Second man accuses Chicago’s Father Pfleger of sex abuse

Screenshot_2021_01_05_at_85451_PM_1.jpeg Father Michael Pfleger / Photo: Daniel X. O'Neil CC BY 2.0

A second alleged victim has accused activist Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger of sexually abusing him as a minor decades ago, the Chicago archdiocese has confirmed to local media. The priest has strongly denied both accusations, which come from two brothers.

The Chicago archdiocese’s general counsel had “just received” the second allegation Sunday evening, a spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It is important to note that Fr. Pfleger remains removed from ministry pending the outcome of civil and church investigations,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue to follow our process as we do with all such allegations.”

Pfleger’s lawyers, James Figliulo and Michael Monico, issued a statement on his behalf.

“Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else. These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shakedown,” their statement said, according to ABC7 Chicago.

The two brothers were the youngest of five children who grew up in a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, the Chicago Tribune reports. Their single mother insisted they go to church to avoid gangs and drugs. They joined the choir at Precious Blood Catholic Church, which was directed by Pfleger, then a seminarian. They said they were each sexually abused dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s in Pfleger’s room at three churches, including Precious Blood and St. Sabina. They said they were 12 or 13 years old when the abuse began.

They said the priest would take them out for pizza, for movies, or for travel to other parishes to perform. Pfleger often gave them pocket money and once took them to the Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis, they said.

The brothers do not want to be named publicly to protect the privacy of relatives in Chicago and for fear of possible negative reactions from Pfleger’s supporters.

The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed the complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.

Pfleger’s attorneys said one of the accusers had sent the priest a handwritten letter asking for $20,000, saying, “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.” The attorneys suggested this supports the idea that accusers are seeking money.

The younger brother, who wrote the letter, rejected the claim that his motivation was purely financial, and said he wanted the payment to be proof that he was abused. He said he was motivated to come forward by a Nov. 28 televised interview with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. Gregory, a former priest and auxiliary bishop of the Chicago archdiocese, spoke about the Catholic Church’s failures to respond to child sexual abuse.

The brothers said they had met or seen Gregory several times. Gregory said in a statement he did not remember the brothers’ family but he voiced confidence in the archdiocese’s investigation, the Chicago Tribune said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation.

“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” Cupich said in a Jan. 5 statement about the first accusation. “Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated.”

The archdiocese reported the first allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.

The 71-year-old priest indicated that many people had reached out to him after the Chicago archdiocese announced the first allegation Jan. 5. He said he was “devastated, hurt and yes angry,” but put his trust in God. He asked for prayers for his accuser.

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Cupich’s Jan. 5 statement said the Chicago archdiocese “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.”

“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” he said.

Pfleger’s biography on the Saint Sabina Church website said that since 1968 he has lived and ministered in the African-American community on the west and south sides of Chicago. He worked two summers in a Native American community in Oklahoma, and as a seminarian he interned at Cook County Jail and at Chicago’s Precious Blood Church.

He adopted an eight-year-old boy in 1981 and adopted another boy in 1992. In 1997, he became foster father to Jarvis Franklin, who was killed in 1998 in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

His causes include opposition to gun violence and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.

At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position which the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited controversial preacher Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies. Farrakhan is the founder of the Chicago-based group Nation of Islam and has a history of anti-Semitic preaching.

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During the controversial 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the late Cardinal Francis George publicly responded to comments Pfleger made deriding Sen. Hillary Clinton and advocating the candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In addition, in 2011 George suspended Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina and barred him from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. George reinstated Pfleger after the priest apologized.

Father Thulani Magwaza is serving as temporary parish administrator during Pfleger’s current absence. Magwaza stood in as parish administrator during the priest’s 2011 suspension as well.