Amid ongoing investigation, Chicago priest says he will ‘seek other ways and opportunities’ to work in the community

Chicago Tribune

March 23, 2021

By Sarah Freishtat and Christy Gutowski

[Via the Pantagraph.]

The Rev. Michael Pfleger intends to find other ways to work in the Auburn Gresham community as the Chicago Archdiocese continues to investigate allegations that he molested two brothers in the 1970s, Pfleger wrote in a recent letter to the community.

“I know that I cannot emotionally or spiritually continue to remain isolated in an apartment waiting for this board to do its job,” Pfleger, the pastor at St. Sabina Church, wrote. “While I hope and pray that the Review Board will work a little harder and more promptly to conclude their investigation, I will no longer wait in silence.

“Over the next days, I will seek other ways and opportunities to minister in the Auburn Gresham community and continue outreach while this process seemingly drags on.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich is requiring Pfleger, 71, to live away from the parish during an investigation into allegations that he sexually abused two brothers beginning nearly five decades ago.

And a third man came forward earlier this month alleging Pfleger once grabbed him in a sexual manner at St. Sabina in summer 1979, when the accuser was 18. The man said he does not plan to sue but felt compelled to submit an affidavit to the archdiocese to support the brothers, whom he said he does not know.

In his letter, Pfleger said it has been two months since the investigation began, “during which the parishioners of St. Sabina, the community we serve, and I have received little information about the archdiocese’s ‘investigation’ or why it is taking so long.”

He reiterated earlier claims of innocence and said that he continues “to believe that the review board and the Cardinal will see the truth, conclude that these uncorroborated allegations are unfounded and restore me to the ministry at St. Sabina.”

Pfleger signed the letter, “in the pursuit of justice.”

The archdiocese did not immediately return requests for comment Monday afternoon.

Eugene Hollander, an attorney for the men who made the allegations, expressed concern about Pfleger’s plan to work in the community. He disputed the notions in Pfleger’s letter that the investigation was moving too slowly and that the allegations were unfounded, saying the three men’s stories corroborated each other.

“Based upon the allegations made by all of my clients, I believe Father Pfleger should not be around any children whatsoever and should not be allowed to minister,” he said.

Pfleger’s supporters have rallied for his return to St. Sabina. They announced at the end of February the church would stop paying about $100,000 in monthly assessments to the archdiocese to try to hasten the investigation.

Monday, one of Pfleger’s attorneys, James Figliulo, said Pfleger would not be returning in his official capacity as pastor at St. Sabina at this time. Rather, he was planning to work on outreach programs in the community but had not determined exactly what those plans would be.

Pfleger did not think his work would violate any restrictions from the archdiocese, Figliulo said.

“It’s been 10 weeks,” he said. “The allegations are uncorroborated. And he thinks that’s more than enough time for the board to conclude its investigation and restore him to his ministry.”

Pfleger’s legal team has said the brothers’ allegations are false, concocted in hopes of receiving a financial settlement. They noted the younger brother sent Pfleger a letter seeking $20,000 just before he filed a complaint with the archdiocese.

The Department of Children and Family Services also opened an investigation, and at the end of February the agency said in a letter it concluded the allegations were “unfounded.”

“This means that no credible evidence of child abuse or neglect was found during this investigation,” the DCFS letter to Pfleger reads. “This does not necessarily mean that an incident did not occur. An incident may have occurred but the evidence did not rise to the level required to indicate for abuse or neglect as dictated by state law and DCFS administrative rule.”

The archdiocese has said the DCFS review confirmed that under state law, it may only make a finding about whether credible evidence of abuse or neglect exists in cases where a child is currently involved. Pfleger’s accusers are both in their 60s.

In a January interview, the men told the Tribune that Pfleger molested them dozens of times over several years. They said the abuse began in the 1970s after they joined the choir of Precious Blood Catholic Church near their West Side childhood home. Pfleger was a seminary student at the time.

The brothers, who live in Texas and have asked not to be publicly named, said they were victimized in Pfleger’s rectory bedrooms at three churches including St. Sabina, where the priest has been assigned since his May 1975 ordination.