CHICAGO (CNS) — Father Michael Pfleger, 73, has been reinstated as senior pastor of the Faith Community of St. Sabina after the Chicago Archdiocese’s Independent Review Board determined the accusations of sex abuse lodged against him in October are not credible.
The board “has concluded that there is no reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations,” Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said in a Dec. 10 letter to the parish.
“Having given careful consideration to their decision, which I fully accept,” he said, “I now inform you that I am reinstating Father Pfleger to his position of senior pastor,” effective immediately.
AP reported that the priest made brief comments to the congregation at an evening Mass, saying: “This has been very painful. Thank you for your love, for your support and your prayers.”
In an Oct. 15 letter to parishioners, Cardinal Cupich announced that following archdiocesan protocol, he had asked Father Pfleger to step aside as senior pastor as the archdiocese thoroughly reviewed an abuse allegation it had received against the priest.
“The process of the archdiocese today is that a priest is presumed guilty until proven innocent,” Father Pfleger said that day in his own letter to parishioners posted on the parish website. “Priests are vulnerable targets to anyone at any time. So once again, I have been removed from all public ministry while they investigate again.”
“Let me be clear — I am completely innocent of this accusation,” he continued. “While I am confident that the new allegation will also be determined to be unfounded, this process is so unfair and painful to me and to the community I serve.”
The claim was made by a man now in his 40s who said through a lawyer that in the late 1980s during choir rehearsals, Father Pfleger had abused him twice in the St. Sabina rectory.
Similar accusations were made against the priest in January 2021, requiring him to temporarily stepped aside from his ministry until an archdiocesan review found “insufficient reason” to suspect the priest was guilty of abuse alleged to have taken place 40 years ago.
“I want to recognize that these months have taken a great toll on Father Mike and all of you, and I am committed to do everything possible to see that his good name is restored,” cardinal Cupich said in his Dec. 10 letter, which he asked be read at all weekend Masses, with a copy posted in the church and on the parish website.
The letter also was released to the media and posted on the archdiocesan website.
“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,” the cardinal wrote. “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.
“As I assure you of my prayers,” he added, “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.”
Father Pfleger has led St. Sabina, a historically African American parish, since 1981. The priest, who is white, is well known for his activism on poverty and other social justice issues. He is an outspoken critic of gun violence, gangs and racism.
As he faced abuse allegations this time and last year, St. Sabina’s members rallied around Father Pfleger.
Eugene Hollander, the attorney who filed the latest abuse claim against Father Pfleger, described his client as “incredibly hurt” by the archdiocese’s decision to reinstate the priest.
“We had a staggering amount of evidence,” Hollander told AP, and said that in strongly supporting their pastor, St. Sabina’s members “turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse allegations.”
Father Pfleger posted a video to his Facebook page after Cardinal Cupich reinstated him, saying: “It’s been hard, it’s been difficult, it’s been painful, but if faith means anything at all, it’s to believe in God when it doesn’t make sense and when it hurts.”
In his October letter to parishioners, Father Pfleger noted Hollander was “the same lawyer whose clients made unfounded allegations of misconduct against me last year” and that he had found “a new client to make different allegations against me.”