A popular Catholic pastor in Chicago is being reinstated after investigators found no reason to believe him guilty of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
In a May 24 letter to the St. Sabina community, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich announced that Father Michael Pfleger would be returning to lead the parish in early June.
Pfleger was removed from ministry as pastor of St. Sabina parish on Chicago’s South Side in January, after an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor dating back several decades was made against the priest.
Two additional accusations have since been made public against Pfleger, including one by the brother of the original accuser. Pfleger has denied all accusations and his lawyers have released messages from one of the brothers appearing to demand money in exchange for not making the accusations public.
In February, NBC5 had reported a letter sent by the Illinois Division of Child and Family Services to Pfleger, which said after a “thorough evaluation” of the abuse allegation, the agency had “determined the report to be ‘unfounded.’”
Cupich said the allegations had been thoroughly investigated by the archdiocese Independent Review Board, aided by the Office of Child Abuse Investigation and Review and outside investigators.
“The Review Board has concluded that there is no reason to suspect Father Pfleger is guilty of these allegations,” Cupich said. “Having given careful consideration to their decision, which I 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 the weekend of June 5-6, 2021.”
Cupich said he has asked Pfleger to take the next two weeks to prepare for his return, “realizing that these months have taken a great toll on him.”
“This past year has been a time of great trial for us all, and our church, our city and society are in need of your witness to Jesus' love. Please know you will have my support and prayers as you continue to be a light in the community,” the cardinal concluded in his letter.
Pfleger is a well known priest of the archdiocese, famous for his social justice activism and deep connection to the local community. News of the accusations against the priest had been met with skepticism by his former parishioners, who demanded that the archdiocese close its canonical investigation and return him to ministry.
During the preliminary canonical investigation into the accusations against the priest, local Catholics and parish leaders mounted a public campaign in defense of him.
In February, the parish announced that it was withholding $100,000 per month from the archdiocese until Pfleger was returned to St. Sabina as pastor. The amount included the archdiocesan income assessment on the parish of 10%, amounting to some $13,000 per month. The other withheld funds represented financial obligations to the archdiocese from the parish attached school, including property and liability insurance payments.
At the time, the parish cabinet said the decision was “the next strategic move to keep the pressure on the archdiocese to expedite the alleged abuse investigation” into Pfleger.
In April, Cupich warned of an “organized effort through the St. Sabina website to employ inappropriate and intimidating tactics to put pressure on the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Independent Review Board (IRB)” regarding Pfleger’s case.
He said the case would be moved to the Independent Review Board of another diocese if the reports of intimidation and harassment did not cease.