Father Michael Pfleger, a Chicago Archdiocese priest, is facing two allegations of child sexual abuse. The archdiocese asked Pfleger to step down from public ministry after the first allegation. Pfleger will step away from his parish while the allegation is being investigated.
Update: In February 2021, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) concluded its investigation into the abuse allegations against Pfleger. In a letter, the agency noted it did not find any credible evidence to support the allegations against Pfleger. However, this does not mean the incidents did not occur and Pfleger has not returned to active ministry. The archdiocese continues its investigation of the allegations.
Father Michael Pfleger Accused Of Sexually Abusing Two Minors
This month, two survivors of clergy abuse named Michael Pfleger as their abuser. Allegedly, both incidents of abuse occurred more than 40 years ago.
First Abuse Allegation Against Pfleger
In early January, Rev. Michael Pfleger was accused of sexual abuse against a minor. The survivor claims the abuse happened more than 40 years ago. The Chicago Archdiocese asked Pfleger to step down from his position with Saint Sabina parish while an internal investigation is conducted.
The archdiocese and the state’s attorney’s office did not disclose any details of the allegation. The state’s attorney’s office will handle an external investigation with the help of the Chicago Police Department.
Archdiocese Addressed First Allegation In Letter
Details of the allegation have not been disclosed. However, the archdiocese did address the situation with the Saint Sabina parish community. On January 5, 2021, the Archdiocese of Chicago distributed a letter from Cardinal Blase J. Cupich about the allegations.
Cardinal Cupich stated Pfleger will live away from the parish during the investigations. Cardinal Cupich said the archdiocese reported the allegation to:
- The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)
- The Cook County State’s Attorney
Church officials also contacted Pfleger’s accuser to offer Victim Assistance Ministry services.
Second Abuse Allegation Against Pfleger
On January 24, 2021, the legal team representing the Archdiocese of Chicago received word of an additional allegation against Pfleger. The abuse allegedly occurred more than 45 years ago. The Associated Press reported the two plaintiffs who accused Pfleger of abuse are brothers. However, neither brother was aware of the other’s abuse at the hands of Pfleger.
Pfleger and his legal team continue to deny the allegations.
Illinois Department Of Children And Family Services Finds No Credible Evidence
In February 2021, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) sent a letter to Pfleger with the results of the agency’s investigation. According to the letter, the agency found no credible evidence to support the allegations against Pfleger.
However, the letter went on to say, “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.”
Pfleger’s attorney claims this letter proves Pfleger is not a threat to children and should be allowed to return to his ministry work. The archdiocese disagrees with this assumption.
“The agency was investigating risk, not allegations of abuse that occurred more than four decades ago.”
The archdiocese will continue its investigation into the abuse allegations. In the meantime, Pfleger will not be allowed back in his ministry role until the investigation is over.
Many Saint Sabina Parishioners Support Pfleger
Pfleger has been the pastor at Saint Sabina parish since 1981. Before he became pastor, Pfleger worked at Saint Sabina for six years. Many of his parishioners have supported Pfleger throughout the last month. He is a well-known Chicago-area priest due to his long history with the Saint Sabina parish and his public, and sometimes controversial, acts of activism.
However, Pfleger is not the first Catholic priest in the spotlight to be accused of child sexual abuse. In November 2020, the Vatican released a report about Church cover-ups related to Theodore McCarrick, a prominent former cardinal and bishop in New Jersey. McCarrick was the first cardinal removed from his position due to a sexual abuse allegation.
If the investigations find the allegations against Pfleger have merit, his reputation in the community and his parishioners’ support will not protect him from the law.
In February 2021, the parish of Saint Sabina announced its support of Pfleger and its desire to end the investigation against him. The parish refuses to pay its monthly assessments to the archdiocese — roughly $100,000 — until the investigation is over.
The spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Susan Thomas, responded to Saint Sabina’s decision to withhold funds with the following statement, “Giving a case special treatment undermines the credibility of its outcome and ultimately serves neither the accuser nor the accused. Justice demands a thorough and impartial process and there is no timeframe in which we ‘should’ make a determination.”
Victims Commonly Come Forward Years After Abuse
Many victims will not speak about childhood sex abuse until they reach adulthood. It is not uncommon for child sex abuse victims to come forward years or decades after they were abused.
Larry Antonsen, a leader of the Chicago chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said most people don’t realize how common it is for victims to wait decades to come forward. Antonsen was sexually abused by a religious order priest when he was in high school.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘It was 40 years ago’ and, ‘Why did they wait so long?’ There’s a lot of people that have gone to their graves because they couldn’t deal with the guilt and the shame,” Antonsen explained.
Recognizing this pattern, many states have revised the statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse cases. These revised statutes have given survivors more time to seek justice.
Illinois has no civil or criminal statutes of limitations for sexual abuse crimes against children.
Archdiocese of Chicago. (2021, January 5). Letter from Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, on Father Michael Pfleger.
ChildUSA. (N.D.) Illinois Child Sex Abuse SOLs.
Christman, Z. (2011, May 22). Father Pfleger Returns to Pulpit. NBC Chicago.
Kenney M. (2021, January 24). St. Sabina’s Rev. Michael Pfleger faces 2nd allegation of child sex abuse; priest’s lawyers assail ‘false attacks.’ Chicago Sun-Times.
Lynch, J., Parks, B., Alonso, M. (2021, January 6). Chicago priest Michael Pfleger on sex abuse allegation: I am devastated. CNN.
Schuba, T. (2021, February 28). St. Sabina withholding $100K in monthly assessments until archdiocese closes Pfleger abuse probe. Chicago Sun-Times.
Tarm, M. (2021, January 26). Brothers accuse prominent Chicago priest of sexual abuse. The Associated Press.
Thometz, K. (2017, August). Illinois Eliminates Statutes of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse Crimes. WTTW.
Waller, A., Fazio, M. (2021, January 7) Activist Chicago Priest Is Accused of Sexual Abuse. The New York Times.
(2021, January 6). Pfleger Asked to Step Aside From Ministry After Child Abuse Allegation, Chicago Archdiocese Says. NBC Chicago.
(2021, February 26). Archdiocese priest probe continues despite agency’s findings. The Associated Press.