Washington D.C., Mar 24, 2021 / 10:00 am (CNA).- An activist Chicago priest has pledged to return to some form of parish ministry while he remains under investigation by the archdiocese for three different allegations of sexual abuse.
“Over the next days, I will seek other ways and opportunities to minister in the Auburn Gresham community and continue outreach while this process seemingly drags on,” said a March 22 letter from Fr. Michael Pfleger to his parish of St. Sabina’s, and to other community leaders.
St. Sabina – also known as St. Sabina Faith Community – is located in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.
“I will let you know soon where and how I’ll be doing this,” Pfleger added in his letter. He told the Chicago Sun Times that he would be “working with community organizations,” but did not elaborate further.
Pfleger has been removed from ministry at St. Sabina since January 5, when a man came forward and alleged that he was abused by Pfleger as a child more than 40 years ago. Since then, two other men – including one who is the brother of the first accuser – have said that they too were sexually abused by Pfleger.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, said in a Jan. 5 letter to the archdiocese that he had asked “Father Pfleger to step aside from ministry following receipt” of the abuse allegation. “Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” Cardinal Cupich stated.
At the time, Cupich reported that “Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated.”
Now, however, Pfleger and members of St. Sabina have voiced their frustrations with the length of the archdiocese’s investigation into the abuse claims.
Pfleger alleged in the March 22 letter to his parish that he had asked to meet with the archdiocesan review board on March 20, but was informed that the board was “not prepared to meet” at that time.
“I know that I cannot emotionally or spiritually continue to remain isolated in an apartment waiting for this board to do its job,” said Pfleger in the letter. He added that it was “disappointing, painful and harmful to the St. Sabina and Auburn Gresham Communities, and me, I will not let this board or the process destroy all that we, together, have built.”
The archdiocese would not comment to the Chicago Sun Times on Pfleger’s claim that he would be returning to ministry in the community, “except to say a thorough investigation benefits the accused as well as the accuser and the Independent Review Board is continuing to work on this and the other cases before it.”
On Feb. 23, the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services reportedly sent Pfleger a letter calling the child abuse and neglect accusations against him “unfounded.”
The Archdiocese of Chicago responded that the state’s investigation focused on the “risk of harm” to children and was not directly focused on the “veracity of the allegations against Fr. Pfleger.” Regarding its own investigation, the archdiocese said that “it is difficult to predict how long it will take to reach a final determination.”
In late February, Pfleger’s parish said it would pause its monthly assessments to the archdiocese in order to expedite the investigation.
“In its continued effort to get the Archdiocese of Chicago to swiftly conclude its investigation into the allegations against Fr. Pfleger, that it has made the decision to withhold the monthly assessments of the church and school to the Archdiocese starting in March,” read a statement from St. Sabina officials. The statement noted that the assessments amount to around $100,000 per month.
Pfleger has served as the pastor of St. Sabina since 1981. He is now listed on the parish website as the “senior pastor,” a position that does not exist in canon law. He is known as an outspoken activist pastor who ministers to the predominantly African-American community
He has participated in marches against gun violence, has adopted three different boys – one of whom was killed by a gang shooting crossfire in 1998 – and is active in social services for the homeless and the unemployed in his community.
His 2008 endorsement of Barack Obama for president prompted a response by then-Cardinal Francis George. In 2011, Cardinal George barred Fr. Pfleger from celebrating the sacraments because he had threatened to leave the Church if reassigned from St. Sabina’s. Pfleger was reinstated after he apologized for how his public comments appeared.
Pfleger also invited invited controversial preacher Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam with a history of anti-Semitic preaching, to speak at St. Sabina’s in 2019.
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