“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.
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.