2 Brothers Open up about Alleged Sex Abuse by Rev. Michael Pfleger As Supporters Rally outside St. Sabina Church
By Madeline Kenney and Stefano Esposito
January 25, 2021
|Two brother on Monday shared details of sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the Rev. Michael Pfleger over four decades ago. Attorneys for the longtime St. Sabina Church pastor have vehemently shot down the accusations, calling them “false attacks ... motivated by greed.” Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times|
Two brothers on Monday detailed sexual abuse they say they suffered at the hands of the Rev. Michael Pfleger more than four decades ago, with one saying the abuse “destroyed my life.”
But attorneys for the longtime St. Sabina Church pastor have blasted the accusations as “false attacks . . . motivated by greed.”
The men, who are in their 60s and now live in Texas, said at a news conference that Pfleger molested them dozens of times, starting in the 1970s. It allegedly began when they were in the choir at Precious Blood Church on the West Side and continued for years at the Mundelein Seminary as well as two other churches, including St. Sabina Church, where Pfleger has served as pastor since 1981.
Neither brother ever told anyone about the abuse, they said, including each other, until this month.
Pfleger, one of the most prominent figures in the Catholic community in Chicago, stepped away from the Auburn-Gresham parish Jan. 5 at the Archdiocese of Chicago’s request as it began investigating the first sexual abuse accusation made by the younger brother. The second man submitted his abuse claims to the archdiocese on Friday. Pfleger has not been charged with any crime.
Pfleger, 71, has stayed out of the public eye since the accusations surfaced. In a statement Sunday, Pfleger’s lawyers, James Figliulo and Michael Monico, defended him, saying: “Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else.”
The older brother, an Air Force veteran and former Texas police officer, said he viewed Pfleger as a “father figure” since his father was absent and that Pfleger would often watch TV with him and give him sodas. The alleged abuse began when he was between 12 and 13 and stayed with Pfleger overnight at the Precious Blood’s rectory.
“You confuse love with caring, and this is an adult that cares about me,” he said. “As a child, getting that attention — good or bad — was still better than being out on the street because I was scared to death of the street.”
The older brother said the abuse was a “slow methodical process” that started by Pfleger allegedly climbing into bed with the boy before making physical contact. This abuse happened “a couple dozen times” for at least five years, he said.
The younger brother also alleged he was sexually abused multiple times by Pfleger, starting when he was 13 and continued into his mid-20s.
Now 61, the younger brother said the abuse “destroyed my life.” He battled drug addiction for decades, saying drugs were “my escape” and “the way I felt that I had to deal with the situation that caused me a lot of pain.” He’s been homeless at times. Court records show he spent time behind bars in Texas and Illinois. He landed prison sentences in Cook and Peoria counties for charges related to burglary, stolen vehicles and aggravated battery in the 1990s, records show.
The younger brother, who said he’s been sober 12 years, said he was deterred for years from reporting the alleged misconduct because of Pfleger’s stature. He said he felt compelled to come forward with his accusations late last year after he saw Cardinal Wilton Gregory discuss the Catholic Church’s mishandling of the sex-abuse scandal during a TV interview.
“I said, ‘I need to do something about this. I’m not going to continue carrying this burden. It was not my fault. I did not cause this, it was caused by another individual,’” he said.
In a four-page Dec. 31 letter, the man asked for $20,000, writing: “I am asking for a one-time payment to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life. I did not want to put a price, but I must,” according to Pfleger’s attorneys.
The 61-year-old man defended his request, saying: “If he sent me some money, that was an admission of guilt. That was going to be how I was going to have proof.”
But Figliulo and Monico argued the request showed “this is a shakedown.”
The brothers’ attorney, Eugene Hollander, responded by calling the statement “beyond insulting.” He said he hopes to resolve his clients’ claims without suing the archdiocese.
As the two brothers spoke of the abuse, which was first reported by CBS2 Chicago, from Hollander’s downtown office, the St. Sabina community gave a full-throated response.
“We have a right to be angry with the accusers, but we have to find the kindness in our hearts to forgive them,” said Christopher Jones Jr., one of about 100 people who gathered outside St. Sabina.
Parishioner Joseph Saunders said the accusations are about money and “throwing dirt on Father Mike’s name.”
“Who stays in the Black community over 40 years, getting death threats, hated on all his life — who does that unless it’s for love?” Saunders said.