The Dispatch

Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger reinstated to ministry 

December 12, 2022 Catholic News Agency 8
Father Michael Pfleger / Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil CC BY 2.0 / null

Boston, Mass., Dec 12, 2022 / 14:00 pm (CNA).

An independent review board in the Archdiocese of Chicago has said there is “no reason to suspect” Father Michael Pfleger is guilty of allegations that he sexually abused a minor more than 30 years ago, Cardinal Blase Cupich announced Saturday.

Pfleger, a famous Chicago priest known for his social justice activism, has now been exonerated on four different sexual abuse allegations brought against him since 2021.

The inner-city St. Sabina Catholic Church pastor was reinstated as pastor in June 2021 after it was announced in January 2021 that an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor over 40 years ago was brought against him. Two other accusations were raised against him following the January announcement, and it was determined by the archdiocese’s independent review board that the allegations lacked merit.

Pfleger has consistently denied each of the allegations.

In an email to CNA Monday, Pfleger said that he is “just grateful to have this over with … it is painful to have your name, reputation, and character assaulted so publicly knowing you are innocent.”

“I hope we can create a process to protect children but also not make the priest be treated as if he is guilty until proven innocent … Many priests feel as though they are waiting targets. … Grateful that the cardinal reinstated me and grateful to my congregation that stood by me and believed in me,” he wrote. 

In the archdiocese’s October announcement about the allegations against Pfleger, it said that the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and law enforcement officials, per diocesan policy.

CNA reached out to the DCFS for comment but did not immediately receive a response before publication. 

In a letter to the parishioners of St. Sabina, Cupich said: “Thank you for your patience and prayers during the absence of your senior pastor, Father Michael Pfleger.

“In accordance with our policies for the protection of children and youth, the archdiocese Independent Review Board, assisted by our Office of Child Abuse Investigation and Review and outside investigators, conducted a thorough review of the allegations.

“The Review Board has concluded that there is no reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations. Having given careful consideration to their decision, which I fully accept, I now inform you that I am reinstating Father Pfleger to his position of senior pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina, effective immediately.”

Cupich noted that the investigation and suspension of duties have been difficult for Pfleger and the parishioners.

“I am committed to do everything possible to see that his good name is restored,” he said.

“In these days in which we prepare for the birth of the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, we recall that nothing can take away the joy of God’s love for us. My prayer is that your celebration of Christmas will be filled with the joy that belongs to those who are patient and trusting in the goodness and nearness of God,” Cupich said.

“As I assure you of my prayers, I ask that you do all you can to welcome back Father Pfleger so that he can once again take up the ministry that has distinguished St. Sabina in the archdiocese and beyond,” he said.


The Dispatch

Chicago’s Father Michael Pfleger removed from ministry over new sexual abuse allegations

October 16, 2022 Catholic News Agency 20
Father Michael Pfleger / Photo: Daniel X. O’Neil CC BY 2.0 / null

St. Louis, Mo., Oct 16, 2022 / 12:50 pm (CNA).

A well-known Chicago priest has been asked to step aside from ministry during an investigation into an allegation of sexual abuse against a minor. 

Father Michael Pfleger, senior pastor at St. Sabina parish and a well-known social activist, will live away from his parish while the allegation — which he denies — is investigated. The alleged abuse occurred more than 30 years ago, the archdiocese says. 

In an Oct. 15 letter, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said Pfleger has “agreed to cooperate fully” with the request to step aside from ministry following the allegation made to the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review. 

As is required by archdiocesan child protection policies, the allegation was reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and law enforcement, Cupich wrote. The archdiocese has begun its investigation and “we will do our best to keep you informed,” the cardinal pledged. 

“The person making the allegation has been offered the services of our Victim Assistance Ministry and the archdiocese has begun its investigation and we will do our best to keep you informed,” Cupich wrote.  

St. Sabina pastor Father Thulani Magwaza will serve as parish administrator in Pfleger’s stead, Cupich wrote, and noted that until Magwaza returns from a visit with family in early November, Father David Jones will serve as temporary administrator.

This marks the second allegation of sexual abuse leveled against Pfleger in the past two years; after three men brought forward allegations in early 2021, Pfleger was reinstated that June after a Chicago archdiocese investigation concluded there was “insufficient reason” to suspect he was guilty of the allegations, which he had denied. 

In an Oct. 15 statement of his own, Pfleger complained that “the process of the Archdiocese today is that a priest is presumed guilty until proven innocent.” He said his status as a “high-profile,” “outspoken” and “controversial” person has engendered “jealousy, attacks, and hate.”

“Let me be clear — I am completely innocent of this accusation,” he wrote. “It seems like most of my ministry I have spent fighting to stay a priest and to continue the work of justice, and to serve the good people of St. Sabina’s and our community. I cannot express how difficult, disruptive, and painful this process is to me and those who are close to me.”

