Chicago’s activist priest Rev. Michael Pfleger steps aside amid past child abuse allegation: Archdiocese

Pfleger is well known in the city for his activism, particularly against gun violence.

In this July 7, 2018, file photo, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Catholic Church on Chicago’s South Side, speaks to protesters before marching on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. In a letter written to the St. Sabina community, Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich announced Jan. 5, 2021, that he has asked Pfleger to step aside from his ministry after receipt of a sexual abuse allegation of a minor by Pfleger more than 40 years earlier. (AP Photo/Annie Rice, File)

CHICAGO (RNS) — The Rev. Michael Pfleger has temporarily stepped down from his ministry leading the Roman Catholic Faith Community of St. Sabina amid allegations of sexual abuse of a minor more than 40 years ago.

Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, shared the news in a letter Tuesday (Jan. 5) to members of the Faith Community of St. Sabina and St. Sabina Academy, a predominantly Black parish on the city’s South Side.

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“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” Cupich wrote. “The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”

In keeping with the archdiocese’s child protection policies, the cardinal wrote, he asked Pfleger, 70, to step aside from ministry after its Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review received the allegation. The archdiocese has reported the allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

The archdiocese also has started its own investigation, according to the cardinal, who noted in his letter that the allegations “have not been proven as true or false” and “guilt or innocence should not be assumed.”

“Please know that you are in my prayers. We will do our best to keep you informed of developments as they occur,” Cupich wrote.

Pfleger has agreed to fully cooperate. The Rev. Thulani Magwaza, associate pastor at St. Sabina, will fill his role at the church and school, according to the letter.

The priest responded Wednesday morning on Facebook, writing that he has received hundreds of messages of support from across the country. He also noted he has been asked by the archdiocese not to speak about the allegation.

“I am devastated, hurt and yes angry, but I am first, a person of Faith, I Trust God. Please keep me in prayer and the Faith Community of St. Sabina,” he wrote.

Pfleger came to St. Sabina Church as an associate pastor in 1975, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

He is well known in the city for his activism, particularly against gun violence. He also is no stranger to controversy. He took a leave of absence after criticizing then-Sen. Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential primaries and was suspended for a month in 2011 by then-Cardinal Francis George after insisting he’d leave the Roman Catholic Church before he’d leave St. Sabina to take an assignment at a nearby Catholic high school, according to NBC 5 Chicago.

Pfleger ended his statement by asking for prayer for the person who reported the allegation against him.

“Pray also for the person, my life is more than a 40 year old accusation, and on that and my Faith I will stand…The Lord is my Shepherd….. I love you,” he wrote.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has offered the services of its Victim Assistance Ministry to the person who reported the allegation, according to the cardinal’s letter.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include response from the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

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