Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks at St. Sabina. Credit: Lee Edwards/Block Club Chicago

AUBURN GRESHAM — Father Michael Pfleger, the longtime leader of St. Sabina Church and a prominent anti-violence activist, has been removed from his church post following allegations of sexual abuse of a minor dating back more than 40 years.

Cardinal Blase Cupich issued a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he’d asked Pfleger to step down from his role while the Archdiocese of Chicago investigates the decades-old allegation. Cupich said the incident has been reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.

Archdiocese leaders have offered counseling services to the alleged victim. Pfleger has complied with the request to step aside and will live away from the parish as the investigation continues, Cupich said.

Father Thulani Magwaza will step in as temporary administrator.

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

Pfleger, who has presided over St. Sabina since 1981, could not immediately be reached for comment. Members of the St. Sabina cabinet issued a statement Tuesday defending Pfleger.

“We understand there is a process and protocol of the Archdiocese of Chicago and we will fully cooperate,” the group said in its statement. “However, we believe that our [senior pastor] will be fully exonerated from all accusations and we will stand with him during this process as he had stood with victims of injustice, and will continue to uplift his work and the life he has committed to serving others.”

Pfleger was ordained as a priest in 1975 and took over St. Sabina six years later when he was 31.

The same year he began his post at St. Sabina, he adopted an 8-year-old son, Lamar. He adopted another son, Beronti Simms, in 1992 and became a foster parent to Jarvis Franklin in 1997.

Franklin was fatally shot near St. Sabina in May 1998. Simms died in 2012, four days after undergoing surgery.

Over the past several decades, Pfleger has been a pillar of the predominately Black communities to which he ministers, though he’s drawn supporters from throughout the city and country. He’s been a vociferous activist, protesting gun violence and gun laws, alcohol and tobacco marketing targeting children in minority communities, and racial injustice, among many other issues.

Just this week, the pastor led an anti-violence march down the Magnificent Mile to protest the staggering spike of homicides in 2020. Pfleger and St. Sabina also have routinely put up reward money in an effort to break the code of silence that stops people from coming forward to identify people responsible for gun violence.

Among those reward efforts included tens of thousands of dollars raised in support of finding those involved in the brutal killing of 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee in 2015, and $15,000 raised in the aftermath of mass shooting outside a Auburn Gresham funeral home in July.

St. Sabina is the center of numerous community outreach programs, including mentoring and employment assistance for local youths and adults, violence intervention and food distribution.

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