AUBURN GRESHAM — Father Michael Pfleger has been asked to step down from his position as senior pastor at St. Sabina Catholic Church following a new allegation that he sexually abused a minor, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced Saturday.
Authorities are investigating Pfleger after a person said the pastor sexually abused them while they were a minor more than 30 years ago, according to an archdiocese statement. Similar allegations in 2021 led the longtime Catholic priest being removed from the church for several months before the archdiocese found “no reason to suspect” he was guilty of sexual abuse.
During this investigation, Pfleger agreed to step aside from the ministry and live separately from the parish while the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review investigates the new allegation, archdiocese officials said.
In a statement, Pfleger said he is “completely innocent” of the allegation and criticized the archdiocese’s process, saying it is “difficult, disruptive and painful.”
“Priests are vulnerable targets to anyone at any time,” he wrote. “… While I am confident the allegation will also be determined to be unfounded, this process is so unfair and painful to me and to the community I serve. It seems like most of my ministry I have spent fighting to stay a priest and to continue to work for justice, and to serve the good people of St. Sabina’s and our community.”
Attorney Eugene Hollander, who is representing the newest accuser and represented the brothers who made the allegations last year, said his client is a man in his 40s who says Pfleger abused him when he was a minor in the late 1980s. At the time, he was a member of the Soul Children of Chicago choir, which rehearsed at St. Sabina once or twice a week, Hollander said in a statement.
The man said Pfleger sexually abused him on two separate occasions in the parish rectory, Hollander said.
Church officials have contacted police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services about the allegation, according to a statement. The state department and Chicago police could not immediately be reached for comment.
St. Sabina’s cabinet did not immediately make a statement.
Thulani Magwaza will serve as the administrator of the St. Sabina parish and school community when he returns from a family visit in November. Until then, David Jones will serve as the church’s temporary administrator.
Child sexual abuse allegations sidelined Pfleger in January 2021, with three people — two brothers and a man who came forward a few months later — eventually saying Pfleger had abused them decades ago when they were minors. Pfleger maintained he was innocent.
The Archdiocese of Chicago investigated for months before saying there was “no reason to suspect” Pfleger was guilty; the state’s Department of Children and Family Services also said an allegation was “unfounded.” He was reinstated that June.
Pfleger’s return that summer was welcomed by many in the South Side community around St. Sabina.
Pfleger was ordained in 1975 and became pastor of St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham six years later. 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.
The same year Pfleger 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.
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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