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Pfleger again declares he’s innocent of sex abuse claims after state wraps up its probe

The Department of Children and Family Services said it sent letters to the Archdiocese of Chicago and Pfleger regarding its investigation. Other probes remain ongoing.

Supporters of Rev. Michael Pfleger demand the Archdiocese of Chicago expedite an investigation on sex abuse allegations that were made against Pfleger and reinstate him outside the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 24, 2021.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Rev. Michael Pfleger, in his first public statement in weeks, again declared his innocence Wednesday as the Department of Children and Family Services apparently reached a conclusion on its investigation into claims any children might currently be at risk.

In a pair of social-media posts, Pfleger, who stepped away from his duties as pastor of St. Sabina Church last month as church leaders investigated a decades-old sexual abuse allegation made by two brothers, said he was innocent and called the accusation “false.”

“When this is over, which i (sic) hope is soon i (sic) will have much more to say,” wrote Pfleger, who, in another post, thanked several organizations and people who’ve voiced support of the longtime St. Sabina priest. “... I pray the [Chicago] Archdiocese will quickly allow my return to Ministry.”

Pfleger’s comments come after the DCFS sent out letters regarding the outcome of its investigation into Pfleger.

Though the law doesn’t permit DCFS to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect made by an adult victim, DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said DCFS can determine whether there is a current minor victim.

When an investigation is unfounded, DCFS sends a letter to the mandated reporter, in this case the archdiocese, informing them of the results of the investigation and allowing time for a response, and after 20 days, DCFS then sends a letter to the alleged perpetrator with results of the investigation.

McCaffrey confirmed that letters were sent to the archdiocese on Feb. 4 and to Pfleger Feb. 24 but wouldn’t comment on the contents of the letters. However, the archdiocese and Pfleger’s attorney, Jim Figliulo, both said they never received a letter from DCFS.

“We were told [Tuesday], by a DCFS official in Springfield, that a determination letter was not in their system, indicating that it had not been generated, let alone mailed,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “DCFS confirmed that it would not provide an electronic copy of the letter and that we would have to wait for its arrival via U.S. Postal Service.”

Figliulo again said the brothers’ allegations are “not true.”

Meanwhile, the victims’ attorney, Eugene Hollander, said he “would not put much stock” in DCFS’ findings since neither brother gave statements to the department.

“There really wasn’t much to the DCFS file regarding their unfounded allegations,” Hollander said. “Of course, I haven’t seen their file, but it has to be a pretty bare bones file because they had no information directly from my clients.”

The archdiocese said DCFS isn’t directly investigating the veracity of the allegations against Pfleger.

“We have been told that, in light of the allegations, DCFS is investigating whether there is a ‘risk of harm’ to children,” the archdiocese’s statement said. “Depending on the contents of the letter we ultimately receive from DCFS, there may be no conclusion about guilt or innocence in this case.”

Figliulo said the archdiocese’s lengthy statement was “hard to follow.”

“The archdiocese said that they were waiting for the investigation of DCFS to be concluded. If they now are saying that it doesn’t mean anything, that’s puzzling,” Figliulo said.

The archdiocese and Chicago Police Department are conducting their own independent investigations into the allegations, which remain ongoing.

Pfleger has not been charged with any crime.

Earlier Wednesday, a group of about 100 people gathered outside the Chicago Archdiocese headquarters and called for the reinstatement of Pfleger.

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins, a member of St. Sabina, urged the archdiocese to move quickly in making a determination in the case and sharing it publicly.

“It is time for the archdiocese to expedite the process and bring a renewal, a rebirth and a restoration of Fr. Pfleger’s good name, his dignity and his decency,” Collins said. “Time is of the essence because in the court of public opinion, time becomes the jury.”

In response to claims it said were made at the protest, the archdiocese denied concocting a ruse to remove Pfleger and said that every allegation of clergy misconduct is taken seriously and subjected to the same process.

“The Church has been accused, at times correctly, of not taking accusations seriously, of conducting cursory investigations and restoring misbehaving priests to ministry prematurely,” the statement said. “We are convinced that the procedures for dealing with these cases, developed and enhanced over the years, work. They should be followed by all organizations that care for and educate young people. It is ironic that we are now accused of taking too long to consider allegations because a priest is prominent and well regarded.

“Thirty years of being at the forefront of dealing with abuse of minors, which sadly continues in society today, has taught us that these matters take the time they take to reach a just conclusion. We intend to continue working on all the cases before us toward that end, always giving priority to the protection and healing of victims.”