Hillary Clinton's campaign is suggesting today that Barack Obama had not gone far enough to repudiate mocking comments made by a guest preacher from the pulpit of Obama's home church in Chicago.
Michael Pfleger, an outspoken activist Catholic priest from Chicago, in a sermon this past Sunday discussed white supremacy and white entitlement, and suggested that Clinton felt entitled to the presidency.
"When Hillary was crying and people said that was put on -- I really don't believe it was put on," he said. "I really believe that she always thought, 'This is mine. I'm Bill's wife, I'm white, and this is mine. I just got to get up and step into the plate.'
"And then out of nowhere came 'Hey, I'm Barack Obama.' And she said, 'Oh damn, where did you come from? I'm white, I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show.' "
He then pretended to wipe tears from his eyes.
Obama issued a statement Thursday saying he was "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 subsequently issued an apology: "I regret the words I chose on Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them."
Ann Lewis, a senior adviser to Clinton, said on MSNBC, "I'm not sure what the 'if' was about," because the comments were "simply appalling."
Lewis said while it would be unfair to blame Obama for Pfleger's comments, it is fair to expect Obama to take clear steps disapproving the comments.
Of Obama's statement, she said, "perhaps it could have been stronger."
"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," Clinton communications director Howard Wolfson said in a statement. "We are disappointed that Senator Obama didn’t specifically reject Father Pfleger’s despicable comments about Senator Clinton, and assume he will do so.”
Obama last month rebuked the former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., after a series of incendiary comments.
Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago archdiocese issued a statement this afternoon, saying he regretted Pfleger's remarks and had secured a promise from Pfleger to steer clear of politics.
"The Catholic Church does not endorse political candidates. Consequently, while a priest must speak to political issues that are also moral, he may not endorse candidates nor engage in partisan campaigning," the statement says.
"Racial issues are both political and moral and are also highly charged. Words can be differently interpreted, but Fr. Pfleger’s remarks about Senator Clinton are both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply.
"To avoid months of turmoil in the church, Fr. Pfleger has promised me that he will not enter into campaigning, will not publicly mention any candidate by name and will abide by the discipline common to all Catholic priests."
The Catholic League weighed in this afternoon, saying that Pfleger's "tirade would be inexcusable anywhere, but it is even more offensive when it happens in a church."
The league's president, Bill Donohue, also faulted Obama, saying in the statement, "Senator Obama says he wants to bring people together. Then why does he choose as his clerical friends people like Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Father Pfleger? They are two peas in a pod, both equally divisive, separated only by the color of their skin."
Earlier in the campaign, Donohue called on John McCain to repudiate the Rev. John Hagee, a Texas televangelist who called the Catholic Church "the great whore."
UPDATE: Another Catholic group, however, questioned what it called Donohue's partisan motives.
“Today Bill Donohue issued a set of frivolous comments on Rev. Michael Pfleger’s recent inappropriate remarks about Hillary Clinton," Catholics United executive director Chris Korzen said in a statement. "Instead of focusing on the nature of Pfleger’s remarks, Mr. Donohue chose the unfortunate path of using the incident to question the character of Sen. Barack Obama. Catholics United is concerned that Donohue’s comments appear part of a systematic campaign to influence the outcome of the upcoming presidential election by maligning Sen. Obama to Catholic voters.”
“Catholics United wholeheartedly supports the Catholic League’s noble mission of ‘defending the right of Catholics -- lay and clergy alike -- to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.’ It is difficult, however, to understand how Donohue’s own political activity as Catholic League president is consistent with this mission or the organization’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit tax status,” Korzen's statement said. “We are also concerned that Donohue’s media profile risks creating an appearance of partisanship on the part of the entire Catholic community. Although he often seems to pretend otherwise, Mr. Donohue has absolutely no authority to speak for Catholics or the Church institution.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.