The Rev. Michael Pfleger had hoped a state agency’s findings would open the door for him to return to his ministry at St. Sabina Church, but the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago said Friday that Pfleger must stay away as its own investigation into sex abuse claims continues.
In January, two brothers accused Pfleger of abusing them more than four decades ago, when they were kids.
Following the allegations, Pfleger stepped away from his duties at the Auburn Gresham church as investigations, including one conducted by the state’s Department of Children and Family Services, played out.
On Friday, Pfleger received a letter from DCFS stating its investigation determined the allegations that Pfleger was a risk to be around kids were “unfounded.”
The letter to Pfleger stated:
“After a thorough evaluation, DCFS has determined the report to be ‘unfounded.’ This means that no credible evidence of child abuse or neglect was found during this investigation and that your name will not be listed as a perpetrator of child abuse or neglect on the State Central Register. This does not necessarily mean that an incident did not occur. An incident may have occurred but the evidence did not rise to the level required to indicate for abuse or neglect as dictated by state law and DCFS administrative rule.”
The archdiocese, in a statement issued Friday, pointed out the DCFS was not investigating the brothers’ allegations.
“It is important to note that the unfounded finding does not reflect an investigation by DCFS of the recent allegations against Father Pfleger by two adult brothers and therefore should not be viewed as a judgment as to his guilt or innocence in those matters.”
“The agency was investigating risk, not allegations of abuse that occurred more than four decades ago.”
“The Independent Review Board of the archdiocese will conduct its investigation into the allegations and will communicate its findings in due course. Father Pfleger will remain away from the parish pending the outcome of that process.”
Pfleger was not available for comment Friday, but his attorney, Mike Monico, said the findings show DCFS doesn’t believe Pfleger to be a danger to children and should be allowed to return to his church.
DCFS spokesman Bill McCaffrey, citing state law, couldn’t disclose details of the investigation or whether it involved locating and interviewing people who were around at the time of the alleged abuse.
“The law does not permit DCFS to investigate allegations of child abuse or neglect made by an adult victim,” he said. “DCFS can only determine whether there is a current child victim.”
Pfleger’s accusers, through their attorney, issued a statement downplaying DCFS’s finding.
“DCFS does not have jurisdiction to investigate sexual abuse claims made by adults. Further, neither of the brothers provided statements to DCFS. 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. Father Pfleger himself knows the truth of these allegations. More troubling evidence regarding Father Pfleger will be presented to the Archdiocese and the media in the coming days.”
St. Sabina Church issued a statement Friday reiterating their support for Pfleger, emphasizing he was “not a threat” to children and calling for his reinstatement.
Earlier this week, St. Sabina parishioner Cory Williams had said Pfleger’s absence was negatively affecting donations to the church to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The congregation on Friday issued a statement saying that on Sunday, it “will announce a financial step” in its fight to have the archdiocese conclude its investigation.
More than 100 Pfleger supporters gathered outside the archdiocese’s headquarters Wednesday and chanted “Now! Now! Now!” while demanding Pfleger’s quick return.
In a pair of social media posts that same day, Pfleger said he was innocent and called the accusations “false.”
“When this is over, which i (sic) hope is soon i (sic) will have much more to say,” Pfleger wrote. In another post, he 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 attorneys have said the accusations were lies and the accusers brought them in hope of a payday.
Read the DCFS letter (pdf)