Cardinal denounces priest who hosted speech by Louis Farrakhan

Pastor of church has known Farrakhan for 30 years

By Daniel Burke, CNN Religion Editor
CNN

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago forcefully denounced the priest who hosted a speech by Louis Farrakhan, saying the church should not have provided a platform for the Nation of Islam leader to "smear" the Jewish people.

Chicago's St. Sabina Catholic Church hosted Farrakhan on Thursday, just a week after he was among several leaders banned from Facebook for fomenting "hate and violence."

The pastor of the church, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, said he has known Farrakhan for 30 years and invited the controversial leader because he disagreed with Facebook's decision. Despite the ban, the speech was livestreamed on St. Sabina's Facebook page.

"Without consulting me, Father Michael Pfleger invited Minister Louis Farrakhan to speak at St. Sabina Church in response to Facebook's decision to ban him from its platforms," Cupich said on Friday evening.

"Minister Farrakhan could have taken the opportunity to deliver a unifying message of God's love for all his children. Instead, he repeatedly smeared the Jewish people, using a combination of thinly veiled discriminatory rhetoric and outright slander," Cupich continued.

Farrakhan made several anti-Semitic statements during his speech, accusing Judaism of promoting pedophilia and saying that Jews do not like him because he "exposes their hatred of Jesus." He also said that he had a divine mission to "separate the good Jews from the Satanic Jews."

"Such statements shock the conscience," Cupich said. "People of faith are called to live as signs of God's love for the whole human family, not to demonize any of its members."

"Anti-Semitic 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 continued.

Friday, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said that it was "deeply disappointing that (Farrakhan) was given a platform in a church to spew his hateful vitriol."

"It's typical that even in defending himself against claims of anti-Semitism, Louis Farrakhan has once again invoked more anti-Jewish hatred. His remarks last night were vintage Farrakhan: A litany of tropes about how 'Satanic Jews' are corrupting society with immoral acts and that Jewish writings, 'promote pedophilia,'" said Greenblatt.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center called on the Archdiocese of Chicago to remove Pfleger.

"How is it that (Farrakhan) was invited to use a prominent Catholic church to denounce 'Satanic Jews' from the pulpit," asked Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center's director of social action.

"It is now up to the leaders of the Catholic church to remove their prominent priest from his hallowed post," Cooper continued. "He has chosen to channel Jew hatred which every pope from Pope John John XXll to Pope Francis have condemned as being antithetical to Christianity."

Pfleger kissed Farrakhan after his speech, referred to him as "his brother" and prayed for the Nation of Islam leader, even after Farrakhan had made several anti-Semitic statements Thursday evening.

Pointing to his mouth, Farrakhan said: "It's this that they fear. I don't have no army. I just know the truth. And I'm here to separate the good Jews from the Satanic Jews."

The Nation of Islam billed Farrakhan's speech as a response to the "public outrage over the unprecedented and unwarranted lifetime ban."

But St. Sabina's invitation to Farrakhan drew sharp rebuke from the Illinois Holocaust Museum. The organization criticized the church, saying the speech would provide a "platform for bigotry."

"This is a free-speech issue," Pfleger told CNN. "I don't agree with everything Minister Farrakhan has said. I don't agree with anyone on everything, but we are in a dangerous time when we can no longer have dialogue without demonizing one another."

Before the address, Pfleger said Farrakhan "has been a bold voice against injustice done against black people in this country and his voice deserves and needs to be heard."

The Anti-Defamation League has called Farrakhan, who has led the Nation of Islam since 1977, "quite possibly America's most popular anti-Semite."

"Farrakhan has alleged that the Jewish people were responsible for the slave trade and that they conspire to control the government, the media and Hollywood, as well as various black individuals and organizations," the ADL says.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam as a "hate group," saying that the "deeply racist, antisemitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan, have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate."

In a speech in Chicago in 2018, Farrakhan said, "the powerful Jews are my enemy. ... White folks are going down. And Satan is going down. And Farrakhan, by God's grace, has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew and I'm here to say your time is up, your world is through."

Pfleger, who has long worked with African-American leaders in Chicago, said Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are respected locally for their anti-violence and anti-drug campaigns.

"Nobody has done more in the saving of young black men's lives and turning around lives than the Nation of Islam. His respect in the African-American community has been consistent."

But Pfleger said emails and phone calls have poured in this week criticizing him for hosting Farrakhan and threatening to withdraw donations to the church and its programs.

"If you would have heard and seen the stuff sent and spoken to me over this last week," he said. "I was shocked -- and I have gotten a lot of hate in my life. People have told me that they will destroy me."

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