Chicago, Ill., Feb 25, 2021 / 07:01 pm (CNA).- Defenders of outspoken activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger are wrong to claim an investigation has cleared him of decades-old sexual abuse allegations or to claim that the priest was singled out, the Archdiocese of Chicago has said.
“It is mystifying why anyone would believe the leadership of the archdiocese, which has consistently supported Fr. Pfleger’s good works, would concoct a ruse to remove him,” the Chicago archdiocese said Feb. 24.
“Let’s be clear. This case began when an adult male came forward to the archdiocese on his own with an allegation of child sexual abuse,” the archdiocese continued. “His brother subsequently came forward to the archdiocese with an allegation of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese did not have any prior contact with these men, nor did it look for them or anyone else. These men have made serious allegations, which demand that we follow the same process as we have in other cases.”
Earlier that day a group of about 100 people gathered outside the headquarters of the Chicago archdiocese to call for Pfleger’s reinstatement, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish in Chicago. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation of abuse.
Two brothers have come forward, saying they were each sexually abused separately by Pfleger dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s when they were 12 or 13 years old.
The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed a complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.
Pfleger denies the accusations.
“Let me be clear and restate what my lawyers said in the beginning,” the priest said on Twitter Feb. 24. “I am innocent of these false allegations. When this is over, which I hope is soon, I will have much more to say.”
Pfleger’s causes include advocacy on behalf of the Black community, opposition to gun violence, and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.
At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests; that a woman cannot be ordained a priest is a truth belonging to the deposit of faith.
The Saint Sabina Facebook page made claims about the Pfleger investigation in a Feb. 24 post, claims that the Chicago archdiocese disputed.
The post claimed that the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has “completed their investigation on Fr. Pfleger with the results unfounded. #Facts.” The post claimed that Illinois officials had concluded their investigation 20 days previously. “The archdiocese has not given us an update as to when Fr. Pfleger can return even though the allegations have been deemed baseless. #facts.”
“With all due respect, our request is simple: Reinstate Fr. Michael Pfleger and clear his name. Period,” the post said.
In the archdiocese’s view, there is a “basic misunderstanding” about the state officials’ investigation.
“Our understanding is that the (Department of Children and Family Services) is not directly investigating the veracity of the allegations against Fr. Pfleger,” the archdiocese emphasized. Rather, the department is investigating whether there is a “risk of harm” to children. Depending on the contents of the letter the archdiocese receives from state officials, “there may be no conclusion about guilt or innocence in this case.”
There is also disagreement over whether Illinois officials have completed their investigation into whether there is currently a minor victim and have notified the relevant parties.
Bill McCaffrey, spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, confirmed to the Sun-Times that the archdiocese was sent a letter Feb. 4 and Pfleger Feb. 24. Neither the archdiocese nor Pfleger’s attorney say they received a letter.
Eugene Hollander, an attorney representing the two alleged victims, said he “would not put much stock” in the findings. Neither brother gave a statement to the department, he said.
The Chicago archdiocese and the Chicago Police Department have ongoing investigations into the accusations.
State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a parishioner at St. Sabina, is among those urging the priest’s reinstatement.
“It is time for the archdiocese to expedite the process and bring a renewal, a rebirth and a restoration of Fr. Pfleger’s good name, his dignity and his decency,” she said, according to the Sun-Times. “Time is of the essence because in the court of public opinion, time becomes the jury.”
The Chicago archdiocese stressed the need to take every abuse allegation seriously and to follow the same process.
“The Church has been accused, at times correctly, of not taking accusations seriously, of conducting cursory investigations and restoring misbehaving priests to ministry prematurely,” the archdiocese said. “We are convinced that the procedures for dealing with these cases, developed and enhanced over the years, work. They should be followed by all organizations that care for and educate young people. It is ironic that we are now accused of taking too long to consider allegations because a priest is prominent and well regarded.”
Stressing the need to spend time on accusations to arrive at a “just conclusion,” the archdiocese said it would work on all cases, “always giving priority to the protection and healing of victims.”
“Fr. Pfleger has always been free to comment as he and his attorneys see fit,” said the archdiocese. It said his comments were restricted only insofar as he could not name his accusers and the circumstances they described. “He was encouraged to make public his declaration of his innocence,” the archdiocese added.
The archdiocese rejected claims it has not reached out to the parish.
“In addition to the letters sent by the cardinal, our Office for the Protection of Children and Youth has contacted St. Sabina multiple times, explaining the process and offering assistance. The offers were refused,” said the archdiocese’s statement.
Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies.
In 2011 the priest was suspended from ministry at St. Sabina and barred from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. He was reinstated after he apologized.