WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Michael Pfleger mocked Sen. Hillary Clinton from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ -- earning him a reprimand Thursday from Sen. Barack Obama as his comments threaten to resurrect the politically radioactive Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a campaign issue.
Pfleger, the outspoken activist pastor of St. Sabina in Auburn-Gresham, spoke at Trinity last Sunday night, and his videotaped comments about Clinton started to ricochet around the Internet. Introduced by Wright's successor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, Pfleger starts talking of the need to expose ''white entitlement and supremacy wherever it raises its head" in the the clip on YouTube.
Pfleger continues, referring to Clinton's tearing up just before the New Hampshire primary -- which may have helped her win.
''Rev. Moss, when Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don't believe it was put on,'' Pfleger says from the pulpit. ''I really believe that she just always thought, 'This is mine! I'm Bill's wife, I'm white, and this is mine! I just gotta 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!' ''
Pfleger then pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. "She wasn't the only one crying, there was a whole lot of white people crying.''
As he wrapped up, Pfleger must have sensed he went too far. ''Sorry . . . don't want to get you into any more trouble,'' he said, a reference to the controversial Wright, whom Obama cut ties with April 30, following what he called Wright's ''rants'' during a press conference at the National Press Club here. Moss, back on the pulpit, said, "We thank God for the message and we thank God for the messenger."
Republicans have already started hitting Obama over Wright, and by Thursday had seized on Pfleger's comments.
Obama, in a statement, said, ''As I have traveled this country, I've been impressed not by what divides us, but by all that unites us. That is why I am 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, a passionate advocate for the down-and-out, immediately 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.''
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Pfleger stepped down from a ''Catholics for Obama'' committee a few weeks ago, but would not say why.
The Clinton campaign at first had no comment, then Thursday evening said Obama did not go far enough in distancing himself from Pfleger. "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," said a statement issued by Clinton spokesman Phil Singer. "We are disappointed that Senator Obama didn't specifically reject Father Pfleger's despicable comments about Senator Clinton, and assume he will do so."
Chicago Sun-Times religion reporter Mike Thomas asked Cardinal Francis George's office for a reaction, and his spokeswoman, Colleen Dolan said, ''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.''
The campaign of presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain declined comment.
Pfleger is a longtime Obama friend and was in the audience at the National Press Club for that Wright press conference, and when we talked afterward, he realized Wright created a problem for Obama.
I was told Pfleger's comments stunned some in the Obama camp because they expected him to be more politically savvy -- and not take on Clinton,especially at Trinity, of all places.