American public life, let alone in a Catholic church. I apologize to my Jewish brothers and sisters, whose friendship I treasure, from whom I learn so much, and whose covenant with God remains eternal," the cardinal said.
Cupich encouraged Pfleger to seek out the counsel of the Illinois Holocaust Memorial Museum and invite someone from the museum to speak to St. Sabina's in an effort to counteract the hate that Farrakhan preached from the church's pulpit.
But both Farrakhan and Fr. Pfleger remain unapologetic about the incident.
"For those angry about me about coming to St. Sabina, how many would be angry with me meeting with Cardinal George and with the previous cardinal," Farrakhan said in response to criticism, according to local Chicago media. "That kind of hatred is insanity."
"People who label Minister Farrakhan a hater have spent the past week spewing Hate ar me and St. Sabina....but i will continue to love, fight for justice and stand with my Brother," Pfleger tweeted on Saturday.
Later, he compared himself to legendary Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Too many people have struggled and died for the right of free speech and I will continue to struggle to preserve it,” he said. “Anyone who knows me and my life’s work knows I have sought to fight for the Beloved Community that Dr. Martin Luther King called us to.”