Rev. Michael Pfleger, the left-leaning Chicago Catholic priest who ridiculed Hillary Rodham Clinton this week in a racially-charged speech from the pulpit of Barack Obama's church, has contributed to Obama's state Senate campaigns, backed his ill-fated run for Congress and stumped for him in Iowa.
On Sunday, Pfleger mockingly quoted Clinton as saying she shed tears before the New Hampshire primary because "there's a black man stealing my show."
On Thursday, after news organizations began reporting on the sermon, Pfleger apologized, and Obama issued a statement 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."
The episode has become fodder for right-wing bloggers and commentators, who call it the latest example of Obama's association with extremist views. Pfleger is a longtime Obama supporter who, until recently, served on a Catholics for Obama committee. Pfleger embraced the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's longtime pastor, even after Wright's controversial comments led the Democratic presidential candidate to disavow him.
The story gained steam as the video circulated around the Internet. Stepping up to the pulpit Sunday as a guest speaker at Trinity United Church of Christ, Pfleger said, "When Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don't believe it was put on. I really believe that she just always thought, 'This is mine! I'm Bill's wife, I'm white, and this is mine! …' "
Pfleger, who is white, continued: "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!' "
The Clinton campaign expressed disappointment on Friday.
"We remain disappointed that Sen. Obama didn't specifically reject Father Pfleger's despicable comments about Sen. Clinton," Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said in a conference call with reporters. "We assume that he will … We think that he should because when Sen. Clinton's supporters see those comments, they are understandably angered by them. And it's important, I think, for the spirit of unity that we are all trying to create for Sen. Obama and his campaign to condemn them specifically."
Obama has not specifically addressed what Pfleger said about Clinton.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin wrote in her blog: "It's one thing to ridicule Hillary's sense of political and ideological entitlement as part of the Clinton dynasty. But the demagogic emphasis on her race from this hate preacher on the pulpit is quite another thing. You really have to see his performance to believe it."
In a statement Thursday, Pfleger said, "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."
Obama's spokesman, Ben LaBolt, was unable to say when Obama last spoke to Pfleger. LaBolt said Pfleger stepped down from the Catholics for Obama committee a few weeks ago, but he could not say why.
He confirmed that Obama steered a $100,000 state grant in 2000 to a Pfleger-affiliated community program.
Pfleger contributed $1,500 to Obama's state Senate campaigns from 1995-2001, Illinois records show.
In 1999, Pfleger broke with many of Chicago's Democrats and supported Obama in his losing attempt to unseat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.
Last year, Pfleger invited the Rev. Louis Farrakhan to speak at his church, St. Sabina, which encompasses a large, inner city African American parish.
In response to the latest flap, Colleen Dolan, a spokesman for Cardinal Francis George's office told the Chicago Sun-Times: "The cardinal has made it clear to Father Pfleger in the past on more than one occasion that it's inappropriate to speak about political issues from the pulpit and that his own personal opinions are his own personal opinions."
Contributing: Fredreka Schouten in Washington, D.C.