WASHINGTON, D.C. — Father Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, faces a second sexual abuse allegation, from the brother of the first alleged victim who came forward in early January.
The popular Chicago priest and outspoken advocate against gun violence has denied these allegations and his parishioners rallied outside the parish in support of him Jan. 25, hours after the allegation was reported by Chicago media outlets.
Over 50 people gathered outside the church denouncing accusations that, beginning more than five decades ago, the priest had abused the two brothers, who now live in Texas. Parishioners spoke from a microphone of the priest’s 45 years at the parish and his nonstop dedication and activism.
One parishioner said the group was speaking out to show their “unequivocal an unwavering” support for their pastor. Another said he would pray for the accusers. Some wore shirts with the message: “We stand with Father Pfleger,” which can be obtained on the parish website.
The Chicago Tribune daily newspaper and the CBS Chicago affiliate, WBBM, reported separately on interviews with the two brothers, who claimed the priest had molested them when they were in their teens and the priest was serving at Precious Blood Parish on Chicago’s West Side.
In early January, the Chicago Archdiocese asked Pfleger to step away from ministry temporarily after it received a complaint from the younger of the two brothers.
The second complaint against the priest was filed Jan. 22 by the older brother.
The 71-year-old priest has not spoken about the accusations except in social media posts where he has thanked supporters, and even though he is hurt, devastated and angry, he reminds himself of how others are suffering, adding: “the pain in our world is REAL.”
Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich announced Jan. 5 that the senior pastor of the historically African American parish since 1981 would be stepping aside.
“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,” the cardinal wrote in a letter to St. Sabina parishioners and members of the parish school, St. Sabina Academy.
He said the priest would live away from the parish while the allegation was investigated, and the pastor, Father Thulani Magwaza, would serve as temporary parish administrator.
“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” the cardinal added.
In a Jan. 6 post on Facebook, Pfleger said he couldn’t “possibly respond to the hundreds of texts, emails and calls that I have received from all across the nation since yesterday.”
“I am devastated, hurt and yes angry, but I am first, a person of faith,” he wrote, urging people to trust God and to keep him and the parish of St. Sabina in their prayers. He said he had been asked by the diocese not to speak out at this time and added that he is “blessed with good leadership and amazing members, whom I love.”
Over the years, Pfleger has made national headlines for his crusades against violence on television and for a successful campaign that stopped the placement of billboards with alcohol and tobacco ads in Black neighborhoods. In 2002, he received the first Egan Social Justice Award given by DePaul University’s Egan Urban Center. The award is named for the late Msgr. John J. Egan, a Chicago priest who was active for decades in many U.S. social justice movements.
Cupich said that in adherence with the archdiocesan child protection policies, the allegation against Pfleger had been reported 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 the archdiocesan Victim Assistance Ministry and the archdiocese has begun its investigation.
A statement issued that same day by the cabinet of St. Sabina said its members believe the allegations against their senior pastor “are unfounded” and they said they “boldly stand behind the integrity, passion, work and ministry” of Pfleger.
The parishioners wrote that although the archdiocesan “process and protocol” has to be followed and they will fully cooperate with it, they said they believe their priest “will be fully exonerated from all accusations” and they will “stand with him during this process as he has stood with victims of injustice.”
They also wrote that they will “continue to uplift his work and the life he has committed to serving others. We will fight for the legacy of the work done by Rev. Michael Pfleger.”