A Chicago native, Pfleger has spoken out against the epidemic of gun violence in the city’s South Side that has afflicted his parishioners at St. Sabina’s, a predominantly African-American parish community. Pfleger adopted an 8-year-old boy in 1981 and another son in 1992. In 1997 he became the foster father of another city youth who was killed in a gang shootout in 1998.

The priest’s actions have put him at the center of controversy for years. The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago suspended Pfleger in 2011 after the priest threatened to leave the priesthood if George reassigned him. The cardinal later accepted Pfleger’s apology and reinstated him as St. Sabina’s pastor. In 2019, Cupich publicly denounced Pfleger’s decision to invite controversial Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak at St. Sabina.

Pfleger has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position that the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Pfleger also attracted attention and criticism for a Dec. 2021 Christmas Eve Mass that featured jazz musicians, choreographed dances around the altar, and theatrical lighting effects. Many of those upset by the Mass said it crossed the line from worship to entertainment.

Contacted by CNA at the time, Pfleger declined to answer questions about the Christmas Eve liturgy.

“These are some of the same people that attack Pope Francis and Cardinal Cupich and have ignored the gift and value of Black Catholicism in the Catholic Church, so I am not responding to their attacks,” Pfleger said in an email.


The Dispatch

Can laity preach at Mass? Chicago parish offers pulpit to same-sex couple

June 22, 2022 Catholic News Agency 44
Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka deliver a ‘Gospel reflection’ during Mass at Old St. Patrick’s in Chicago, Ill., June 19, 2022. / Old St. Patrick’s/vimeo.

Denver Newsroom, Jun 22, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA).

A Chicago Catholic parish is facing questions after the pastor allowed a couple in a same-sex marriage to offer a “reflection” in lieu of the homily at a June 19 Mass. 

The parish, Old St. Patrick’s, is a historic and prominent parish on Chicago’s west loop. The priest celebrating the Mass, Father Joe Roccasalva, introduced the two men immediately after proclaiming the Gospel and said they were to give a Father’s Day “Gospel reflection.” According to canon law, laypeople are not allowed to preach homilies during Mass — only the ordained, meaning priests, bishops, and deacons, are allowed to do so. 

Upon taking the lectern, Alex Shingleton and Landon Duyka — who say they have been members of the parish for a decade — described their same-sex marriage as a “blessing” and the adoption of their two children as “miracles.” 

“Let’s be honest, there are probably not too many gay dads speaking on Father’s Day at many Catholic Churches on the planet today,” one of the men said. 

Later in the presentation, one of the men stated: “We wanted to raise our children in the Catholic Church…On the other hand, we didn’t want to expose our children to bigotry and have them feel any shame or intolerance about their family.” 

The men described as a “miracle” the fact that they had found an LGBT-affirming community at the self-described “radically inclusive” Old St. Patrick’s parish, as they said they had experienced rejection and a lack of welcome at other Catholic parishes. 

The Catholic Church teaches that people who identify as LGBT should be treated with dignity and respect, but also that homosexual acts are sinful and that homosexual unions — even if recognized as marriage by governments or society — cannot be approved by the Church under any circumstance. 

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” At the same time, the Catechism and popes have drawn a clear distinction between homosexual acts and homosexual inclinations, the latter of which, while objectively disordered, are not sinful

“Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” the Catechism adds.

In terms of the question of laypeople giving homilies, Father Pius Pietrzyk OP, a canon lawyer, told CNA in written responses that although the allowance of the reflection was technically a clear violation of the law, Catholics should not merely be concerned with the letter of the law, but also the reasons behind it. 

“[The law] expresses the Church’s understanding of the role of the priest in the life of the parish community,” Pietrzyk explained. 

“More importantly, it expresses the essential link between the munus sanctificandi [duty to sanctify, or consecrate] and the munus docendi [the duty to teach], which is rooted in the sacrament of holy orders.” 

Pietrzyk said he hopes that the men who spoke at Old St. Patrick’s continue to participate in the Catholic Church. 

“We should continue to encourage these two men to participate in the life of the Church,” Pietrzyk stressed, but reiterated that the fact that they are living publicly as a same-sex married couple — a state the Church teaches to be sinful — cannot simply be ignored. 

Moreover, Pietrzyk described the priest’s decision to allow the men to speak during Mass as a “politicization of the Eucharist.”

“The selection of these two as [homilists] on Father’s Day must be seen for what it is, a political act of submission to modern sexual ideologies and an act of rebellion against the teachings of Christ and his Church,” the priest said. 

In March 2021, the Vatican’s doctrinal office clarified that the Catholic Church does not have the power to give liturgical blessings of homosexual unions, writing that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.” The ruling and note were approved for publication by Pope Francis. 

The Archdiocese of Chicago has not responded to questions on the matter from other Catholic publications.