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Father Michael Pfleger, activist Chicago priest, faces claim of abusing minor

By Kevin Jones for CNA

Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, celebrates Mass at the church Nov. 22, 2015. (CNS photo/Jim Young, Reuters)

Chicago, Ill., Jan 5, 2021 / 08:55 pm (CNA).- The outspoken activist Chicago priest Father Michael Pfleger faces an allegation that he sexually abused a minor over 40 years ago, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago has said, adding that the claims have not been proven true or false and are under investigation.

Cardinal Cupich shared what he said was “difficult news” in a Jan. 5 message to members of Saint Sabina Church and the Saint Sabina Academy. Pfleger has served as a priest at the southside Chicago church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.

“In keeping with our child protection policies, I have asked Father Pfleger to step aside from ministry following receipt by the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review of an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago. Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed.”

“Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated,” said Cupich.

Cupich’s Jan. 5 message on the allegation against Pfleger said the Chicago archdiocese followed its child protection policies and reported the allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

“The person making the allegation has been offered the services of our Victim Assistance Ministry and the archdiocese has begun its investigation,” the cardinal said, adding “Please know that you are in my prayers. We will do our best to keep you informed of developments as they occur.”

The priest’s biography on the Saint Sabina Church website said that since 1968 he has lived and ministered in the African-American community on the west and south sides of Chicago. He worked two summers in a Native American community in Oklahoma, and as a seminarian he interned at Cook County Jail and at Chicago’s Precious Blood Church.

He adopted an eight-year-old boy in 1981 and adopted another boy in 1992. In 1997, he became foster father to Jarvis Franklin, who was killed in 1998 in the crossfire of gang shooting.

Pfleger, who is white, has long been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish on Chicago’s south side. His causes include opposition to gun violence and support for gun control. At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position which the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

In July 2018, he helped lead a gun violence protest that shut down Chicago’s busy Dan Ryan Expressway. Attendees at the march included U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and Rev. Jesse Jackson, a Baptist minister and civil rights activist. The event was supported by Chicago’s then-mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Jan. 5 the cardinal told the Saint Sabina community that the staff of the archdiocese’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth will be available for assistance.

“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” he said. “The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”

The cardinal’s letter said complete information about reporting sexual abuse is available at the Chicago archdiocese’s website.

Pfleger drew support from the Cabinet of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina, a leadership body composed of more than a dozen parish leaders. In a January 5 message, posted to the parish website, the cabinet said that it believes that the accusations are unfounded. However, the message did not cite reasons for this belief. The cabinet pledged full cooperation with the archdiocese’s process, while also stating its belief that the priest will be “fully exonerated from all accusations.”

The message continued: “we will stand with him during this process as he has stood with victims of injustice and (we) will continue to uplift his work and the life he has committed to others.”

Pfleger has often been a source of controversy.

In May 2019, Cupich distanced himself from the priest when Pfleger invited controversial preacher Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies. Farrakhan is the founder of the Chicago-based group Nation of Islam and has a history of anti-Semitic preaching.

During the controversial 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the late Cardinal Francis George had to publicly respond to comments Pfleger made deriding Sen. Hillary Clinton and advocating the candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In addition, George suspended Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina in 2011 and barred him from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. George reinstated Pfleger after the priest apologized, saying he did not intend a public remark to be a threat to leave the priesthood and that he was sorry for how his comment appeared.

The Saint Sabina website said Pfleger has campaigned against the sale of drug paraphernalia, billboards for alcohol and tobacco products that target children, and music that glorifies violence and degrades women.

He has helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless. For one anti-prostitution program, he developed a team of church members who “rather than have the prostitutes arrested, went out and paid prostitutes for their time so they could talk about how they could turn their lives around,” his biography on the parish website said.

Father Thulani Magwaza will serve as temporary parish administrator during Pfleger’s absence. Magwaza stood in as parish administrator during the priest’s 2011 suspension as well.

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  1. Cardinal George should just have laicized this leftist heretic for his insolence and all this could have been avoided.

  2. Here is the deal. Once a pedophile, it is unlikely they stop. As a school counselor for over 20 years, principal of a Catholic School, college professor of psychology, I have experienced this aberration with some of my children. A typical pedophile abuses 90 children before they are even caught. They do not stop until incarcerated. Castration does not seem to be effective because it is in the mind. Even then, rehabilitation is rare. Possibly, 1-3%. And, unfortunately, this comes from the top at the Vatican is a bigger deal than most Catholics realize. It is not over. In fact, the majority of cases may just be coming out. I don’t see how the Catholic Church is going to survive.

    • Barb,
      Is there an explanation why pedophiles can’t be rehabilitated? I’ve always wondered about that. There seem to be successful therapies for other psychological ills, why not that one?
      And just to mention, most clerics caught in these sort of situations were involved with post pubescent minors, not young children. They’re sexual opportunists, not true pedophiles.

    • Sonia,
      I hope you don’t mean that seriously? Everyone is entitled to justice & is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

  3. I don’t know whether the accusation is true or not. Like every other accused person, whether a priest or not, he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

    As Johann de Toit mentioned, leaving aside this accusation, from all I’ve read, this man should have been disciplined long ago, and probably laicized if not excommunicated.

    I notice that none of the things about Fr. Pfleger listed in his biography have anything to do with the sacraments, or worship. It’s all busy busy busy social activism. He really ought to read about Martha and Mary, and who has the better portion.

    The whole website is weird; I couldn’t find any mention of “Catholic” on it; they don’t use the word parish; they don’t even use “Mass,” it’s all “services.”

  4. He might be guilty. How can ANY priest be so tempted by the Devil? We have all been tempted into Sin, but I naively want to believe Priests have a greater armour. Pray for the priests.

    • Priests do have greater armour, but they also are under greater attack. Most importantly, they must put on the full armour of God. Two ways to take off that armour or weaken it is to embrace heresy or sin without repentance. But some men have entered the priesthood for the wrong reasons in the first place and stayed for the wrong reasons,too; these are particularly vulnerable to the devil’s temptations and wiles.

  5. Meanwhile, our pastor got a warning from the Bishop regarding the refusal of some parishioners to wear covid masks to Mass. He threatened the pastor with removal of his faculties.

    Don’t contribute financially to Bishops who don’t do their jobs!

  6. His history of dissent aside, he deserves due process and a fair hearing. The allegation is from over 40 years ago (pre-1980). This is the kind of case that gives me pause–how exactly do you sort out the truth of the matter given the time that has elapsed, memories that have potentially faded etc… Consider the Church’s standard of guilty (i.e., removing someone from ministry): It’s unclear what it is, but it is certainly below “reasonable doubt” and probably below that of “preponderance of the evidence” (51%). Nobody who has seen my posts on this subject matter should doubt my anger or resolve over sex abuse and corruption in the Church. This case, however, should give us pause and is an occasion to reserve judgment until there are more facts (or more credible accusations).

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