Chicago’s activist priest Fr. Michael Pfleger steps aside amid past child abuse allegation
CHICAGO (RNS) — The Rev. Michael Pfleger has temporarily stepped down from his ministry leading the Roman Catholic Faith Community of St. Sabina amid allegations of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago.
Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, shared the news in a letter Tuesday (Jan. 5) to members of the Faith Community of St. Sabina and St. Sabina Academy, a predominantly Black parish on the city’s South Side.
“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” Cupich wrote. “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.”
In keeping with the archdiocese’s child protection policies, the cardinal wrote, he asked Pfleger, 70, to step aside from ministry after its Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review received the allegation. The archdiocese has reported the allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.
The archdiocese also has started its own investigation, according to Cupich, who noted in his letter that the allegations “have not been proven as true or false” and “guilt or innocence should not be assumed.”
Pfleger has agreed to fully cooperate.
In a statement posted to his Facebook page on Jan. 6, Father Pfleger said he is “devastated, hurt and yes angry” and asked for prayers for his parishioners and for the person who made the accusation.
“I have been asked by the [arch]Diocese not to speak out at this time. I am Blessed with good leadership and amazing members, whom I love,” he wrote.
The Rev. Thulani Magwaza, associate pastor at St. Sabina, will fill his role at the church and school, according to the letter.
Pfleger came to St. Sabina Church as an associate pastor in 1975, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
He is well known in the city for his activism, particularly against gun violence. He also is no stranger to controversy. He took a leave of absence after criticizing then-Sen. Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries and was suspended for a month in 2011 by then-Cardinal Francis George after insisting he’d leave the Roman Catholic Church before he’d leave St. Sabina to take an assignment at a nearby Catholic high school, according to NBC 5 Chicago.
“Please know that you are in my prayers. We will do our best to keep you informed of developments as they occur,” Cupich wrote.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has offered the services of its Victim Assistance Ministry to the person who reported the allegation, according to the letter.