Rev. Michael Pfleger was declared not guilty of the sexual abuse allegations that surfaced earlier this year and will return to St. Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago’s South Side community Gresham where he has served since 1975. The announcement came in the form of a letter from Cardinal Blase Cupich on Monday, May 25, 2021.
Cupich addressed the letter to the members of the faith family of St. Sabina. After thanking them for their patience and prayers, he told them the archdiocese Independent Review Board, their Office of Child Abuse Investigation and Review, and outside investigations completed a thorough review of the sexual abuse allegations. They determined there was insufficient evidence to suspect Pfleger is guilty of the charges.
In January, 71-year-old Father Pfleger stepped down as St. Sabina’s Pastor while church and state officials investigate an accusation of sexual abuse of a child over 40 years ago, as reported by The New York Times on January 7. Two adult brothers from Texas alleged the clergyman molested them repeatedly — starting in the early 1970s.
During a news conference outside St. Sabina Parish on Monday, Rev. Pfleger declared his innocence. He was joined by two lawyers and dozens of elated supporters.
The pastor wiped his eyes and emotionally thanked those standing behind him, cheering and clapping.
Pfleger’s supporters are the same people he referred to as amazing members he loves referring to his faith family earlier this year on Facebook.
In his comments, he talked about this situation has been the most trying time in his entire life. Father Pfleger, well known for his activism, reminded everyone that Tuesday is the 0ne-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Rev. Pfleger plans to say Mass on June 6.
Writers for the Chicago Tribune explain Monday’s announcement was a “victory for a priest whose outspokenness, political activism and unusually lengthy tenure at St. Sabina have sometimes put him at odds with the archdiocese.” In fact, they wrote that this is not the first time he has returned to the parish after a time of uncertainty. Pfleger was suspended by then-Cardinal Francis George 10 years ago after the father’s public comments about leaving the Catholic Church should he be transferred from St. Sabina. When he returned a month later, he was greeted by a standing ovation — much like the cheering crowd at Monday’s news conference.
Pfleger’s lawyers say the “45-year-old allegations are not corroborated by anyone, or anything, other than their own statements.”
Eugene Hollander said his clients were disappointed and surprised by the decision. They do not, however, regret coming forward with their charges against the priest. He told the Chicago Tribune his clients were absolutely stunned. “Father Pfleger knows what happened. There are three people in the world who know what happened, and my clients are glad they have the opportunity to get their story out.”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who waited until the investigation closed before commenting, praised the outcome. Her words came while she spoke at an unrelated news conference.
“Father Mike [Pfleger] has sacrificed his life and dedicated himself to service. I know that he is an important center of gravity in the Auburn Gresham community.” She added he is a conscience for many when it comes to gun violence that plagues too many neighborhoods in Chicago — he also advocates for victims.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
Chicago Tribune: Cardinal reinstates Pfleger as St. Sabina pastor after probe finds ‘insufficient reason to suspect’ he’s guilty of child sex abuse allegations. ‘Let’s get back to work,’ he says. By Christy Gutowski
Chicago Sun-Times: Cupich clears Pfleger to return to St. Sabina after investigation into allegations of sex abuse; by Madeline Buckley and Tom Schula
The New York Times: Activist Chicago Priest Is Accused of Sexual Abuse; by Allyson Waller and Marie Fazio
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Eric Allix Rogers’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Top Image Courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License