A radical Catholic priest and former adviser to Barack Obama invited Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak at his Chicago parish.
Farrakhan was kicked off Facebook last week for his long history of hateful comments, including denouncing "wicked Jews." In response, Father Michael Pfleger invited Farrakhan to speak at St. Sabina Church on Thursday to defend himself from charges of anti-Semitism.
"I have been and always will be a defender of free speech as I believe we must all continue to defend," Pfleger told a local news station after the event.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago indicated they were not aware of the event and were not sponsoring it.
"There is no place in American life for discriminatory rhetoric of any kind," the archdiocese said. "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."
Pfleger has a long history of controversial liberal activism and of butting heads with local Church leadership. In 2008, he was caught on tape telling a gun store owner, "We're going to find you and snuff you out … you know you're going to hide like a rat. You're going to hide but like a rat we're going to catch you and pull you out."
Obama frequently teamed up with Pfleger during his days as a Chicago community organizer, with the New York Times describing him in 2008 as "a well-known longtime activist and friend of Mr. Obama." Pfleger was also a member of Obama's campaign, serving as an unpaid member of his Catholic advisory council, but resigned that position after he was forced to apology for mocking then-Obama rival Hillary Clinton during a sermon as "white" and "entitled."
Obama subsequently distanced himself from Pfleger.
"As I have traveled this country, I've been impressed not by what divides us, but by all that that unites us," Obama said in a statement. "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."