IF I WERE a man of the cloth, I'd steer clear of Barack Obama for the next few months.

The Presumptive Democratic Nominee is what you'd call pious poison.

First you have the whirling dervish of black liberation theology, Jeremiah Wright.

Obama's former pastor was slated to retire this year after decades in the pulpit, but his exit seems to have been accelerated at Mach 2 by his controversial relationship with Obama.

After Wright's more charming attributes became public on YouTube, some of which included racism, sexism and paranoia about the genesis of the AIDS virus in black communities, the man of God became the man of "Oh, my God!" - he was forced to prematurely terminate his farewell tour.

To add insult to injury, his once-devoted protégé cut him loose like a gangrenous limb, 20 years too late but just in time for the last crucial primaries.

Sometimes timing, not integrity, is everything.

But the greatest irony is that the person who finally forced the PDN to seek a divorce from his beloved Trinity United Church of Christ was not the Rev. Wright, nor his dynamic successor.

No, the person who finally pried Obama from the pews was Michael Pfleger, the flamboyant and very unorthodox Catholic priest. As Henry II found out, Catholic priests can be trouble. But this one tops Thomas a Becket, hands down.

To recap, Pfleger (he doesn't deserve the honorific "reverend") is the controversial churchman from Chicago who's had a long-standing and lucrative relationship with the junior senator from Illinois. Obama managed to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for St. Sabina's, Pfleger's inner-city parish, during their association.

To be fair, the shepherd has served his predominantly African-American flock with great devotion. He is their champion, in much the same way Wright was a hero to the throngs at Trinity.

But those good works do nothing to justify the racist

and sexist antics of a rogue priest who seems to have dishonored the church every time he opened his mouth to bray.

Since 1984, when he became the pastor of St. Sabina's, Pfleger has poked his finger in the eye of the archdiocese by accusing it of racism and myriad "bad acts."

Typical quote: "We want the Catholic Church to understand what Nat Turner tried to make America understand: The slaves aren't happy being slaves. We are not just going to be satisfied being on the fringe."

To my knowledge, there are currently no "separate but equal" accommodations in Catholic parishes across the country (although I can't vouch for bingo nights, which can get downright ugly on occasion).

Pfleger has been a polarizing figure in Chicago politics for almost a quarter-century, and residents of the Windy City are painfully familiar with his wholly unholy antics.

That's why it was a bit disingenuous of Obama to feign shock and dismay at the words the priest uttered on May 25 from the pulpit of Trinity United. Invited to speak as a special guest, Pfleger let loose with this tirade against Hillary Clinton:

"I always thought she felt, '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.' "

And just so we all knew that he wasn't talking about one isolated racist in a pantsuit, he added the kicker:

"She wasn't the only one crying. There was a whole lot of white people crying."

This joker couldn't have gone to Catholic school because if he had, he'd never have said "there was a whole lot of white people crying." The nuns would have cracked his knuckles with a ruler for using such poor English.

Even more offensive than his pathetic grasp of the language is the virulent racism of his words.

Which brings up an interesting thought. When Jeremiah Wright went public, people were appalled at his hateful views of white people. To minimize the effect of his rhetoric, some tried to explain that this kind of speechifying goes on in black churches across America, and that it's not supposed to be taken literally.

EXPERTS IN "black liberation theology" went on the cable shows and said that this type of preaching was understood by blacks as a way to deal with the horrors of Jim Crow and as a call to self-sufficiency.

Now, when that same language spews from the mouth of a white Catholic (who thankfully was suspended by his cardinal), we see it for what it really is.

And it has no place in any house of God. *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.