Chicago Parish Community Defends Father Pfleger After His Suspension for Alleged Abuse

Catholic News Agency - EWTN [Denver CO]

October 18, 2022

By Jonah McKeown, Joe Bukuras

During an Oct. 16 Mass at St. Sabina Faith Community in Chicago, Father Tom Walsh read a letter to the congregation from Cardinal Blase Cupich. The letter bore the news that Father Michael Pfleger, a social activist and pastor at the parish, had been accused of sexually abusing a minor more than 30 years ago.

As he completed reading the cardinal’s letter, Walsh conspicuously crushed the paper into a wad. 

“Oops, sorry,” he said wryly, to a smattering of cheers and applause.

Walsh then invited Kimberly Lymore, an associate minister at the parish, to read a statement from the accused priest, in which Pfleger complained that “the process of the archdiocese today is that a priest is presumed guilty until proven innocent.” 

The Oct. 15 announcement from the archdiocese marks the second time in two years that Pfleger has faced suspension because of a historic sexual abuse allegation. After three men brought forward allegations in early 2021, Pfleger was reinstated that June after a Chicago Archdiocese investigation concluded there was “insufficient reason” to suspect he was guilty of the allegations, which he had denied. 

Pfleger will live away from his parish while the present allegation — which he also denies — is investigated by the archdiocese and by law enforcement, the letter said. 

Walsh, who is not assigned to St. Sabina’s but celebrated the Oct. 16 Mass, introduced the cardinal’s letter at the end of the liturgy by saying: “I [inaudible] try and avoid this but I guess, alright, it’s nothing new. There’s a protocol that needs to be done every time one of these situations happens. I have to read you a letter.”

Throughout the Mass, Walsh had stated his support for Pfleger. At one point in the cardinal’s letter, after reading the line “The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously,” Walsh added, “Like we didn’t know that already.”

Saying that Pfelger was watching the Mass on livestream, Walsh directed the parishioners to look towards the livestream camera and raise their hands in prayer for Pfleger.

“Show Father Mike what it means to be persistent in prayer! Father Mike, this is your army! These are your warriors,” Walsh said. 

“This is the persistence of a people who believe in the power of God who have faith, and who want you to know that you’re not going to go through this alone … And to the highest glory of God, we now pray for you, we now pray with you, we support you, all Glory. Come on, let’s pray right now everybody,” he said. 

One woman in Mass can be seen wearing a shirt that says “We stand with Father Pfleger” and “Demand Justice.”

The parish responded to the previous allegation of abuse against Pfleger by withholding its monthly contributions to the archdiocese — around $100,000 a month — until the abuse investigation was completed. The parish said it would not use the funds for “ministry, outreach, or any current or future programs” and would pay the archdiocese in full “at the conclusion of the investigation.” 

CNA reached out to the Archdiocese of Chicago for comment but did not receive a response. Walsh also could not be reached for comment. 

A Chicago native, Pfleger has often spoken out against gun violence in the city’s South Side that has afflicted his parishioners at St. Sabina’s, a predominantly African-American parish community. Pfleger has served as the pastor of St. Sabina since 1981.

In his Oct. 15 statement, Pfleger said his status as a “high-profile,” “outspoken,” and “controversial” person has engendered “jealousy, attacks, and hate.”

“Let me be clear — I am completely innocent of this accusation,” he wrote. “It seems like most of my ministry I have spent fighting to stay a priest and to continue the work of justice, and to serve the good people of St. Sabina’s and our community. I cannot express how difficult, disruptive, and painful this process is to me and those who are close to me.”

Some of the priest’s words and actions have put him at the center of controversy. The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago suspended Pfleger in 2011 after the priest threatened to leave the priesthood if George reassigned him. The cardinal later accepted Pfleger’s apology and reinstated him as St. Sabina’s pastor. In 2019, Cupich publicly denounced Pfleger’s decision to invite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to speak at St. Sabina.

Pfleger has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, though the doctrine that priestly ordination is reserved only to men is to be held definitively as belonging to the deposit of faith.