CHICAGO — A state agency has found a report of child abuse against Father Michael Pfleger to be “unfounded,” but the popular pastor has not been cleared of the decades-old abuse allegations reported by two brothers earlier this year.
The “unfounded” finding by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services doesn’t mean an incident didn’t occur, the agency wrote in a letter to Pfleger released Friday. But it does mean investigators couldn’t find “credible evidence of child abuse or neglect” that rose “to the level required” by state law and department rules.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago said the state’s finding came because it was investigating if Pfleger, the longtime and nationally known leader of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham, posed a risk to current children. The finding does not relate to allegations made by the two brothers that Pfleger sexually abused them more than 40 years ago, so it “should not be viewed as a judgement as to his guilt or innocence in those matters,” according to the archdiocese.
The archdiocese and Police Department are still conducting investigations into those allegations. Pfleger “will remain away from the parish” pending their outcome, according to the archdiocese.
Pfleger has maintained his innocence and said the allegations are false.
“When this is over, which I hope is soon, I will have much more to say,” Pfleger wrote in a Wednesday tweet.
On Jan. 5, Pfleger was asked to step down from his post while the Archdiocese of Chicago investigated an allegation he’d sexually abused a minor more than 40 years ago.
Pfleger denied the allegation but stepped aside. The community around St. Sabina was in shock.
Cardinal Blase Cupich provided no specifics about the allegation when announcing it in January. The archdiocese reported the allegation to the Department of Children and Family Services, which then investigated if Pfleger was a risk to minors, leading to Friday’s letter.
In late January, a second person — the brother of the first alleged victim — came forward and said he, too, had been sexually abused by Pfleger decades ago.
The brothers, now 61 and 63, filed separate complaints with the Archdiocese of Chicago, claiming Pfleger groomed and sexually abused them for years, starting when they were around 12 and 13 years old. The younger brother filed his report Jan. 4 and the older brother submitted his Jan. 22.
Pfleger was ordained in 1975 and became pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham six years later. The brothers, who grew up on the West Side, allege the abuse started when Pfleger was a seminarian at Precious Blood Church in Lawndale and continued into his time as deacon at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in the north suburbs and at St. Sabina.
Neither realized the other allegedly had been abused until the younger brother decided to come forward and told his family about the incidents for the first time, they said in late January.
In response to the allegations, Pfleger’s lawyers said one of the brothers sent the priest a note demanding $20,000.
“It is so very disheartening to witness such false attacks on Father Pfleger, which are motivated by greed,” the attorneys said at the time.
The younger brother acknowledged having sent the letter, but claimed he did so thinking if the priest paid the money, it would be proof of his guilt when he went public with the accusations.
Eugene Hollander, an attorney for the two brothers, said in a statement that DCFS cannot investigate sexual abuse claims when the alleged victim is an adult and emphasized the agency’s announcement does not affect the brothers’ case.
“DCFS’ findings have no bearing on the legal proceedings involving my clients or whether the Archdiocese of Chicago will remove Father Pfleger from his ministry,” Hollander said.
Pfleger took over St. Sabina in 1981, when he was 31.
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.
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